As each of us tries to cope with the outbreak of Covid-19 and the changes it has brought, it is normal to feel anxious about what is happening. Although everyone will react differently to the situation, we are all dealing with the inundation of news surrounding the virus, determining the necessary precautions to take, and adjusting to self-isolation or social distancing.
Many of us are feeling stressed as we navigate changes in our work environments, or navigate between work and home (as I write this, I am currently trying not to get distracted by my children’s questions of what to do). If you are already coping with a mental health condition, you may find that your symptoms, thoughts, or feelings have been heightened recently.
The following are some tips to help you cope with your experiences and changes during the Covid-19 crisis:
Although we are practicing social distancing, it does not mean that we cannot maintain connections with our loved ones. As humans, we need emotional connection to help us feel safe and secure, and to belong. Studies have shown the impact of loneliness and isolation on our emotional health, and as we practice social distancing, we have to be mindful of how it may trigger or aggravate our feelings of loneliness or isolation.
If you are staying at home under self-isolation, or if you are at work but cannot interact with others the way you are used to, try to use technology to bridge the connection. Instead of using your phone to check the latest on the news (and bringing you down), use your phone to call, message, Facetime, Skype, Whatsapp, or Snapchat with your friend as you go about your day. When we are on technology, we assume that we always have to be actively chatting to stay on. However, it is okay to Facetime your friend and watch an episode of The Stranger on Netflix together (of course, be mindful of your data use!).
Pay attention to the thoughts that lead to feelings of worry, anxiety or stress. Gently challenge these thoughts with facts about Covid-19, and create a plan of action to help you to stay healthy. In this way, you are focusing on what you can control.
Remind yourself that you are not alone in navigating the changes that have arisen. It may be helpful to think about the opportunity the situation has given to help you slow down.
At times, the inner critic may surface to judge how you have been coping with the changes. You can cultivate self-compassion by practicing hand-on-heart, where you place your hands on your heart, and while taking deep breaths, say a compassion statement such as “May I be kind to myself”.
Whatever your fitness level is, it is beneficial to exercise and eat healthy, as these steps help to combat feelings of depression and stress. Physical activity may include taking deep breaths, stretching, doing workout videos on YouTube or going for a short walk (if possible).
It is helpful to develop a routine and be connected to familiar things to help you stay anchored during this rough time. At the same time, build your resiliency (your ability to cope with change) by allowing flexibility in your day-to-day schedule.
We hope you find these tips helpful. As always you can reach out to me for further support. For the time being, psychotherapy sessions are available by phone or video as I am committed to providing you with support while also taking social responsibility to help flatten the curve.
Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. ~ Kristen Neff
We often believe that we have to fix ourselves in order to improve our self-esteem or self-confidence. If we could just know how to not get so stressed out, we would feel better about ourselves and others would like us more. However, the key is not to fix your flaws, but to be kind to them by cultivating self-compassion.
A concept that has its roots in Buddhism, self-compassion is a practice of recognizing that when you make a mistake, or fail at something, you may have made a bad decision but it does not mean you are a bad person.
Researchers have found that self-compassion and psychological well being are linked. We feel more connected with others, happier and more satisfied with life. Practicing self-compassion is linked to lower levels of depression, anxiety, shame and perfectionism.
Here are some tips to begin practicing self compassion:
When you think of a time that a close friend was struggling, how did you respond with compassion? You can write down what you said or did for them, and the tone you used to talk to them. Next, imagine using the same words, action and tone with yourself.
When you are experiencing stress, place your hands over your heart and apply gentle pressure. Take 2-3 deep breaths. When we are feeling discomfort, touch activates our parasympathetic nervous system which helps us to calm down. If you are not comfortable with that form of gentle touch, practice lightly stroking your arm or clasping your hands together on your lap.
On her website, self-compassion expert Kristen Neff provides several guided meditations and exercises to try, including a self compassion break. In this exercise, you are asked to acknowledge that you are suffering, and that you are not alone in your suffering. Then, you repeat a compassionate statement, like “May I be kind to myself” or “May I learn to accept myself the way I am.”
Be mindful that as you begin this process, old pain will surface. Self-compassion can be challenging and you do not have to do it alone. Give yourself permission to reach out for help. A professional such as a psychotherapist can provide a safe space to explore these difficulties and support your healing.
Reference: Neff, Kristen. “Self-Compassion.”Accessed on January 29, 2020. https://self-compassion.org/.