Living through the pandemic has involved major challenges for many of us. During this time, we have witnessed a sharp rise in pre-existing mental health issues due to the stringent rules of self-isolation.
Individuals are reported to be five times more anxious than pre-COVID, according to a study released in April by Victoria’s Swinburne University, headed by Professor Susan Rossell. Mental health issues such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
(OCD), acute stress, panic attacks, agoraphobia and substance abuse are reportedly on the rise and, most concerning, those suffering from depressive symptoms are becoming more easily disconnected from friends, family and colleagues.
We’ve further found ourselves dealing with the double-edged sword of working from home
(WFH). On one hand, we have saved time travelling, gained greater autonomy over our daily routine, observed lower absenteeism, have had the ability to walk the dog at lunch time and do some of those household chores.
On the other hand, we can have a tendency to be more distracted, and blurred about our boundaries between work and home life. Add a healthy dose of home-schooling for some, along with the daily monotony and lack of social face-to-face connection, and we’ve been faced with adapting to a new way of living that requires a significant amount of self-awareness, discipline and conscious self-care.
But as we start to come out the other side of the pandemic, there is a new “unknown” and accompanying challenges to confront.
We are now moving from survival into recovery – but reigniting some of our pre-lockdown behaviours and lifestyle has the potential to feel overwhelming. Reflecting on areas where we have fallen behind (eg. financially, with work, social life or sport) has left many people worried that they won’t be able to recover.
“When faced with life adversity, or confronting personal mistakes, failures and inadequacies, self-compassion responds with kindness rather than self-judgment”
So how do we start to build resilience to bounce back from trauma, tragedy, the extreme stress and disappointment of COVID?
One technique is to show more self-compassion.
Self-compassion has played a central role in many religious and spiritual practices, and is now becoming increasingly important in many science-based models of therapy, coaching and counselling.
When faced with life adversity, or confronting personal mistakes, failures and inadequacies, self-compassion responds with kindness rather than self-judgment, recognising that imperfection is part of both the shared human experience and common humanity.
Self-compassion means treating yourself with the same concern as you would someone you love who found themselves in a similar situation.
While most people are quick to provide support and empathy for family, friends and colleagues, they can struggle to show themselves the same kindness, empathy and concern.
It recognises that we all suffer at some point; it is distinctly different from self-pity, where people become immersed in their own problems and forget that others have similar problems.
One of the most consistent research findings is that greater self-compassion is linked to reduced anxiety and depression along with richer relationships, both personal and professional.
Research has also displayed how self-compassion helps individuals to adopt more solution-focused thinking.
In times of high stress, we may be more likely to fall into unhelpful behaviours like criticising or becoming frustrated with ourselves and then externalising blame onto others. Because self-compassion helps us with how we internalise stress, we tend to better equip ourselves to deal with challenging life events.
So take a moment to think about how you treat yourself when you are presented with a stressful situation. If you tend to beat yourself up when things go wrong, you, like most people, can use a little more self-compassion in your life.
Below are some easy strategies to get you started on your journey toward self-compassion and how this protective mindset will assist you into the transition into a post-COVID world.
– Take time out to check in with yourself
The first component of self-compassion involves self-awareness and understanding your “triggers”. How do you act when stress shows up in your life? Do you lose your appetite, struggle with getting a good night’s sleep, eat poorly, become angry with loved ones, have trouble focusing on tasks at hand? Rather than using judgement and self-criticism, practise acknowledging how you are feeling with kindness and concern – much like you would do with a friend, colleague or family member.
– Remember that you’re not alone in how you feel
We can easily feel like we are the only ones in the whole world feeling these emotions when we are in a state of struggle. Self-compassion involves reminding ourselves that we all go through difficult times and experience feelings of stress, sadness, frustration, failure and guilt – and that it is all part of the human experience. Normalising our emotions can make us feel more accepted and less alone during this time.
– Treat yourself the same way you would treat others
How would you respond if a family member or friend was the one experiencing what you are feeling, and they came to you to talk about it? It can be helpful to think about what we would say and do for a loved one who was in a similar situation. Being gentle, accepting and forgiving of ourselves can actually help us feel more confident in managing what we are currently going through and be there for others.
– A calm body can create a calm mind
Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and accept-ing it without judgment. There is more than one way to practice mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment:
Basic mindfulness meditation. Sit quietly and focus on your natural breathing or on a word or “mantra” that you repeat silently. Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath or mantra. You may like to do this outside looking at clouds or on a beach focusses on the horizon and the movement of water.
Identify subtle body sensations and movements such as an tingling or pressure without judgment and let them pass. Notice each part of your body in succession from head to toe.
Take in your five senses – sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. Name them “sight,” “sound,” “smell,” “taste,” or “touch” without judgment and let them go.
Allow emotions to be present without judgment. Practice a steady and relaxed naming of emotions: “joy,” “anger,” “frustration.” Accept the presence of the emotions without judgment and let them go.
Want to delve a little deeper? Read up on Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC), a process of combining the skills developed through mindfulness with the emotional practice of self-compassion. Mindfulness within self-compassion is about using mindfulness in a more targeted way, to support emotional development with overcoming feelings of personal suffering. A great start to workbooks and research can be found here: www.positivepsychology.com/mindful-self-compassion
About Dr. Natalie Flatt
Dr Natalie Flatt Ph.D is co-founder of ConnectPsych Services online e-counselling platforms that support employees with psycho-education and mental health in a flexible and convenient manner. Natalie has extensive experience in solution-focused cognitive behavioural presentation and interventions to assist with anxiety, resilience, stress management, relationships, workplace conflict and compassion fatigue. Her therapeutic work offers practical, evidence-based solutions to assist professionals to overcome a wide variety of difficulties to ensure ongoing emotional resilience, wellbeing, and improved self-confidence, resulting in higher work life satisfaction and productivity.