Unconditional Self-Friendship During a Pandemic: 4 Tips to Being with Yourself

There is no mistaking that the current COVID-19 pandemic touches us all.  There are new or heightened worries about one’s health, loved ones, and stability. Some are experiencing loss and grief. Also, there are missed experiences and a general stir craziness many individuals and families feel. I’ve heard friends describe it as feeling like the rug was pulled out from under them.  These changes undoubtedly affect our mental and emotional states.  Just as it is important to be safe and take care of one’s physical health, our minds also need care.

The Inner Friend vs. Critic

“Either way, always maintain a compassionate stance toward yourself as God does. Self-contempt will never produce lasting, healing change in our lives, only love.” – Ian Cron, The Road Back to You

One of my favorite podcasters and Ennegram expert, Ian Cron likes using the phrase unconditional self-friendship as he explores personality, trauma, and healing. Unconditional self-friendship is an attitude towards oneself.  It asks the question, “How can I respond to myself as a friend – as someone who cares, loves, and seeks to understand my feelings & thoughts?” This is an attitude towards oneself that is generous, patient, and reasonable. This friendship offers acceptance and kindness without the stipulations that you are ___________ enough (i.e. productive, impressive, attractive, giving, wealthy, spiritual, etc.). Instead, this self-friendship meets as you are.

Unconditional self-friendship is a vastly different attitude than the inner critic. The inner critic responds to the self with judgment, impatience, and unreasonable expectations. Why does the critic show up? The inner critic often pops up when faced with uncertainty and uncomfortable feelings like pain, disappointment, and anger. It is a response set off by insecurity and looking to correct or escape via blame. Unfortunately, this mindset is rigid and unfair.  With more stress and also more time alone for many, there is an even greater need to practice the art of unconditional self-friendship.  Below I name four suggestions to doing this.

Four Tips for Being with Yourself Right Now

  1. Emote sans comparison. Just as a loving friend would do, give yourself time to feel without judgment or comparison. I’ve heard friends say they feel like they can’t complain or feel bad for themselves when some individuals are going through something worse.  However, you have your own very real experience.  Your feelings are no less valid because of someone else’s. Perhaps take time to journal, dumping the heavy feelings onto a page. Cry if you need. Also, talk with a loving friend or therapist if you need. Simply give yourself time to feel.
  2. Recognize beauty. Balance is essential. Just as emoting is important, it’s also helpful to remind ourselves of what is good.  Take a walk outside and admire the Spring beauty. Reach out to a friend or family member. Let them cheer you up and try and do the same for them. Laugh any chance you get.  Set aside time to engage with a hobby or interest you enjoy as a nice mental break.  Additionally, there is a lot of need in the world right now.  In the midst of this pandemic,  acts of giving and service can be wonderful ways of recognizing the beauty of our shared humanity.
  3. Adjust expectations. Daily life looks very different for most individuals. Therefore, your expectations of yourself and what you can accomplish likely needs to change. This may be a real challenge for the over-achievers (you know who you are) and perfectionists. It feels good to be in charge and tick things off of a to-do list.  However, your list may need to change to accommodate new limitations or added responsibilities at home.
  4. Limit news consumption. There is an endless stream of Coronavirus-related headlines if you turn on the t.v. or check your news app.  It can be hard to escape it, and it causes greater anxiety for most people.  Since it is everywhere, do your best to be gentle with your mind by limiting how much time you spend researching and seeking out new information on the pandemic.  You can stay informed without checking your phone for news updates every hour. If you work in the health care industry or other form of being on the front lines, you are already immersed in it.  When you’re off duty, give yourself a true break and mind as much of a rest as you can. You need it.

I hope these tips are helpful as you navigate your own inner world while staying safe.

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Thank you for reading. Learn more about Lydia and her practice here.

Breathe

With your feet flat on the floor, back straight, and in a comfortable sitting position, take 10 deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and slowly exhale through your mouth.  Relax your shoulders as you do this. Close your eyes if you’d like.  Notice what it feels like to take each breath, letting your lungs expand and release. Give yourself this precious time. Resist the urge to rush.

After ten deep breaths, how do you feel? Perhaps more calm?  Hopefully you feel more grounded as well. Occasionally I invite clients to bring attention to their breath in session when emotions are heavy. I also strongly encourage deep breathing outside of session.

In the past several years practicing as a counselor, I have noticed an increase of anxiety presenting as a major concern for new clients. I wonder how much of this is related to an ever-growing culture of instantaneity and exposure. Recently I came across an article entitled “Wait a Minute” by Jonathan Rach in The Atlantic.  He proposes that it has become normalized to respond instantly via social media, email, texts, etc.  If we see something we don’t like, we can quickly shoot out an angry email or bear our soul on twitter. It may feel good in the short-term to vent such feelings but result in negative consequences, only creating greater anxiety. In this digital age, most of us are connected 24/7 to more and more people and greater amounts of information. Others have constant access to us.  Many feel pressure to be “on-call” at all times.  How healthy is this really?

