We are well past a month of staying at home. Not going to lie, at first I saw this new lifestyle as an exciting challenge where my introverted-ness could thrive. I got competitive with myself to see all the productive tasks I could get done, and do all the activities that I never had time to do. But now, all the books have been read, the basement has been cleaned, senior capstone paper written, and everything I can think of to sell has been sold. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to do something other than what I have been doing yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that… It’s daunting knowing this could be what life is like for who knows how long. 4th of July festivities are already getting canceled, new job training moved online, favorite restaurants put the for sale sign in the window (RIP Old Chicago), alternate plans for the fall are already being talked about, and to put the scary cherry on top of all this, Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the U of M Center for Infectious diseases said that this won’t be over by summer and 60-70% of us are going to get the virus despite our efforts all these months of being locked inside.
This isn’t meant to scare you even though you’re probably feeling worse than you were before deciding to sit down to read a blog that you thought would make you feel better, hold on, I’ll get there. If a simple paragraph can make you feel anxious, think about how bad the media is for our sanity when we wake up every single day being bombarded with more bad news accompanied by staying locked up all day. People are starting to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, which in turn is going to put us in a worse place when this is all said and done. There is a better way to get through this than stuffing yourself with snacks, giving up, or impulse buying puppies.
Self-compassion is our secret weapon that no one is utilizing! Positive Psychology is a relatively new field that basically says “why does psychology have to be about fixing people when they have problems? Let’s take perfectly average baseline people and make their lives go from good to great.” Self-compassion falls in this field, and also is being utilized to fix mental health problems. Research has been conducted and shows that it eases depression, anxiety, eating disorders, negative body image, sleep problems, and enhances both physical/mental health. These are all problems that we are possibly dealing with during Covid. Self-compassion consists of three components; self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness (Neff, 2003), and it takes all three to work! Join me on a magical journey as I further explain just how these “fluffy” sounding concepts that seem like they’d never work, actually work. As cheesy as it sounds, self-compassion is one of those “if you believe it, you can achieve it” concepts.
Raise your hand if you have said anything along these lines during all this:
“I look terrible today and am a lazy human being.”
“I look so old now that I can’t get my gray covered up.”
“There’s no point in working out or taking care of myself right now.”
“I suck at online classes, I am a failure and shouldn’t even try anymore.”
“I am going to get fired from my job because I am not as valuable as others.”
“I shouldn’t have eaten that and am probably going to gain the Covid-19 lbs and everyone is going to think I am ugly once we can go out in public again.”
“I am never going to find a girlfriend/boyfriend and I am going to end up alone living in my parents house just like this for the rest of my life.”
“I have no purpose anymore”
It is so easy to let those thoughts come into our heads, and for some twisted reason, we believe criticizing ourselves is more motivating than being kind. I don’t know about you, but telling myself that I suck and am ugly doesn’t make me want to go on a run, or outside for that matter. Current research tells us that self-kindness is the most important component that has a positive correlation for reducing negative behaviors and thoughts. Being kind to ourselves is so crucial during this time. Our best is not going to be the same everyday during this; some days you may get a ton done, other days your best may just be getting out of bed. Both are OKAY. Self-kindness is being your own cheerleader for the things that you DID get done. Change out of your pjs? Go you! Get one thing done on your to-do list but not all? One is better than none! Eat 2 cookies instead of 3? Progress! Only cried in the shower 4 times this week instead of everyday? Look at you! Self-kindness is learning to forgive yourself, even for those who have a black belt in beating themselves up. Maybe you feel guilty for not working out- that’s just fine, you are not training for a marathon since they’re all canceled. Maybe you accidentally turned off mute on a zoom call while you were using the bathroom – as that one children book teaches us “Everyone Poops,” so don’t rip yourself to shreds about it days later because we all make mistakes. It’s so easy to feel shame for eating badly – don’t worry, that is human. Self-kindness is not easy, because self-criticism is easy! Bottom line, talk to yourself as you would a family member, and I don’t think you’d tell your grandma that she has no purpose and is a worthless, ugly, lazy human being… if you would say that to her you may need more help than I can provide.
2. Common Humanity
This one may seem like “common” sense (pun intended), but part of self-compassion is recognizing that you are not alone in your feelings and other people feel this way, too. When we are suffering it is common (and not logical at all) for us to think we are the only person on planet earth experiencing that exact situation and feeling that exact feeling at that moment. Everyone else around you seems happy but you. Hate to break it to you, but you aren’t that special, feelings are shared! To humans, suffering together feels better than suffering alone, which is why this component works for Covid. Fun fact- the same goes for hazing!
