Hello! It’s me, Steph, and it’s been a while.
I’m back though, and I hope these reminders make you go, “wow, I needed to hear that” (or at least some of them!).
I’ve learned a lot about mental health in the last few months, but particularly about self-compassion. I started therapy post-mental breakdown before the pandemic, and what I thought would be weekly sessions focused on helping me control anxiety turned out to be a journey of discovering my capacity to be nice to myself, and of the incredible power of switching from a place of shame, guilt and expectation, to a place of love, understanding and acceptance.
Normally I’d post these reminders on my Instagram story, but I don’t want to have to cut them down, because I believe in these things very strongly.
I’m not a psychologist or a professional in any way. But I am a human, and I’m struggling with things most of you are also struggling with. So I wanted to remind you of some points that I know I personally needed to bring back into focus. So, in no particular order:
1. It’s ok to have no idea how to feel or be right now.
None of us know. Not my friends, not the government, and not even Oprah knows. Nobody is getting it “right.” There is no ‘right’ way to respond to a global pandemic emotionally or mentally!
It’s ok to not how how to name or explain your thoughts or feelings, and if you can, it’s ok if they don’t seem to ‘make sense.’ If you feel something, regardless of why, it’s real, and you’re allowed to be emotional or apathetic or even happy you get to catch up on reading or spend time with your family or whatever! Just know that there is no rubric, and whatever you’re doing, you’re doing ok.
2. It’s ok to have rubbish mental health right now.
But really – it’s ok to be depressed or triggered or anxious or exhausted or just not ok, even if you’re not sure what you feel at all. Positivity and gratitude are really helpful, especially at a time like this. But sometimes they aren’t enough, which is ok.
It’s not a personal failure if you can’t force yourself to ‘look on the bright side’ or ‘be thankful for how lucky you are all things considered.’ You’re not ungrateful if you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, or just feeling terrible all the time.
Take care of yourself if you’re struggling. Don’t put pressure on yourself to ‘focus on the good’ and ‘be strong.’ Don’t try to shame yourself into mental health – if anything, that makes it all worse. Offer yourself validation, understanding, and space to do what you need to.
Don’t put arbitrary expectations on yourself to be happy and content and grateful and healthy just because you’re, you know, not dying or without a home or in any other extreme situation.
3. Stop using the word should
Should is a bad word. It brings feelings of shame, guilt and inadequacy. Again – there is no correct or best way to be during this period!
Stop yourself when you hear yourself saying “I should do this” or “I should be doing less of this” or “I shouldn’t be doing/eating/feeling/thinking this.” Switch to alternative words and phrases that still help you reflect on your lifestyle in a constructive way, like, “is this the most helpful thing for me to be doing/eating/feeling/thinking? What else could I be doing/etc with this time that would fulfill my needs more? Do I feel I have the capacity for that?”
If the answer is no, that’s ok! Pick something else to do, and allow yourself NOT to do things, too.
4. Routines help
They do not have to be big or well planned or productive or perfect. It can literally be three things you do to start your day and one thing to wind down for bed. It could be scheduling blocks of your day carefully and colour-coding everything. Do whatever makes you feel good. Nobody knows you better than you, and nobody knows your needs better than you – have faith in that! Lean into yourself!
5. That being said, don’t beat yourself up if you change your mind on where you’re spending your time
It’s ok to realize that you’re not satisfied with how you’ve been spending your time over the last few days/weeks/months. Do not beat yourself up, or say “ugh I SHOULD have been learning a language/working harder/reading more/exercising often/eating less-“ or whatever!
Rather, say things like, “Ok, I tried that for a weeks weeks to see if it was what I needed, and in retrospect, it was not. What would I like to try tomorrow/in the next few days?” And see how that makes you feel.
There is no urgency to ‘get it right’ – it being living, in the most general sense of the word, in this situation. Working from home, maybe living with people we usually don’t, not seeing loved ones, limited contact with others, the crippling weight of the pandemic – it’s a lot. There is no correct way for you to design your lifestyle to ‘suit’ this moment in history.
Doing your best everyday is enough! Stay in touch with your needs, and give yourself permission and space to change your mind and try new things – and DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP for feeling unsatisfied with whatever it is you were doing before.
6. There is no! Right! way! to! Be! During a global pandemic!
I know I’ve said this already, but it’s a big deal. You literally do not need to worry about whether or not you’re using this time well/putting enough effort into being mentally healthy/capable of productivity/etc.
If productivity makes you feel good, do that! If shaming yourself into an activity (work/exercise/diet/etc) makes you feel worse, don’t do that! And forgive yourself for shaming/being hard on yourself too.
We’re all trying to be the best version of ourselves and hold ourselves accountable. It’s easy to slip into a place of shaming/guilting ourselves to do The Things. But you owe yourself more than that; take the time to try shake those patterns of talking to yourself.
7. PRACTICE COMPASSION
With yourself above all, but also with others. My favorite Instagram account is @lisaoliveratherapy who has great resources for self-compassion and tending to our needs. She even has things like self-compassion journal prompts, which you can google if you’d like, too.
You don’t have to follow a bunch of self help accounts or journal if you don’t want to. You can just spend a few minutes asking yourself, “how can I offer myself compassion right now?”
Be kind to yourself. The way we speak to ourselves matters. You owe yourself acceptance and compassion, because you deserve love and safety. You just have to give those things to yourself, too – now more than ever.