Both awareness and self-compassion help us alleviate stress and fear in daily life. Let’s apply these practices on our current reactions of apprehension, fear and stress regarding the Covid-19 virus.
- Draw the line between being ready and panicking. When we are stressed or concerned, our logical side goes offline as our survival mode activates itself. It is not possible to establish a bond between intellectual information for we are too busy running away from danger. Nevertheless, when our brain senses safety, the logical side of our brain (prefrontal cortex) goes back online. Now, that’s when we can make a realistic plan for the future. For instance, our prefrontal cortex helps us prepare a reasonable shopping list while we are at home, writing that list. However, when we go to the market and see everyone running around in panic, we immediately join them. “Social contagion” is the scientific term for this case, which is fundamentally the spreading of emotions from person to person. But what are we going to do with this term? First and foremost, realizing that we are panicking is a good first step. At the moment, awareness is helping us ground ourselves, which in turn helps our mind stop racing with anxiety and thoughts of disaster toward the future, in a similar manner to the way that you step off the gas as your car gets out of control. Grounding is a powerful yet simple strategy that will help you get rid of and manage fear, anxiety and pain. The purpose here is to shift your attention from emotions to the outside world. Grounding is significant particularly in that it can be implemented whenever you feel emotional pain, and it can be done anytime, anywhere or when you are alone.
Attention please: Grounding is not a “relaxation technique”; as a matter of fact, it is a more effective tool for trauma victims. Some people with PTSD get even more anxious when they are directed with conventional relaxation techniques (e.g. “Close your eyes, focus on your breath”). Closing one’s eyes may lead to dissociation for some people, and the word “relaxation” may even function as triggers that would remind them of sexual abuse.
Many people report that they felt more “stuck in the moment” after they performed grounding. In fact, many of them feel surprised as they feel that “they leave (are separated from) their bodies”. When you feel extremely anxious, or when you have flashbacks, or when you recall your traumatic memories, you can perform grounding.
Basic Grounding Practice
- Find a quiet place where you wouldn’t be disturbed or distracted.
- Sit in a chair or a couch. Place your feet on a flat surface. If you are wearing heels, you will need to take your shoes off to press your feet against the floor.
- Take a deep breath with your eyes open. Focus your attention one more time to feel the floor under your feet. Keep breathing and pressing your feet firmly against the floor in a flat way during the exercise.
- Now, look around the room as you keep breathing. As you slowly scan the room, pay attention to the colors, shapes and textures of the objects in the room. If you want to, take a glance around the room in order to have a wider scene.
As you keep breathing, focus on paying attention to the different colors, textures and shapes of the objects in the room.
This grounding exercise will serve several purposes:
- It will bring your awareness back to your body, which can prevent you from panicking, getting triggered or dissociated.
- It will bring you back to the here and now if you panic, if you are triggered or if you constantly recall a bad memory.
- Paying more attention to the world visually or focusing your attention outside yourself breaks the spiral of panic and diminishes these feelings and thoughts.
- In turn, you would learn how to diminish these fears, many of which feel extremely realistic (“I will lose my job”, “My grandmother will die”). Awareness practices, such as the one provided above, may help you diminish your fears.
- Learn how to comfort yourself. When you start feeling panicked, obsessed or triggered by something present in your settings, caress your own arm, face or hair, or give yourself a hug. Pay attention on how your body feels after you have implemented these self-soothing techniques. Does it feel more tranquil or more comfortable? Pay attention to which one of these self-soothing techniques fits you the best.
Do not let your critical mind talk to you; soothing yourself is not weird or self-centered, but it is something that is full of love for yourself.
- Stop judging yourself for feeling anxious and scared or for showing seemingly infertile or unhealthy behaviors. You need to reconsider these difficult feelings, such as fear and pain, which may provide us with important information about what we live inside. When we excessively stick to them or ignore them, the feelings become destructive, which in turn causes more mental or physical pain for us. Feelings seem to be getting stronger as we fight them. Having a clear, conscious and compassionate attitude toward these difficult feelings is a healthier way to cope with them.
You may also change your relationship with your feelings by not judging them, or by not feeling sorry when you experience feelings, such as “I hate feeling this way” or “I shouldn’t feel this way” or “This feeling is wrong”. When you start going back to the coping methods, such as panicking, being obsessed or overeating, instead of criticizing yourself, you may try to accept your behaviors through self-compassionate expressions. You can do this by using expressions, such as “It is acceptable that I feel scared at the moment”.
The key here is to remind yourself of the fact that self-understanding and self-compassion would be much more helpful than judging or criticizing yourself in cases where you might be scared, stressed out or feel panicked, considering the current situation.
Merging Awareness with Self-Compassion
“The positive emotions of care and connectedness are felt alongside our painful feelings. When we have compassion for ourselves, sunshine and shadow are experienced simultaneously.”
Self-compassion and awareness can work together to help you establish a new relationship with your fear and anxiety. As Christopher Germer states in his book: “Whereas awareness says “Feel the pain”, self-compassion says “Value yourself and love yourself even though you are suffering.”
The concept of awareness mostly includes self-compassion as well. Self-compassion teaches us to accept our pain and to respond to it with politeness and sympathy, instead of struggling through the difficult way by fighting the negative feelings.
As stated by Kristin Neff: “The beauty of self-compassion comes from the fact that it embraces negative feelings to produce new positive feelings instead of replacing the negative feelings with positive ones. The positive emotions of care and connectedness are felt alongside our painful feelings. When we have compassion for ourselves, sunshine and shadow are experienced simultaneously.”
– Germer, C. (2009). The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion. New York: Guilford Press.
– Neff, Kristin. Self-Compassion. New York: William Morrow.