Self-compassion important in the age of Covid-19
Padraig O'Morain: If you want to feel better, do something nice for someone else
In the northern hemisphere May tends to be a peak month for suicide
Are people fraying at the edges as we continue the excruciatingly slow dance of lifting the lockdown? Looking at Google search trends the other day I noticed an increase in searches on self-compassion, which raised the question in my mind.
May is a hard month emotionally in any year, though.
In the northern hemisphere it tends to be a peak month for suicide. Nobody really knows why – one theory is that some people’s sense of emotional isolation increases as they see everyone else apparently cheering up with the arrival of summer.
Another theory is that the increased hours of sunlight brings about hormonal changes which somehow have the effect of increasing the suicide risk for some people.
We may never know. Indeed, the sense of all being in the Covid-19 fight together may reduce the sense of isolation and this could help to reduce the incidence of suicide – saving family and friends the awful, long drawn out distress of such tragic losses.
Yet as the restrictions grind on, as even going for a walk involves ducking and diving to give space to each other, the wear and tear on our nerves has to make itself felt.
Hence, perhaps, that increased interest in self-compassion.
A friendly attitude towards yourself is the key component of self-compassion. No surprise there – but we can be so given to judging ourselves harshly that we act more like enemies than friends. Freud described this aspect of the personality in his theory of personality 100 years ago. Other great psychologists in the 20th century came to the same conclusion.
I’m recommending freely chosen acts of kindness that make you feel better
At a time like this, the critic in your head can have a field day if you are left with too much time too think. The critic, for instance, might give you a hard time because life hasn’t worked out the way you expected – the critic fails to recognise that this is a common complaint and doesn’t necessarily say anything special about. you. Or the critic might attack you because you didn’t do all those things you said you were going to do during the lockdown – here we are now and all the long-neglected projects are still gathering dust.
And then, the people you’re cooped up with might be getting on your nerves too and you might be getting on theirs. Or maybe you’re not cooped up with anyone and you’re desperate for some real, live, social connection that isn’t on a screen.
Acts of kindness towards other people improve our own wellbeing and that’s one way to practise self-compassion. The research on this is strong and consistent. If you want to feel better, do something nice for someone else. The research also suggests that they in turn will be more likely to be perform acts of kindness for others – everybody wins.
“Something nice” can be a compliment, an expression of gratitude, a hello, taking some boring task off their hands and so on.
Note that this is not about self-sacrifice which is something different and which, if you feel pushed to it, can leave you feeling worse about yourself. That’s especially so if you are being “put upon” by people who leave all the heavy lifting to you because you let them get away with it.
I’m recommending freely chosen acts of kindness that make you feel better.
If you find it hard to do things for yourself that you like, to give yourself time to ‘be’, to relax, you may be allowing that harsh judge Freud wrote about to run the show.
Every time you spot that harsh judge kicking off – you should have done this, you should have done that, you’re a letdown – I recommend you take a good, thick, imaginary face mask, slap it across your imaginary judge’s mouth and let him or her rant on unheard.
The judge demands superiority and perfection. Yet average is as good as it gets for the average person. In most fields of life most of us are below average because we have no experience of them. The judge is deluded.
– Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (email@example.com)