There are a lot of common phrases and questions we’ve defaulted to during this pandemic, like “What symptoms do you have?” “Be safe” and, of course, “What did you think of Tiger King?” But a favorite of mine is “give yourself a break.” It’s a good tip, considering how alone, confused, overwhelmed, and worried so many of us feel in light of this abnormal situation of unprecedented proportions. Self-compassion is indeed an extraordinary tool right now, and yet, I, for one, am not so incredible at practicing what I preach. That’s because I’m not sure how, exactly, you can give yourself a break.
“Whether due to sheltering in place, job loss, or interpersonal shifts, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are far-reaching,” says Carla Marie Manly, PhD clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear. “All of this creates constant uncertainty and anxiety that can easily translate into chronic stress and fear. This pernicious negative energy can have devastating consequences for mental health, physical health, and daily life. Although so much is out of our control at this point, one of the major self-care tools each individual has is the ability to mindfully engage in ongoing self-compassion.”
By being able to exercise the following seven self-compassion exercises mental-health pros recommend, you’ll be able to give yourself a break. So take it—you deserve to give yourself some kindness.
How to actually give yourself a break, using the following 7 self-compassion practices.
1. Give yourself a gentle ‘pass’ when it comes to overall productivity
Start by not forcing yourself to bake a million loaves of bread, learn Portuguese, and ease into your daily yoga flow. You owe it to yourself to be okay with sometimes doing the bare minimum when it comes to living a well life amid a global crisis.
“When we look at these as goals not must-dos, we’re able to see the smaller achievements and can reduce being so harsh,” says psychotherapist Jennifer Teplin, LCSW. “It’s a similar concept to the feeling someone has when they first move to NYC: ‘There’s so much to do, I have to see it all!’ Realistically a few months in, you’ve done a few of the things you imagined doing—but normal life shows up and typically you don’t achieve it all. This lack of achieving it all doesn’t equate to failure.”
“It’s only natural that you might not be performing as well—or as much—as you would under normal circumstances.” —Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist
And just as in that moving-to-NYC scenario, where you give yourself a break for not seeing all the sights immediately, you can do the same now in this pandemic. For instance, if you’re suddenly working from home and notice you’re not performing at the same level as you normal do, Dr. Manly suggests granting yourself some grace: “It’s only natural that you might not be performing as well—or as much—as you would under normal circumstances,” she says.
2. Flip your mind-set to ‘the cold side of the pillow’
“That is, the opposite of what you’re currently doing, rather than focusing on what you haven’t done or can’t do,” says Teplin. “Instead, focus on what you can achieve, what you have achieved, and what you can plan for in the future.”
That could mean reframing your experience as a challenge to overcome or setting long- and short-term goals versus making a gigantic to-do list. Do whatever works for you.
3. Honor your emotions
Are you prone to compartmentalizing your feelings or intellectualizing your grief over “little” things, like canceled concerts? Know that giving yourself a hard time about your authentic emotions in light of your privilege over others or rationalizing that everyone is navigating this, so you shouldn’t feel down doesn’t really serve you right now. Whether as a result of issues huge or small, grief is relative, and you can give yourself a break by allowing yourself to feel it.
“Whether you are sad, angry, frustrated, or anxious, good self-compassion dictates that you allow yourself to acknowledge and feel your emotions,” says Dr. Manly.
4. When you’re feeling helpless, help someone else
Prosocial behavior allows for feeling connection and meaning, which can be especially helpful given the distinct dearth of those things right now. So if you have the bandwidth, try offering your support outwardly.
“This really means getting out of your own head, judgment, and space, and focusing on someone else. Helping others allows us to feel really good,” says Teplin.
5. Find moments for self care when you can
Regardless of whether you have endless time for self care or mere minutes, prioritizing whatever act it is that centers you can count for a lot.
“Far from being selfish, good self care is one of the kindest, most compassionate things you can do to keep your energy upbeat,” says Dr. Manly.
6. Put your critical voice on mute
Most of us have an inner voice telling us what to do, and more times than not, that inner voice is kind of the worst. You don’t need extra judgment right now, so one effective strategy involves literally visualizing how to silence your inner critical voice.
“Ongoing self-compassion also means that you turn down the volume of your critical voice.” —Dr. Manly.
“Ongoing self-compassion also means that you turn down the volume of your critical voice,” says Dr. Manly. “If possible, turn the critical voice off completely, but if that’s not possible, simply continue to imagine turning down the volume of nagging criticism when it arises. This will allow you to be kinder to yourself and those you interact with in real life and online.”
7. Begin the mindfulness habit of collecting ‘golden nuggets’
Acknowledging “golden nuggets,” or tiny moments of enjoyment during the day, is another way to practice gratitude and positivity.
“Start to notice two or three things you enjoyed or did well within a day,” says Teplin. “This could be as simple as waking up ahead of your alarm, being more productive than expected, or making a beautiful coffee in the morning.”
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