Leah Weiss, Ph.D.

The Whole-Hearted Path

A COVID-19 Primer on Self-Compassion

Build your resilience by facing pandemic anxiety head on.

Posted May 28, 2020

Experiencing pandemic anxiety and fear right now? You’re in good company. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 73% of Americans (in a sample of 88,000) report feeling anxious multiple times a week these days. And let's face it, anxiety is a reasonable response in these unprecedented and uncertain times. Instead of suppressing your feelings or trying to distract yourself, experiment with practicing self-compassion.

Self-compassion is a critical component of resilience —the ability to bounce forward after setbacks. Research on self-compassion shows that it’s unequivocally linked to mental well-being, including less stress, anxiety, depression, and perfectionism. The uncertainty and unpredictability in your environment won’t magically evaporate as a result of practicing self-compassion, but your responses to those experiences and feelings can and will change.

alessandrozocc/Adobe Stock
Source: alessandrozocc/Adobe Stock

Self-compassion is a combination of mindful awareness, self-kindness, and a recognition of our common humanity. And fortunately, self-compassion is a skill that improves with practice.

To practice the mindful component of self-compassion, stay attuned to rather than disconnected from your emotions and thoughts. By exploring rather than avoiding negative experiences and feelings, you will ultimately be able to navigate the challenging circumstances you are in more effectively.

To bring self-kindness online, make a proactive effort to be supportive of yourself—like you would be there for a friend. Don’t minimize your feelings or harsh on yourself. Instead, practice thinking through how you would respond to a friend or loved one confiding in you about their fear and anxiety. Then apply that tone and supportive coaching to yourself.

Common humanity means remembering that your own personal experience of struggling is a bridge to an authentic understanding of what billions of other people are experiencing right now. Your fear and anxiety make you human. You are not alone.

Ways to practice self-compassion:

  1. Practice deliberate acts of self-care as a physical expression of self-compassion. Find the activities that resonate with you—stretching, drawing with soothing music in the background, following a guided meditation, taking an online exercise class.
  2. Write a letter to yourself, one paragraph for each of the elements of self-compassion. In the first paragraph, you can articulate what you are thinking and feeling. In the second, offer yourself a message of self-kindness (i.e., the kind of support you would give your friend). In the third paragraph, frame what you are feeling in connection to the broader world, from the point of view of how this challenge is a bridge to greater understanding and compassion for what it means to be a person alive in this uncertain moment.
  3. Ask for support, and give someone else the chance to help you. You don’t need to isolate yourself if you are struggling. A powerful way of exercising self-compassion can be to ask for, and take in, help from others. That could be from a professional counselor or from a loved one or friend that you trust. Think of how meaningful it has been for you to be able to help others. When you ask for and are willing to receive help, you are providing someone else with that same chance.

References

Stern, N. G., Engeln, R. (2018). Self-Compassionate Writing Exercises Increase College Women’s Body Satisfaction. Psychology of Women Quarterly.

Malcom, D. (2019). The Critical Role of Self-Compassion and Empathy in Well-Being. Am J Pharm Educ.; 83(10): 7784.