Feed Your Resilience by Practicing Self-Compassion During the Pandemic
Hello, my friends! This week’s blog is somewhat personal for me, as I’d like to share with you a concept I’m working on myself right now. Being kind to ourselves doesn’t sound like it would be all that difficult to do. In fact, it’s reasonable to assume we’d be more liberal with our kindness, and that it would come more easily when directed inwardly rather than toward others who might be saying or doing things that grind our gears. In reality, it tends to work the opposite way. Weird, huh?
If you’re like me, you’ve perhaps found yourself feeling more negative lately due to the million and one abnormal or drastically intensified stressors brought on by the pandemic. I’ve often joked that there’s irony in my job as a Workplace Mental Health expert since I have the world’s meanest boss (I’m self-employed – haha!). Well, I might not be nominating myself for any World’s Greatest Boss awards in the near future, but I’m working hard on cutting myself a break for the sake of my mental wellbeing. Like any other tools in the Resilience Toolbox, self-compassion takes reflection, time and practice to come naturally. I hope you get some useful take-aways from these ideas I’ve been working on:
Be forgiving, gentle and patient with yourself
Your self-talk should sound the way you’d speak to a close friend you’re worried about. “What’s wrong with you, you had all day to finish Task X.” “You’re working at a snail’s pace, get it together!” “You should feel lucky you’re able to work from home, plenty of people don’t have that option.” In a million years I would never think such critical thoughts about the work habits of a friend or colleague during these tumultuous times, yet if I do a hundred productive things in the course of a day I sometime find myself focusing only on my perceived shortcomings. I’m working on cutting myself some slack and accepting that every day I’m doing the best I can. We must also accept the experience of negative emotions. Yes, of course there are other people out there who have it worse than you. That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to experience whatever reaction you’re having. I’ve spoken to so many people who’ve acknowledged that social isolation was hard, but then quickly followed up with, “…but at least we’re safe and healthy” and a dozen other things invalidating whatever negative feeling they’d originally voiced. It’s ok to miss your friends and family. It’s ok if you’re not savouring every single moment of homeschooling your kids. It’s ok if you miss your regular routine. It’s ok to feel bummed out and stressed. Comparing your situation with that of others will do nothing but make you feel guilty, which isn’t helpful for anyone.
Schedule, schedule, schedule… or don’t, don’t, don’t
When millions of people around the world suddenly transitioned to working from home, lists of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” appeared overnight: set an alarm, wake up at your normal time on weekdays, don’t work in pyjamas… It all sounds good in theory but unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t come with a How-To Manual, so those tips are going to work well for some and not at all for others. As someone who was very accustomed to working from home, in airport lounges, hotel rooms and other non-office spaces when my work life was normal, I didn’t foresee having any difficulty working exclusively in my home office. I was already used to tuning out distractions. I’m a real Type A personality, so the need for a hard schedule runs thickly in my veins. My multi-categoried “Pandemic To-Do List” – a colour-coded spreadsheet complete with time estimates for each task – had me in high gear with big plans to make full use of every spare moment allotted to me by the change in circumstances. In normal times, organization makes me feel confident, in control and motivated. After nearly three months out of my regular routine, I’ve found running my days like a drill sergeant to be utterly exhausting. Allowing for more flexibility in my schedule has been a surprisingly welcome change. If spontaneously finishing my day a bit early to enjoy the sunshine makes me feel good, I think of it as a smart investment in my mental health – I make up for it by starting the next day earlier than usual because of the energy boost the previous afternoon has given me. These times are unpredictable and challenging in many ways, so why not take our perks where we can find them? Now might not be the time to follow a rule book. Instead, reflect on what you need and embrace it.
Indulge (but only when and how you need to)
The pandemic and the added stress that comes along with it isn’t an excuse to say “yes” to every indulgence that comes our way, but giving yourself a treat every once in a while is a good way to practice self-compassion. Think of it like this: let’s say you work really hard on an assignment and turn it in to your boss, and you’re anxious for their input. In Scenario A, your boss absolutely gushes to you and anyone in a five mile radius about the amazing job you did on this task… but they also compliment you on the way you sharpened your pencil, tell you what a fantastic job you did getting to work on time this morning and let you know how blown away they were by the way you stacked the papers on your desk so neatly. You’ve also heard them praise work you’ve felt was sub-par. In Scenario B, your boss is known to be someone who gives credit where credit is due, but isn’t over-the-top about it. Their job is really busy too, so you don’t see them a ton in passing. Lo and behold, “Boss B” makes a point to come to your office to tell you they really appreciate the excellent job you did on that assignment. Chances are the latter scenario would hold a lot more meaning, right? So what do these two hypothetical situations have in common with indulging as a way of showing yourself compassion? If you indulge all the time and at every opportunity, it no longer feels like an indulgence. Something that was once a treat eventually just makes you shrug your shoulders. Put some thought into what might constitute a real reward for you and when you feel you genuinely need it, go ahead and indulge guilt-free.
This week (and all the weeks that come after this one!) consider giving yourself some extra compassion. We’re all doing the best we can right now, and that includes you. Be kind... starting with yourself.
Thanks for reading!
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to keynote speaking and corporate training on workplace mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.