Yesterday was not a great day.
I had hopes about things I wanted to do, to focus on. With this Global Pandemic and #StayAtHome, it seems like I have this endless blank-canvas of a day to do things, to be productive, to march forward on my goals. Sometimes I have a little luck with this, but often I’ve been finding myself getting lost in eddies of anxiety and distractions, and the day is suddenly gone. Yesterday, I listened to the news too much, which only ups my stress. Or I abruptly interrupted whatever I was trying to do by scrolling on social media— looking for… Something. I read more upsetting articles on Twitter. I watched Instagram stories flutter by in the stream. I didn’t exercise or write or make art, some of the things on my list, things that usually make me feel better.
How about you? Does any of this sound familiar?
One thing that has changed for me is the tone in how I talk to myself in my head when I have such a day. I used to have a terrible time with this. In the past, I would get into serious funks, feel bad about myself, feel down and hopeless and depressed. I had a very active Inner Critic, and I’d allow it to beat the shit out of me with all kinds of negative messages and judgments. Usually this would devolve into me doing even more of the unhelpful behaviors, to escape. It would drive me to distract myself and zone out in any way I could.
I’m so grateful that this has change for me. It sure took a long time and a lot of effort to get here; it seemed like this would never get better, but it has. Now when I have a off day or get off track, I still might sense some negative thinking going on in the background for myself. I’ll tune in and hear some muted grumblings of the Inner Critic, but I’m able to counteract those judgments with some self-compassion. I’ll think something along the lines of: “Oh Sweetie, you really got side-tracked today. You’ve been feeling lots of anxiety. It’s not how you wanted things to go, but it’s okay. You’re okay.” I take a deep breath, sit just a moment with the awareness. I could never manage such a kind voice for myself in years past. It may sound corny, but it’s what I need to hear. It helps so much.
Self-compassion is such a necessary tool to have in your survival kit for this strange new world we’re all living in now. This pandemic is unprecedented for all of us, and we’re all — the whole world! — figuring out how to deal with the changes its bringing. The panic and fear is everywhere. We are afraid and worried about so many things, including our survival and safety, our loved ones, our communities. This is hard.
It is so necessary to practice self-care, to remind ourselves to relax and breathe, to cut ourselves (and others) a lot of slack. We are going to have bad days, have an assortment of feelings, and react to the many changes around us.
I know a lot of people who shy away from self-compassion. It sounds woo-woo and soft. Or they have no clue how to do it after a lifetime of feeling bad about themselves. I know, I get it, I’ve been there. What I’ve learned is that self-compassion is a kind of muscle, and just like when you are starting to work out after not having done anything for awhile, you start small and do a bit of practice even when it doesn’t feel like anything is happening. You start somewhere. You try to bring awareness to what is going on for you inside. It might not be pretty. It might be pretty cruel sometimes. But start with noticing.
It might not feel like much, but just starting with a simple phrase you can repeat to yourself when you begin to freak out or are being hard on yourself can really help. Just start with: “It’s okay.” Take a deep breath or two. “It’s okay.” Let that be your bicep curl, the 2 lb. weight that you try to lift here and there throughout your day. You might not believe it. But it can start to calm down your nervous system, create a new neural pathway, help make you stronger in some unseen way.
(For an extra challenge, try adding your name. “It’s okay, Theresa.” It starts to change your inner narrative in a more personal way. Seems weird at first, but hey, we’re social distancing anyway!)
Sweeties, I know this is a hard time. You’re afraid, you’re worried, you’re sad. Right now, it’s okay. My wish is for you to find moments of peace, to connect with people you love (from a distance, or virtually), to be healthy and safe. May you be kind to yourself, take this opportunity to practice self-care and self-compassion. You really are worth it.
If you’d like to hear more about self-compassion, Dan Harris put out an excellent episode about it on his Ten Percent Happier podcast. His guest was Dr. Kristin Neff, who is a pioneering self-compassion researcher, author and teacher. I highly recommend it. (Her self-compassion website is also a great resource.)
[Photos courtesy of Nick Fewings, Guilia Bertelli, Yuris Alhumaydy, and Steve Halama at Unsplash.com]