Rach also references psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, who in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, believes humans have two cognitive systems: System 1 and System 2.

“System 1 is intuitive, automatic, and impulsive. It makes snap judgments about dangers as predators or opportunities such as food, and it delivers them to our awareness without conscious thought. It can also be wrong. It is biased and emotional. It overreacts and under-reacts. System 2, by contrast, is slower and involves wearying cognitive labor. It gathers facts, consults evidence, weighs arguments, and makes reasoned judgments. It protects us from the errors and impulsivity of System 1.” (Rach).

We need System 1 and System 2 in order to process events.  If we attach truth only to the data collected by emotions, we can find ourselves controlled by feelings.  Anxiety flourishes in the midst of such chaos. Suddenly we find ourselves plummeting down the rabbit hole of catastrophizing, comparing, and blaming.  Self-doubt also creeps in.

Stress is normal day-to-day.  So is anger, fear, and hurt.  Honoring such emotions by processing them in a meaningful, reflective way is healing.  Taking time to breathe is an act of self-compassion. It is intentionally hitting the pause button on all the noise. Pausing and breathing also invites System 2 into the space.  The mind requires a break, and with busy lives we can forget to catch our breaths.  Establishing boundaries with your time, giving yourself breaks, and taking time to breathe are tools to creating balance and truly loving yourself better.

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Thank you for reading. Learn more about Lydia and her practice here.

Three Keys to Listening Well

Listening is loving. It is food for the soul and nourishment for relationships. Being heard and understood deeply has a powerful effect, enabling us to feel safe, cared for, loved, and empowered. However, listening well can be difficult.  This is becoming even more of a challenge in today’s society where a million distractions lay at our fingertips. Below are three keys to listening well and improving the way we connect with others.

  1. Presence

“When people have been with me in the moment of my pain, I have little remembered what they have said. It is their presence I recall. The gift of presence is not that it takes away the pain, but that it enables one to bear it.” – Stephen Howard, The Heart and Soul of the Therapist

To be present with another human means to offer my full attention. By setting aside other distractions, I can offer you the gift of thoughtful focus on you, your words and your emotions.  There is a remarkable difference between true presence and distracted listening. For instance, most of us have been guilty of trying to squeeze in a text while listening to a friend. Perhaps you’ve been on the opposite end of this as well and have felt the sting of rejection when you realize your words are falling on deaf ears.  Being human means we make mistakes.  A part of improving how we listen means to take note of what often distracts us and to set aside specific time to intentionally be present with loved ones.

2. Empathy

“If we share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” –Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

To listen well involves empathy, or the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings of another.  Practicing empathy via listening means that rather than offer solutions or try and “fix”, silence and patience is instead offered.  In the precious space of silence, my friend is allowed to give name to her pain, confusion, or sadness. She has a chance to be heard and to tell her story. Now, rather than burden of hidden shame or pain, she feels joined and a bit less alone in her experience.

3. Boundaries

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” -Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Boundaries are critical towards listening well because they enable individuals to offer presence & empathy. Practicing presence and empathy demands emotional energy.  Being human means we have limits to our capacity to give these resources.  Setting boundaries means we are in tune with how much we have to give and say yes when we feel capable and no when we do not.  The same people who often thrive in the areas of listening and compassion struggle to set boundaries because they want to give too much.  As Brené Brown mentions above, it is important that we care for and love ourselves enough by resisting the urge to merely please others and instead give when we feel truly able.

Presence, Empathy, and Boundaries set the tone for meaningful interactions.  By practicing these tenants, our relationships are given depth and life.

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Thank you for reading. Learn more about Lydia and her practice here.

A Short Reflection on Money

Lately I have really enjoyed reading Hugh Prather’s Notes to Myself. His reflections are simple yet profound and refreshing. He talks on many subjects, relatable to young and old alike. Perhaps one of my favorite writings of his is on the topic of money. Below I share his thoughts…

ntms“The number of things just outside of the perimeter of my financial reach remains constant no matter how much my financial condition improves. With each increase in my income a new perimeter forms and I experience the same relative sense of lack. I believe that I know the specific amount needed that would allow me to have or do these few things I can’t quite afford, and if my income would increase by that much I would then be happy. Yet, when the increase comes, I find that I am still discontent because from my new financial position I can now see a whole new set of things I don’t have. The problem will be solved when I accept that happiness is a present attitude, not a future condition.” (Hugh Prather, Notes to Myself).

I read this several times wanting to let it sink in…perhaps it resonates with you as well. What stands out most to me here is the “sense of lack” Prather refers to.  In a country and society of plenty, we are bombarded with messages of the opposite…messages about the next, new thing we must have. I believe that Prather is on to something when he presents an alternative. To be open and grateful for what we have in the present provides a welcome relief from the unrelenting, anxiety-provoking game that is the “hustle for more”.

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Thank you for reading. To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice feel free to visit here.