This is a crazy time we are living in. Without getting into any doom-and-gloom or speculating on how dangerous COVID-19 may be, it is reasonable to say that we are living through a completly unique worldwide experience at this time. Our current status is unprecedented - businesses are closing, schools are closed, restaurants are closed, people are working from home, government officials are ordering curfews and shelter-in-place orders, countries are limiting travel or closing their borders.
There is no playbook for what we're going through right now. The average individual has likely never anticipated having to cope with something like this. We now have a perfect mix of circumstances to cause some serious mental health and emotional problems for folks: a looming danger that they cannot do much about, disruption of daily routine and schedule, financial loss or significant threat of financial loss, fear for one's own safety and the safety of family, inability to engage in normal recreation activities, and significant decrease in immediately social contact. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, loneliness, and increased addiction are all looming around the corner for many, so self-care is more important now than ever.
We're going to try to put some accessible coping skill tools in the hands of people through our blog and we'll start today.
Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), first developed by Paul Gilbert, posits three interrelated emotion systems within each person: a) the drive system which is linked with pursuing goals, excitement, accomplishment, having fun, and pleasure, b) a settle and soothe system which helps us to feel calm/safe/secure and is also linked with social/relational connection, c) the threat system which monitors for danger and promotes feelings of anxiety and fear. Not surprisingly, many people's threat systems are likely stuck in high gear.
Did you know you can help activate your own settle and soothe system by changing the way you relate to yourself? Developing a more gentle, compassionate attitude towards yourself will help bring this system online. This is where self-compassion and self-validation comes in.
The truth is, you're probably feeling all sorts of things right now and telling yourself to "calm down," may not actually be very helpful. Instead, your first coping skill in this crazy time is to give yourself permission to feel what you feel. To self-validate is to say "I feel what I feel and that's okay right now. Given everything that is going on and my history, it makes sense that I feel this way." This does not give us permission to act however we want, but it gives us the internal space to hold our feelings and experience more gently - which makes a big difference in how well we can tolerate it!
One way I work on this with client's in the office is to have them imagine their inner child and when they are feeling strong emotions, to speak to themselves as if speaking to that inner child. I know, I know, this may sound hokey, but keep an open mind and try it for yourself. If we're honest, most of us can admit that when we're experiencing strong, difficult, painful emotions, part of us inside feels like a child - uncertain, vulnerable, afraid, in need of support, reassurance, and comfort.
This part of us needs gentle, compassionate, validation for what we're feeling. Your healthy adult side can help provide that for yourself in your own self-talk. When you're feeling anxiety, fear, worry building in these coming days, speak gently to yourself as if speaking to a scared child, "You're feeling scared right now. That's okay. It makes sense. The world is kind of scary. It's alright if you feel that way."
If you practice this regularly, you'll notice that the difficult emotions become a little easier to hold and you may even notice a soothing experience as you start to engage the settle-and-sooth emotion system.
Give yourself permission to feel. Take time to be gentle and compassionate with yourself!
Want more ideas on how to practice this? Let us know!