Mindful self-compassion: An antidote to anxiety and fear
In these unprecedented times, I have seen people become more anxious and stressed than ever before. A lot of this is due to the uncertainty brought about by the Covid virus - uncertainty about the disease itself, fear of catching it, fear of an unknown future, fear of no-end in sight, fear of never being able to return to normal sleep patterns, social functions, and tactile connection with others. These are valid fears, quite understandable, and a normal reaction to a sense of threat.
Our brain is designed for our survival rather than our happiness and, therefore, when we are faced with uncertainty without reference to something similar - such as is the case with this novel virus - then we search an imagined future to see how the 'what if's play out. The problem is, the brain inevitably leads us to worst-case scenarios as it is designed to protect and problem solve.
So, how can we redress this negativity bias that neuroscientist Rick Hanson describes in his book 'hardwiring happiness'?
Here are some tips based on mindful self-compassion practice. I have found them helpful and share them with my clients and the groups I teach in these current times:
1. Keep your focus in the present moment
Present moment awareness enables you to let go of the past that no longer exists. It can prevent you from feeling surges of grief and lament the freedoms of just a few months back, and stops you worrying about a future that has not yet happened and, therefore, does not exist.
We cannot predict the future, so remaining in the stillness of the present moment through being in nature, and practising mindfulness has shown to be deeply nourishing and soothing.
2. Be self-compassionate towards yourself
Don't beat yourself up when you don't go to bed as early as you would like or don't sleep as well as you would normally. This just creates another problem to solve and more anxiety.
Be kind to yourself, eat well and drink more water, exercise a little each day and practice mindfulness, as this will enable your body to get back into its natural rhythms so you can get enough sleep.
3. Focus on the things you can control
Such as what time you eat, sleep, exercise, and your creativity. Write about your feelings, draw, paint, play music - small steps towards restoring routine and balance.
4. Keep in touch with friends and family
Either online or via the phone. This enables us as social beings to keep connected during this time of social distancing.
5. Have a gratitude practice
A simple daily practice, listing things you have enjoyed or appreciated during the day. It could be fresh air, a phone call from a friend, a particularly tasty meal - they don't have to be big things. However, research shows a regular practice such as gratitude and meditation can lift the mood significantly and strengthen emotional resilience.
6. Acknowledge how you feel in any given moment
All your feelings are valid. Once we validate, we are much more able to move forward and take healing action. If you try to suppress strong emotion by comparing yourself with others and telling yourself that your problems are nothing compared to others', that is like saying you don't matter.
But you do matter. All suffering and pain have a cause and your suffering is no less painful than anyone else's.
7. Savour pleasant moments
Such as being with a beloved pet, or tending to flowers in the garden. This again is a proven way to refocus your attention from negative thinking, as these moments are committed to memory and are more easily accessed if we pay full attention to them for at least 14 seconds.
8. Reach out to another if you're suffering
Remember that you matter. Just talking can often help alleviate some of the stronger negative emotions.
9. Find a daily routine that is sustainable and enjoyable
We are creatures of habit and the body enjoys routine and structure - even the introduction of a little routine can give the feeling of control and reduce anxiety.
Also, remember, this time will pass, you will recover, and you will feel calm again.
Do get in touch if you would like any further help or support at this time. I offer compassion-focused, integrative hypnotherapy and psychotherapy and teach the mindful self-compassion programme. I also run classes, groups, and retreats.