Self-Compassion Is a Necessary Survival Skill

A compass sits on a paper map which is laid over camouflage fabric.

As a society, we continue to face a heightened mental exhaustion and anxiety, largely since the onset of the pandemic. How do we deal with our own anxiety and that of those around us in healthy and compassionate ways? Practicing self-care is a good start. Taking care of ourselves first makes us more capable to take care of others. Just like you can’t pour water from an empty bucket, you must fill your bucket before you can share its contents with others.

Pay Attention to Your Physical Well-Being

If something affects your emotional well-being — like anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic — it is going to be reflected in your physical well-being. If you start taking care of yourself physically, it will improve both your emotional and physical health. So first make sure you are taking care of yourself physically. Eat a nutritious diet, make time to exercise and/or stretch, stand on your porch for a little sunshine, and sleep for 7-8 hours each night.

Keeping a routine is especially important as we adjust to the temporary measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to keep us safe during the pandemic.

There are several health and wellness apps and online tools available to help you stay accountable to your goals. Whether you’re counting steps or tracking hours you sleep, you can take simple actions each day to improve your mind and body.

Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion, essentially giving yourself a little grace, can be very useful when feeling overwhelmed. Self-compassion allows us to accept we’re not perfect; we’re not going to do everything perfectly. It enables us to appreciate how much we do accomplish despite how hard it may seem. The key is to realize that we have limitations - and there’s nothing wrong with that.

We naturally have a sense of compassion for the people we care about. Yet we are often hard on ourselves and our self-perceived shortcomings. Tapping into the compassion that we have for others and using it on ourselves can be a very effective way to practice self-care. Consider this, if you observed a person you care for doing exactly what you are doing during this unprecedented time, would you criticize them, we imagine you wouldn’t so begin to show yourself the compassion you show others. In turn, we can take that sense of self-compassion and share it with the people we may now be living with 24/7.

Self-compassion may not be something you were taught growing up. Instead we tend to categorize people as either self-centered, demanding everything and everyone to fit their needs, or as caretakers, focusing completely on others and denying their own needs. Neither extreme is healthy. Self-compassion falls somewhere in the middle, acknowledging personal needs while being mindful of the needs of others. It doesn’t come naturally and takes time and effort to develop.

To begin to grow self-compassion, try a meditation. You can choose your favorite apps or check on sites like YouTube, such as Guided Meditation: The Circle of Wisdom. A Short Time-Out for Busy People or Guided Meditation: Relieve Anxiety, Clear Negativity, Release Worry. You can also find mediations for your kids to help give them adventurous ways to weather the challenges of social distancing, give them new perspective, and learn life-lasting skills.

Quiet Your Inner Critic

Be kind to yourself during this stressful time. After all, healthcare and world leaders are grappling daily with the best ways to deal with the massive changes and chaos this pandemic is causing. No one has it all figured out… and it’s okay that you don’t either!

Letting your kids have more screen time than usual does not make you a bad parent. If you don’t get through all the homeschooling assignments, focus on what you did accomplish. It’s okay that you’re having breakfast for dinner again. (Besides, your picky eaters are probably thrilled!) You did your best and tomorrow brings new opportunities.

Interrupt Negative Thinking

Those who struggle with substance use disorder often engage in negative self-talk. People come to treatment guilt and shame ridden related to behaviors during active addiction. Where there’s guilt and shame, there is usually irrational negative self-talk. Yet, we need rational and realistic self-talk to keep us grounded, this helps us stay calm and healthy during trying times like these.

Forgiving ourselves for destructive patterns of behavior, like those we may have engaged in while drinking or taking drugs, can stop the negative cycle that drives substance use disorders. Understanding that substance use gave us a way to stop thinking about our overwhelming feelings and feeling bad about ourselves is useful as we live our lives in recovery.

During times like these, we must remember: this new normal is not normal. That’s why compassionate self-talk is critical to our self-care. It can give us the foundation we need to stay focused, positive, and mentally stronger to care for ourselves in troubled times and those around us. Self-care radiates from self to others.

Remember, taking care of ourselves first makes us better able to take care of others.

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