Prof. Dr. Kemal Arıkan
Psychiatrist

Awareness and Self-Compassion

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We all are feeling a massive stress and fear due to the novel Coronavirus. This stress and fear may cause us to panic, to become obsessed, or to start developing adverse habits, such as overeating or eating unhealthy food. Nevertheless, there are two practices that would help us remain calm and acquire a new perspective. These two practices are awareness and self-compassion.

Besides helping an individual to cope with their stress and fears about the current pandemic, these practices are also effective on those who had traumas in the past and on the groups of people who suffered from emotional, physical and sexual abuses in the past. They can also be effective in the groups that are “triggered” by the current crisis.

Awareness

Awareness gives us the ability to accept painful thoughts and feelings in a balanced manner. It is particularly a healthier way for many of us to cope both with stress and fear caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. Awareness provides us with a way to get back to our anxiety and fear, thus preventing us from feeling specific emotions at excessive levels.

First and foremost, “awareness” includes being in the present. It is said that the present time is the only thing we have. The past has already happened and the future has not. Tomorrow, we can get so lost in our fears that we might lose the present time.

In addition to learning how to pay attention in the present time, we must also learn how to do it without any assessment or judgment. We must use or conscious awareness and channel our attention only to observe and observe more. Awareness requires one to observe what is happening right here, right now just like in our awareness zone.

Acceptance is another way of awareness. Change can naturally occur when we respond to our pain by accepting it, instead of ignoring or trying to get rid of our emotional twinge. Acceptance is not the same thing as indifference or feeling weak or hopeless. On the contrary, within this context, acceptance stands for making a conscious choice in order to experience our feelings and thoughts as they are. When we try to accept in this manner and when we quit controlling or manipulating our experiences, we open the doors of the change.

Exercise: Starting the Awareness Practice

This is an introductory exercise that is not quite threatening in terms of attentiveness. You can’t do it wrong, so don’t worry about “doing it right”. The whole exercise should last only five minutes; however, make sure to be in a quiet place where you would not be distracted (Turn off your cell phone, TV, radio, etc.). Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Take a couple of deep breaths and start realizing what it feels like to be in your body. Be aware of the physical senses in your body and be one with them.

You don’t need to pay attention on any specific sense, yet if you recognize any feeling or sense, just feel it and let it go. Maybe you feel a warmth in your hands and a strain on your shoulders. If it’s a nice feeling, feel it and let it go. If not, feel it and let it go as well. Just realize what feelings and senses appear. Do not rush it.

Gently open your eyes approximately after five minutes. You may or may not realize that you are more connected to the present and your body. The purpose of this introductory practice is to help you get acquainted with the awareness practice.

Self-compassion

While compassion is the ability to feel and connect with the pain of another individual, self-compassion is the ability of the individual to feel and connect with their own pain. More subjectively, self-compassion is the act of having compassion for oneself in the events of insufficiency, failure or general sorrow.

If we have self-compassion, we need to get acquainted with, approve and provide support for ourselves, just like when we offer compassion toward a loved one or a friend who is unhappy.

Kristin Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas in Austin, is a leading researcher in the growing field of self-compassion. In her groundbreaking book, Self-compassion, she defines self-compassion as “Being open to one’s own sorrows and to be motivated by them, to have the sensations of compassion and kindness toward oneself, along with understanding, a non-judgmental attitude toward one’s insufficiencies and failures, and to accept that one’s experiences are a part of a common human experience.”

Self-compassion encourages you to treat yourself and talk to yourself by showing the same kindness that you would show toward a close friend of yours, your children, your spouse, namely toward a person you love. Just as it has been shown that establishing connections with the pain of others helps one diminish and even heal the discomfort or problems of others, establishing connections with your own pain will do the same for you.

REFERENCES:
– Germer, C. (2009). The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion. New York: Guilford Press. Neff, Kristin. Self-Compassion. New York: William Morrow.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-compassion-chronicles/202003/coping-the-corona-virus-mindfulness-and-compassion

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