Going Through a Pandemic with Compassion

The situation is changing again. After the second national lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic and countless changes in restrictions we are now facing the end of 2020 not knowing if we will be able to spend time with friends and family.

We have been dealing with the consequences of a pandemic for 10 months. I’d like to take a moment to make the case for self-compassion and self-care. Yes, I know they have been the topic of countless articles since the beginning of this year. We only need to do a quick Google search to find texts full of tips and tricks for self-care that aim to fix our moods and help us stay on top of things.

All that is good but I feel something is missing. I haven’t seen many people actually taking time to normalise what we may be feeling in a situation like this, promoting a stance of self-compassion, as we go through a very complicated year. Here is my take on it.

Normal reactions to an ‘abnormal’ situation

Why not consider the situation? Let’s have a look at what we’re dealing with in 2020. Some of us rightly know that we’ve been through a lot of stress. Maybe losing people we love or jobs we need. Still, many others might be tempted to think that we’re personally not dealing with much, that we should be able to cope just fine. The reality is that uncertainty and loss is present in everyone’s lives, it just takes different forms.

Let’s consider what we may be facing:

  • Uncertainty in future prospects (for work or leisure)
  • Loss of work or studies
  • Loss of leisure activities
  • Loss of contact with others
  • A change in our sense of self and our sense of freedom
  • Loss of a sense of security (reminding us of our vulnerability)

Whether this is due to a change in working situations, a change of plan, or not being able to do things we did previously without having to think of the risks involved, all of these factors mean we are living with permanent stress. We might not be aware of this, but stress or anxiety can still be present, affecting our mood and our levels of energy.

These conditions come at a time when we are suddenly unable to enjoy the activities we would normally do to relax: seeing friends at the pub, going to the gym or watching a film at the cinema for example. This means that the added stress comes with no possibility to let off steam.

Looking at things this way has helped me understand why I have been feeling much more tired lately, without engaging in self-criticism. Ten months of added stress is like a marathon, so letting ourselves feel whatever we may be feeling about it only seems fair.

We are also allowed to feel grateful for the things we still have, and it seems important to acknowledge that some of us are luckier than others. I do believe that it is possible to hold both realities with all the emotions they bring at the same time.

If you are asking yourself to remain as motivated as you were before, to have the same amount of energy, or to not feel so anxious or low, you are already asking too much.

Being under constant stress is exhausting for our minds and bodies as we become stuck in a fight or flight response unconsciously trying to respond to danger. Shouldn’t we then allow ourselves more pauses while we try to function in a situation that adds constant stress and uncertainty?

 

Healthier coping strategies and self-compassion

With the end of year fast approaching I’d like to invite all of us to pay a lot more attention to our needs for self-care and time off. If we enter familiar patterns of self-criticism by telling ourselves we shouldn’t be lazy or that we are wasting time, it might serve us to remember we are not in a “normal” situation, and that more rest than usual is needed to cope with the stress.

For that, structuring our time and schedule time off can be of help. Clearly defining the boundaries between our working hours and time off as well as defining work spaces and relaxation spaces will help us in sticking to this routine in a situation where work seems to creep up into our private life more than ever. If it’s not possible to change spaces between work and time off, changing a piece of décor that signifies this switch can also be helpful.

Being compassionate towards ourselves also means taking care of our bodies. Anything from exercise, to a walk, to a massage or stretching. Taking care of our body will help us ground, feel safer and more in control of our wellbeing. Making sure we are getting enough sleep and good food is another way to manage the effects of chronic stress. It may help to take this as an indulgence in self-care instead of a discipline, or the other way around, depending on what your own style for motivation is.

Care for our minds and hearts may involve engaging with creativity. By doing something creative (writing, drawing, dancing), or by enjoying someone else’s creative work (a beautiful film, music, art etc). Let yourself get transported by art.

Finally, let’s not forget contact and communication with people that are important to us. Preferably not through zoom or other software that we also use for work. A good old phone call can do wonders.

More importantly, noticing when we are experiencing low mood, lack of motivation, which may mean we are not able to care for ourselves as we would like to, is best done with compassion for oneself. Understanding why we are feeling this way and how normal it is in a situation like this is essential to cope through tough times. Processing our emotions might become somewhat easier that way.

Now with the vaccine just around the corner we hope things will start getting better soon. Still, we will need to adapt to more changes without knowing what the future holds. Remember to take it slowly, one day at a time. Being patient and compassionate with ourselves is what will get us through this.

 

(For tips and tricks, as well as information on where to access mental health support in your area please visit Mind’s coronavirus hub).

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