Health & Well-Being: Blogging Through COVID Together — Self-Compassion
April 27, 2020
Last week we talked about the importance of noticing and talking about feelings. I am going to guess that there was no lack of opportunity to do this over the last week as feelings were everywhere. Many of us were feeling big ups and big downs and so were the people we are isolating with, which makes for a whole lot of feelings in one place. So now that we are noticing and naming how we are feeling, what do we do with all these feelings?
The first thing my friends, is to practice self-compassion. You are going to have feelings. You are not always going to handle them perfectly and that is okay. One of the biggest worries I am hearing from parents right now is the “not enough” worry (one of my personal struggles and a pretty common one for sure). Parents are busy juggling their own work, parenting, at-home schooling, finances, housework, social distance grocery shopping and they are feeling like they are doing some of all of it, but they are not doing any of it well.
I am tempted to tell you not to worry about it and to give you a little bit of a pep talk about how you can’t possibly do it all. I am tempted to tell you to give yourself a break as this is a global pandemic after all and you are not super-human! I am tempted to do that, but I won’t, because when has telling someone not to worry about something ever worked? Instead I am going to tell you about some ways that help with managing emotions and then invite you to try some and see what works for you and your family.
Practice and nurture the feelings you want more of. Our brains are designed to look for danger first, so we have a biological tendency to see more negative than positive. We have to train our brains to notice the good stuff. Simple practices like making a list of things you are grateful for or things that went well in your day can increase people’s level of happiness and well-being significantly. The other one is to lean into joy and other pleasant emotion. If you are feeling these great feelings like excitement, joy, love or calm even for a moment, enjoy it. Lean into the feeling and let yourself experience it for a while.
Notice, name and be okay with the hard ones. When the less pleasant emotions come and you are feeling sad or worried or something unpleasant, just start by noticing and acknowledging it. Dr. Daniel Segal says we have to “name it to tame it” so just start with that. If you fight it or ignore it, the feelings may go underground for awhile, but they are not going away.
Talk to yourself. We all have an inner dialogue going on in our heads where we make sense of the world so pay attention to what you are telling yourself and teach your children to pay attention to their self-talk too. Our brains are designed to complete stories and rewards us with pleasant “feel good chemicals” for making up an explanation or story for things that happen.
Here is the problem though. This chemical reward happens whether the story is accurate or not and because we are designed for self-protection and to look for danger, our stories can go towards the negative first. We have to train our brains to look for the positive and to complete the story that way. Teach your children about helpful or unhelpful thoughts and how they can impact how we feel and how we act.
For example, if you struggle with learning something new or a project doesn’t turn out well, the automatic thought could be “this never works” or “I can’t do this” but is that thought true? helpful or kind? If it’s not, we can change that thought to something more helpful. Just like feelings, thoughts are not in charge, we can choose to look at things differently. It does take practice, but we can help each other. Here is link to an EASE at Home lesson about Creating a Helpful Mindset that can help.
We can also regulate our emotion but starting directly with our behaviour. We can do something with our bodies that calms our nervous system. These are things like exercise, taking slow, deep breath or mindfulness activities. This is the perfect time to practice these activities and teach them to your children. It is a good idea to learn and practice when you are feeling relatively okay so that you will have these tools ready when feelings do start ramping us. The more practice children (and adults too) have with this way of calming the body the more the brain builds these neural connections and it becomes easier. Just like physical exercise, these skills get better and easier with practice.
Here is a Brain Break Breath Activity from MindUp that you could try at home. If you have teenagers, they may prefer these Mindfulness Activities. If right now all of this is a lot, that is okay too, because the good news here is that really simple things like smiling at each other or laughing at something can also release these “feel good” chemicals. So, smile at each other, laugh at something together, dance in the living room or do a couple of jumping jacks, it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Good luck with this week’s juggle. Remember to give yourself and your family some grace to be imperfect together and just take it one small step at a time.