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Wellness & Beyond

Pandemic Stress: Start With Being Kind to Yourself

February 11, 2022

By Niki Irish

While our experiences may have differed over the past two years, all of us have struggled to navigate the challenges and even traumas the pandemic has wrought. In difficult times like these, the need for self-compassion is paramount.

Self-compassion is a helpful inner resource to enlist when we face adversity or setbacks. It can reduce anxiety, manage stress, reduce feelings of guilt and shame, and increase motivation and confidence. Research has shown that practicing self-compassion can even help prevent burnout and stop procrastination.

According to Kristin Neff, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the world's leading experts on the topic, self-compassion has three elements:

  1. Mindfulness: Acknowledging the feelings of stress and struggle without judgment or overreaction;
  2. Common Humanity: Recognizing everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect. Everyone struggles. You are not alone; and
  3. Kindness: Offering support and understanding to ourselves when we are having a hard time, instead of being self-critical and punishing.

Put simply, self-compassion means treating yourself with the kindness and fairness you would show a good friend. Self-compassion is simple in its definition but far from easy in its implementation. If you find yourself struggling with internal reactions that lack compassion, the good news is you can rewire your brain's circuitry.

You can start by evaluating just how self-compassionate you are. Below are exercises to help expand your self-compassion practice and begin rewiring your brain.

Name it to tame it. Give your inner critic a name, preferably a silly one. Adding levity helps break the emotional hold of the critical inner voice and separates your negative thoughts from your core being. You might even thank your inner critic for trying so hard to help you. Then tell them to take a rest.

Treat yourself like you would a good friend. Think about the support you would provide to a loved one who was struggling. Does it sound different than the way you are talking to yourself? Do you deserve less care and compassion? What beliefs, thoughts, and feelings come into play that cause you to treat yourself and others so differently?

Take regular self-compassion breaks. When you experience a difficult moment in your day, take a moment to start with a deep, slow breath and then note to yourself:

  1.  “This is a stressful moment.” What you are going through is hard.
  2. “Other people struggle with this, too; I am not alone.” Everyone experiences difficulties; it is part of the human experience.
  3. “I accept myself as I am.” Give yourself grace, thinking about what you need to hear right now to face the difficulty.

Be intentional with self-care. Find activities that soothe you — stretching, drawing while tranquil music plays, following a guided meditation — and give yourself a hug or “hand to heart.”

Practice affirmations. The next time you are struggling, try using a go-to statement such as, “This is a lot to handle. No one is perfect, and I am no exception. I am doing the best I can.” Or “I'm really hurting over this. It's okay to give myself time to feel sad and work through it.”

If you want help developing a practice or find yourself wanting to learn more about being self-compassionate, the D.C. Bar LAP (a free and confidential resource) is here for you. Reach us at [email protected].

Niki Irish is outreach and education coordinator for the D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program.