Dear parents and students,
Suddenly, changes are happening all around you and you may not know what to expect or to do. Parents, you now have to be responsible for your child’s complete learning, while also having to address the many other stressors that are coming forth as a result of this COVID-19 pandemic. And students, you are probably feeling lonely, bored, frustrated, and worried about what’s going to happen now as it relates to the rest of your school year. Parents and students, you may also be feeling some grief and loss over things you were excited about accomplishing or participating in this school year that have now been postponed or possibly canceled. Let’s be honest, all of these changes can be a lot to deal with and may cause you to not only feel anxious, but they can also lead to feelings of inadequacy. Well, I am here to tell you that now is not the time to be hard on yourself or to criticize yourself for what’s happening. It’s going to take self-compassion, positive self-talk, and self-care. I will explain.
Self-compassion is a skill that builds courage and resilience in the face of life’s toughest challenges such as this. It is a practice that allows you to see things as they are, rather than what you tell yourself they are or “should” be. Simply put, self-compassion is about treating yourself well, with as much, if not more loving and kindness as you would a family member or dear friend who needed you.
The first step to build self-compassion is to become comfortable with assessing and acknowledging when you are experiencing distress to include stating what you feel and need in this moment. You can do this now by taking a moment to curiously notice the changes in your external world, changes you’ve noticed in your internal world (your body and mind), and changes you’ve noticed in your feelings towards yourself.
What did you observe? What’s causing you the most distress? What are some of your needs? Once you are able to answer these questions, acknowledge that you may be having “good” and “bad” feelings during this time and say, “It’s okay to feel what I am feeling; I am not alone in this.”
The second step is to suspend judgment and minimize self-criticism of yourself. What you say to yourself about yourself matters. Chronic, harsh self-criticism may lead you to feel worthless, and when the inner critic takes over unhelpful behaviors ensue. Self-compassion and positive self-talk can help you manage your relationship with your inner critic. The goal is to soften your relationship with your inner critic, to better understand it, and stand up to it when necessary.
Since we are experiencing a significant shift in the world as we knew it, what sorts of things have you been typically self-critical of, what does your inner critic have you paying attention to, and what areas of living or behaviors have you been particularly hard on yourself about? What impact does your inner critic have on you now? Once you have answered these questions, say these out loud, write them down, draw it out, sing it, or express it anyway that fits your personality:
“May I be accepting of myself and my experiences.”
“May I be loving toward myself.”
“May I be gentle with myself.”
“May I be wise and understanding.”
“May I be strong and willing to be with this experience.”
“May I be courageous and committed to myself.”
The third step is to take care of your body. Your body is definitely being impacted by what you feel and think. It is highly likely that during times of stress, your body is often ignored, neglected, and criticized. Increasing self-compassion involves learning to become more attentive to your physical self as well. Find small ways to practice everyday body awareness and actions. Simple things you can do include:
- For your body posture, sit in a supportive, stable position with your feet shoulder-width apart, with a straight spine, shoulders relaxed and your head upright.
- Allow yourself to adopt a warm, friendly expression with a gentle smile, even when your feelings don’t match.
- Now, gently wrap your arms around your shoulders and give yourself a hug of support.
Now is not the time to engage in destructive behaviors. It is time for you to a be kind and supportive coach to yourself and give yourself permission to act in your best self-interest and embrace this moment for what it is until you are able to get through it to the other side.
Tenelle O. Jones
Tenelle O. Jones is licensed as a Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT) and licensed as an Addictions Counselor (LAC). She currently works full-time at MUSC’s National Crime Victims’ Research & Treatment Center as a Human Service Coordinator II. For the past 23 years, her professional & personal life have been centered around promoting overall mental, physical, and spiritual health of all communities.
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