Covid presents us with unprecedented situations leaving us confused, alone, on a kick to sell everything we own (it can’t be just me I hope), depressed, lost, many other feelings, and behaviors- some positive of course so don’t feel bad for feeling happy when you think you should feel bad! Personally, some days I have woken up during all this with absolutely no motivation at all, and it makes me feel better knowing that I am not the only one who has no motivation to change out of sweatpants or try to look presentable. It’s kind of motivating to know others have no motivation either!
Many people suffer with depression, and this situation makes it ten times worse, but they aren’t the only person with those feelings, as others are acting the same, or even are in worse shape. The news has broadcasted eating disorder relapses (the urgency to broadcast about at-home workouts does not help this problem) showing that it is a national problem and those who struggle with them aren’t the only ones thrown for a loop. We aren’t alone in feeling like we are lazy and will look worse after all this is done hence why there are so many jokes about the quarantine 15 and not needing to get a bikini body since pools are closed. We aren’t alone in being scared about all this, and while it may seem like there are some people who aren’t phased by this at all, chances are more people are feeling the same way you do. Just because you see everyone outside on a nice day when you don’t feel like it, doesn’t mean you’re the only one, so don’t feel bad or FOMO (fear of missing out). Yes, it can be hard to make yourself feel better by telling yourself a stranger has the same feelings you do, but that is where self-kindness comes to play and buffers against negative thoughts. Your subconscious benefits from knowing that you truly aren’t alone in the world. Lastly, I’m sure you aren’t the only one who is sick of cooking.
This is usually the component where people dip out and are like “nah I am not doing this voodoo type thing.” That’s exactly what I said when I first started my mindfulness training as part of my Neurofeedback therapy prior to Covid. Let’s get this straight: mindfulness is not just about sitting with your eyes closed and picturing trees or colors while listening to calming music. This is the “fluffy” part I was talking about where people’s pride gets to them before they try it. Mindfulness is all about being mindful of your thoughts- allowing them to happen but not judging them. It’s like fishing: you catch a thought and release it back into the water until the next thought comes. It’s all about being objective and in the present. For example, you may think I have no clue how I am going to find a job and I am probably going to end up living with my parents for the rest of my life which will result and never finding love and I will die alone with 17 cats. Mindfulness would allow you to observe that thought objectively, responding with something like well, I just had that thought, it’s all good, that may or may not happen, but right now I can’t predict the future so how bout you just chill. Thinking about the future is downright terrifying right now, and thinking about the past and how everything used to be is depressing, so let’s just not think about those things, eh?
This is why this component is important; being in the present benefits how we talk to ourselves and think. Take each hour at a time and make the most of them; each good moment builds momentum to have a good day which leads to having a good week, and before you know it, a month has passed. A lot of people think negative thoughts and stuff them away until they build up inside and cause deeper issues. Mindfulness is different in which it allows for those thoughts to happen, but learning to observe them rather than believing them. Psychology shows that mindfulness can be trained, and can improve. I can attest to this, as my mindfulness stats have improved since I started. Not only how you think about things improves, but it goes down to a neurological level where your brain starts to react to stressful situations differently-more objectively. There are thousands of mindfulness podcasts, and youtube videos, so try them out! The only thing you have to lose by giving it a go is anxiety and negative feelings!
You may be asking why you haven’t seen more about self-compassion during all this- that’s because a lot of people don’t believe in solving mood problems or mental health issues without medications (let’s be real, you aren’t asking yourself that, but I’m going to talk about it anyways). A little mindfulness and self-kindness seems insane in treating a complex issue like depression or eating disorders. Heck, even therapists aren’t on board with it yet. Self-compassion is not all about rainbows, sunshine, and unicorns. It’s not a “fluffy” concept. It’s not just for women. It’s not just for times of trial. These are all common misconceptions I have come across. Use these “uncertain times” as all commercials are saying way too much to practice your self-compassion skills. Start small; don’t attack yourself for eating a donut, try to catch and dismiss a negative thought, and remember that your neighbor feels just as stir crazy as you do. Self-compassion goes far beyond Covid, so might as well start now so you can apply it to doubts about starting a new job, guilt or shame in relationship problems, newness of life changes, failure regarding diet changes, or even trying to fix the sink sans plumber without swearing at yourself.
Have a self-compassionate weekend, friends! Stay healthy 🙂