New beginnings- a self-compassionate approach to covid anxiety
As we slowly begin to return to a ‘new normal’, many of us are feeling anxious as we work towards embracing further uncertainty. In this article I would like to share with you some thoughts and ideas on how we can navigate the new terrain and embrace uncertainty.
Most of us at some time in our lives will have experienced anxiety, either in a mild form. For example, exam nerves or more serious levels that can lead to panic attacks. Ongoing stress without relief will lead to psychological distress and anxiety or depressive symptoms.
However, globally, these past few months, and presently we find ourselves under a prolonged period of stress from the corona virus pandemic. This has impacted many of us in many ways, including physically, emotionally, and financially.
We are all managing some form of change and uncertainty at this moment in time as we navigate our way through new norms and the easing of the restrictions we have endured over the last few months. This is a natural human response and is not a sign of weakness-alongside this is also a grieving for things that were so very different only a few short months ago and we might be forgiven for wondering when this period of suffering will end.
This situation we find ourselves in heightens already debilitating forms of anxiety for some, such as health anxiety, and OCD. It has also led to a rise in sleeping problems which increase negative emotional states and an increase in some unhealthy eating and drinking behaviours.
From an evolutionary perspective, we need to keep safe to survive, so we feel fear and anxiety when under threat. Evolutionary psychologist Professor Paul Gilbert OBE explained in a recent online event, that how our mind works is not our fault, BUT, we do have the ability to take responsibility through a number of resilience building tools which are evidence-based and supported by current neuroscientific research, tools such as meditation, relaxation, gratitude practice, exercise, and many more strategies that are available to us.
There is an antidote to current global fear and anxiety caused by the virus and its impact on our every-day life, and that is self-compassion.
Some self-compassionate anxiety management practices as you navigate the ‘new normal and easing of covid restrictions.
- taking one day at a time and not thinking too far ahead
- An intelligent validation is important in establishing a compassionate approach to fear and other difficult emotions before they can be transformed into resilience.
- So, validate your feelings-its ok to feel angry, sad, frightened, lonely, grief, loss. Its also ok to feel joy at simple things that make you smile. When we see the suffering of others, as we have done so in such a prolonged and overwhelming way through many mediums such as TV, radio, social media, I have heard so many people talk to me about feeling guilty for having a moment of happiness- actually this guilt is misplaced. If we have moments of happiness we build resilience, and thrive rather than just survive, we are also more able to be there to support others. If we are feeling at ease within ourselves through validation of all our emotional responses-we are more able to meet our own suffering with compassion when it happens.
- So give yourself full permission to smile at what makes you smile and feel good about what has made you feel good in any given moment.
- Aim to make responsible choices and think about ‘what works for you’- we are all different-do what you feel comfortable and safe with, whilst acknowledging your own ability to look after your needs safely.
- Practice good handwashing hygiene- always.
- Respect social distancing.
- Do start to connect up physically with friends and family. Evolutionary Psychologist, author and founder of ‘the compassionate mind foundation’ Professor Paul Gilbert OBE spoke in a recent interview about the importance of social connection for, not only our emotional wellbeing, but for boosting our immune system and, as social beings, our very survival.
- Take a compassionate approach to any anxiety you fee/ This is a normal human evolutionary adaptive response to a threat of danger. Its symptoms become most apparent when we are faced with uncertainty and unpredictability about future situations we have to face, such as the uncertainty we are facing globally today on so many fronts. Remember you are not alone, and anxiety is NOT a sign of weakness-it is your intelligent mind and body alerting you to danger, in which ever form of threat, both internal (from the inner critic, and the negative bias of the brain’s design), and external from financial worries, health concerns, and the continued restrictions, conflicts, and dilemma’s mankind faces.
- Practicing self-compassion in daily life (adapted from the official Mindful self-compassion programme). Self-compassion enables you to manage your own ‘wellbeing’ in a number of ways, many of which are already in regular use!: emotionally (perhaps listening to music, snuggling up to a pet or a partner, allowing tears), physically( exercise, having a warm bath, making healthy choices for food and drink) , spiritually( meditate, pray, be in nature, help others), and intellectually (meditate, watch an uplifting or inspiring film or TED Talk on you tube, read an inspiring book, or listen to an audio book), and relationally (meet with friends, family, send cards or letter, make calls-keep connected)
- Join clubs and groups that support you in taking an active role in your wellbeing.
- Practice: good sleep hygiene, alcohol awareness (get in touch here if you would like to learn more about an online wellbeing programme which includes alcohol awareness and reducing alcohol intake), healthy eating, exercise. Connecting with others.
- limiting time on social media and watching the news
- Having a regular routine and plan each day whether you are working or at home- we are creatures of habit and this can be helpful in maintaining a sense of control where there is much are not in control of.
- Exercise – there are plenty of routines on tv and you tube if you have no outside space, walk in nature where you can do so safely.
- meditation and prayer can be helpful
- be creative -draw, journal, write prose or poetry, learn a new skill
- Keep connected with friends and family.
- Attend a relaxation class
- keep a journal
- Eat as healthily as possible
- Limit alcohol intake as this can ramp anxiety up and lower your mood significantly.
- A daily gratitude practice can be helpful too.
- Meet yourself with compassion and practice self-compassion. There is a large and growing body of research (including my own) supporting the health and wellness benefits of self-compassion. It is strongly associated with fewer negative states like depression, anxiety, and stress, and it is strongly linked to more positive states such as happiness, life satisfaction, and optimism.
Something positive to think about ?
I am heartened by the words of the evolutionary psychologist Professor Paul Gilbert spoken at a recent online conference. He talked about being optimistic because, as a species we are extremely adaptive and resilient, and have overcome many threats thought time and always manage to rise to the challenge. This period of Covid has proved to be no exception-In fact I believe we have excelled through compassion and care for each-other- I can personally testify to the kindness and care I have witnessed from neighbours and friends, for which I am truly grateful. These have indeed been dark and troubling times, but compassion is instinctive within us and this enables us all to survive and thrive.
As I look forward to opening my doors and seeing clients again face to face at my king street practice in Knutsford, I am reflecting on all that I have achieved – from learning new ways of connecting with clients, to facing my fears and going on social media with my very first video clip , overcome – anxiety, sleeping problems, putting on weight, and finding my ‘new normal’ work rhythm, and much that I have learnt -especially what I have learnt about myself !But mostly, what I have appreciated and feel deep and lasting gratitude for, such as the kindness and compassion of our neighbours who I now consider friends, the clean air, the louder bird song, the opportunity to do the things I never had time for such as reading and writing more. Research shows that gratitude is a valuable key player in helping us cope with negative emotions and situations. Now more than ever.
For more information on any of the above , do have a look through my website, sign up for my newsletter, follow me on Instagram, face book, twitter, and LinkedIn.
If you are struggling with lockdown easing anxiety would like some support with any of the above, and to learn a more compassionate approach to your well-being, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I am currently offering zoom, skype, and face time therapy sessions, classes, and workshops.
I will be opening the doors to my Knutsford clinic again from 11 August. I am here for you, walking the same uncertain path, one willing, compassionate, and grateful step at a time.