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Tips on Being Kinder to Yourself During Trying Times

Kristin Neff, UT associate professor of educational psychology, shares tips on supporting yourself emotionally through the coronavirus pandemic.

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Self-Care Illustration

It seems everywhere we turn, there’s another news alert or cause for concern showing up in our daily lives. Uncertainty and unexpected changes can cause a roller coaster of emotions. But luckily, there are things we can do every day to show up for ourselves in healthy and nurturing ways.

“Given the tremendous amount of fear, uncertainty, grief and stress due to the pandemic, it’s crucial that people take the time to give themselves kindness and emotional support to get through these difficult times,” said Kristin Neff, associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin College of Education.

Not sure how to start practicing self-compassion? Neff says it can feel unnatural or awkward to be empathetic toward yourself if you tend to be self-critical, but she suggests calling upon your experience of showing others kindness to guide you toward self-compassion. “You already have a lot of experience being compassionate to those you care about. The trick is just doing a little U-turn so that you treat yourself with the same warmth, encouragement and care that you typically show to your loved ones.”

We asked Neff to share some tips on how to show ourselves some kindness during these unprecedented times.

1. Be present with difficult emotions.

Isolation is not natural for human beings. Just being alone with ourselves for an extended period usually brings up challenging emotions. Instead of avoiding these difficult feelings, label what you’re feeling and mindfully accept that the moment is painful. This gives you the opportunity to respond with compassion. For individuals who have the virus, feelings of shame are normal. Just by acknowledging your feelings, you are practicing self-compassion.

2. Spend time doing activities you enjoy.

You don’t need to practice meditation to experience self-compassion. By simply asking yourself, “How do I care for myself already?” you are practicing self-compassion. Taking it a step further and doing something nice for yourself is even better. You can listen to music, dance to your favorite song, read a book, video chat with friends and loved ones, or play games with family members.

3. Honor your core values in new ways.

The usual ways that you find meaning in life are likely to be interrupted by social distancing, but that doesn’t mean that you have to let go of your core values. If you found meaning by providing financially for your family, you can practice supporting your family emotionally until you return to work. If you enjoyed meeting with friends, you can still meet with them online and demonstrate interest and understanding. Remaining connected to your core values and finding ways to stay true to them are acts of self-care.

4. Practice grounding yourself when you feel overwhelmed.

The practice of grounding yourself anchors your awareness in the present moment. The pandemic can be re-traumatizing for some people. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it may be helpful to focus your awareness on the sensations of your feet on the floor. By redirecting your attention away from your thoughts, you will begin to feel more settled.

5. Engage your senses.

Sooner or later, you will grow tired of reading and hearing about the pandemic and yearn for more joy in life. Fortunately, joy is attainable if you give yourself permission to enjoy the simple things you do have. Savoring a delicious meal or taking yourself on a Sense and Savor Walk in the fresh air are good ways to engage your senses. The Sense and Savor Walk involves letting yourself fully enjoy and take in your surroundings — like the smell of a flower, bird sounds or the bark of a tree. Seeing the world through fresh eyes can change your perspective.

6. Give yourself a hug.

You are less likely to receive physical expressions of kindness when you’re in self-quarantine, but you can still comfort yourself as you would a good friend. Don’t be shy about offering yourself a warm hug or pat on your arm when you need it the most. These simple gestures can help reduce your cortisol levels.

7. Practice gratitude.

Gratitude is another way of cultivating joy. Noticing the small things that enrich life — clean running water, morning sunlight, a rich cup of coffee — can help spark joy in your day.

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University Communications
Email: UTMedia@utexas.edu
Phone: (512) 471-3151

The University of Texas at Austin

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