Wright Foundation | March 23, 2020

Love in the Time of Coronavirus:
Self-Compassion During Tough Times

Right now, we are all feeling a lot of emotions—fear, anger, sadness, hurt. The global pandemic of Coronavirus is unlike anything any of us have seen before.

When we aren’t able to reach out and touch others due to COVID-19 quarantines, how can we use self-care and self-compassion to comfort ourselves?

Job futures are uncertain, the economy is on shaky ground, and many of us are working from home, juggling home schooling, practicing social distancing, and simply trying to get through the day.

We hear a lot about self-care, which, yes, is important, but even more crucial right now is practicing self-compassion.

So, what’s the difference? And more importantly, how will self-compassion help us find comfort at this time?

Seeking Security in Uncertain Times

We all have reason to be scared right now.  There’s an almost palpable sense of fear and dread in the world. None of us have faced this situation before. We don’t know what the future looks like with Coronavirus.

Underneath that fear is a yearning for security—to feel safe. As humans, we all yearn to be secure from the time we are born. We look to our parents for security and to feel safe; we learn how to bring a sense of security into our lives by understanding our environment, seeking what is familiar and being able to predict outcomes. As described in Psychologist John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory, as we grow up, we learn what and who we can trust to be true. We learn that certainty equals security.

But right now, we’re not going to get the security of knowing how this will all play out. We can’t find the comfort of knowing an immediate answer. So we look to our connections with others to provide us with a secure base and a safe haven. A great deal of security comes from the people we care about and who care about us.

As we’ve discussed, maintaining our deep, essential connection with others is absolutely crucial at this time. Even when we’re socially distancing, we can find creative ways to connect, engage, and reach out with our hearts.

Learning to Hug Ourselves – The Importance of Self Compassion

Most of us are still longing for the physical hugging and connection that we share with our friends. When we touch during a conversation, hug hello and goodbye, and reach out, it soothes us. It helps us feel less alone.

We can also learn to provide this security and comfort for ourselves by practicing self-compassion—learning to treat ourselves with affection, kindness, and tenderness. As pioneering self-compassion researcher Dr. Kristin Neff describes it, it’s giving ourselves the same kindness we would give to a good friend.

Self-compassion means we develop compassion for our own fear and overwhelm; we recognize how difficult this time is, and do our best to be warm and caring to ourselves. We show ourselves the same care we show for our loved ones.

When we feel a longing for physical hugging, we can find ways to self-soothe and offer ourselves some compassion. Bodily comfort is something that calms us and helps us feel grounded. This may mean hugging a pet or even a pillow. It could mean we put a heavy blanket over ourselves, or take a warm, comforting bath.

Now is a time for us to seek things that make us feel better—not just to escape, but to really feed our souls. For many, that may mean turning off the news and avoiding the endless scroll through our social media feeds. Instead of escaping with soft addictions like binging on Netflix, eating junk food, or drowning sorrows in a glass of wine, look for self-compassion methods that uplift us.

Self-care has become a buzzword synonymous with escape and indulgence, whereas self-compassion refocuses our efforts on nourishing our soul. Praying, meditating, listening to beautiful music, and exercise can all be part of self-compassion. Read inspiring books, consume media that uplifts, and elevates.

Self-compassion also means speaking kindly to ourselves and reassuring ourselves that we are not alone, and reminding ourselves that we are strong. We will make it through this tough time. During challenging moments, we can talk to ourselves (using our own name, because we tend to be kinder and more affectionate with others than we are to ourselves). We might say, “It’s okay to be scared, Judith. It’s a tough time right now for everyone, and you’ve been caring for others and serving beautifully. You deserve care and comfort too.” This sweet, positive self-talk helps us feel cared for and nourished.

Let’s set our intention to emerge from this turmoil stronger and even more resilient. Reassure ourselves that our emotions are valid. If we want to cry, it’s okay to cry. If we find ourselves feeling joy, we can savor it without feeling guilty.

While we can’t fix what’s happening right now, we can soothe ourselves and practice self-compassion. Seek those things that soothe, calm, and uplift to nourish us and counteract the negative messages we’re being bombarded with right now.

We can find a sense of purpose by focusing on activities that nourish and strengthen our bodies, minds, and spirits. We will make it through this challenge together!

Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.