As the stay at home order continues here in the state of North Carolina, many people are questioning how to gain momentum with their time. Others may be facing a surge of anxiety as a result of multiple factors. And finally, others may be struggling with addiction issues that are exacerbated by the pandemic. Collectively, we all share in the sense of feeling disconnected from our pre-COVID 19 experience. Nonetheless, we can stay relationally connected in meaningful ways as we remain at home; my colleagues at the Center for Family Transformation (CFT) have written several blog posts about this topic over the past few weeks. If we can be intentional with our time and the way we connect with others, we might experience joy and be capable of sharing that joy with others. This begins with a wholehearted living mindset. We must first care for our whole self to be life giving to others.
Today’s blog post will be about cultivating daily guideposts to wholehearted living. For our purposes, wholehearted living might also be known as self-compassion. Self compassion is when we release what weighs us down and embrace the present experience we are having in this pandemic. Dr. Brene Brown1 says, “wholeheartedness is like a north star. You can never get there. But you know when you’re heading the right way.” To cultivate wholeheartedness is to create something positive from our circumstances by putting our metaphorical oars in the waters of life and rowing our boats. In order to do that, we must detach our anchors (those things connecting us to habits and mindsets from the past) to make effective progress when rowing. In my experience as a counselor, this can only be done through regular self-compassion. I believe there are two major elements to this, which I’ll describe in more detail below.
Guidepost #1 – Managing expectations
The first step toward self-compassion is recognizing the common humanity we share amid such trying times. We are all struggling to understand the daily changes during COVID-19. During the uncertainty, you can practice being kind to yourself and managing your expectations. You will make mistakes in the midst of this; that is normal! Being gentle with yourself gives you the flexibility to be creative while you experience difficult emotions, something my colleague Kyle Ferlic recently wrote about on our site. Being gentle also means practicing mindfulness by allowing yourself to feel what you are feeling without ignoring, rejecting, or amplifying those emotions (which can cause a sense of stuckness). Acknowledging what is within you gives you the ability to control your feelings, which are always temporary. This will help you row your boat forward. Below, I outline a few mindfulness skills to use in this endeavor.
- Grounding: First, sit in a chair with both feet flat on the floor without crossing your legs or your arms. Take a deep breath in through your nose until you get to your fullest extent of breath; hold it for 3 seconds, then breathe out through your mouth like you are breathing through a straw. If you can, try to exhale for twice as long as the inhale. As you breathe, scan your body and notice any areas of stress or tension. Focus on areas of discomfort that exist and release that tension as you breathe. This can be incredibly soothing. If you create a habit of grounding, you can learn to calm your body and your brain on your command.
- Meditation: Second, I encourage you to incorporate a daily practice into your routine of guided breathing. You can download an app like Headspace or Calm, take a free yoga class online, and/or journal gratitude daily. For example, if you feel attached to fear, validate that emotion, then intentionally shift your focus away to an authentic sense of gratitude. Journal about that gratitude and savor it every day.
- Urge surfing: Finally, urge surfing is a technique to be used if you are trying to break an addictive habit or pattern. When you have a craving or urge, notice how you feel and tell yourself this craving will pass. Redirect your attention to a healthy distraction. I encourage my clients to have a list of 10 to 20 ideas on-hand so they do not feel overwhelmed when the craving comes. You can go for a bike ride outside or call a trusted friend. Biking is an activity that has brought me joy, gratitude, and well-being during the pandemic. If you like to journal, you can document each event to track your progress.
Like emotions, our stay-at-home orders are temporary, but the habits you create during this time can bring lasting and meaningful change.
Guidepost #2 – Cultivating a resilient spirit
Next, let us focus on cultivating a resilient spirit. By this, I mean letting go of the powerlessness and numbness that you hold onto during trials. To overcome powerlessness, you must focus on those things you can control while embracing reality’s constraints. If something is out of your control, it is not worth your energy. Dr. Brene Brown2 identifies the resilient spirit as, “wholehearted people who have a deeply held belief that [they] are inextricably connected to each other by something greater than [themselves].” It is this spirit of oneness that provides purpose and perspective. It reminds you that you have what you need around you to survive, resiliently, through circumstances of chaos.
Numbness, on the other hand, actually leads to powerlessness. When you numb yourself, you ignore the challenges and emotions that require your attention. Activities like surfing social media or watching the news become mechanisms for propagating fear and paralysis. If these outlets are not spreading accurate information, they can be harmful. My recommendation is to stay well informed but track your screen time and check the facts. Just like compulsive eating and drinking keep you comfortable, they will also numb you to what your body is trying to tell you. At its core, numbing is a type of avoidance, so it contributes to feelings of powerlessness. Instead of numbing, try bringing awareness to your habits. Then, ask yourself if you desire something different. Take a step toward cultivating resilience today.
The story we tell ourselves
Finally, for those out there already struggling with mental health issues like anxiety, depression, or addiction, this lockdown experience is likely exacerbating symptoms. We feel for you and with you. There may be a temptation to cope with numbing activities, which might make you feel powerless. If you are unable to work through both guideposts above, please reach out to us at the CFT to help. We are seeing clients all across North Carolina using simple, secure, HIPAA-compliant teletherapy. On the other hand, if you are able to work through the guideposts, your next step is intentional storytelling…to yourself! By that, I mean that your outlook during this difficult time is going to depend on the narrative that you play inside your mind. Working from home and feeling isolated from friends can be really difficult because no one is there to challenge your thoughts when your internal chatter becomes overwhelming. Today, try reframing your expectations by confronting your internal voice. It may help you see things differently and give you a renewed capacity for joy each day. Bishop T.D. Jakes said, “The story you tell yourself is often a shelter that shades you from the truth of what it takes to changes.” What story are you telling yourself?
Let’s wrap this up. In this blog post, we talked about three specific things. First, I encouraged you to grow in self-compassion using two guideposts in the journey. The first guidepost was around managing your expectations, while the second was cultivating a resilient spirit through grounding and mindfulness. Afterward, we discussed intentionally challenging your internal narrative to grow in your joy. With all this in mind, my hope for you as you depart is that you might take into consideration whole-hearted living, starting now. Your mental, emotion, and spiritual well-being matter, and this is where you start!
- Brown. B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, NY: Avery.
- Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.