Self-Compassion During COVID-19

By Bergeron Clifford, Bergeron Clifford posted in Homepage Featured on May 4, 2020

COVID-19 has created disruptions to many people’s working lives.

Maybe you’re working from home – or trying to, anyway – but the dog is begging for attention, the kids are arguing about something, and the doorbell just went off as today’s delivery has arrived.  

Perhaps your work cannot be done virtually, so you’re trudging into the office but feeling tired and overwhelmed. You are physically present, but your mind is elsewhere: thinking about elderly parents, the constant stream of news coming at you, and whether there will be anything left on the grocery store shelves at the end of your shift.

Despite these challenging times, you might be trying to keep the same productivity level you had pre-COVID. And you might be faulting yourself for not keeping up the same level of focus, intensity, and quality of work. This goes double for those of us who work in health care other essential services that are responsible for the well-being of our clients.

However, as Françoise Mathieu, executive director of TEND Academy, told us during a recent Bergeron Clifford webinar, “Letting Ourselves Off the Hook & Reconnecting with Self-Compassion”, these sorts of impacts are to be expected in disruptive situations. Rather than getting frustrated, she says the best response is a compassionate one.

“How did you cope with the discrepancy between need and what you could provide before? It always existed,” she noted. “There are only so many hours, and you only have so much energy. So, you must find strategies to refuel, reconnect, and be present.”

Françoise has been working in the mental health field for nearly 25 years and is an expert on compassion fatigue. During the webinar, she shared several best practices for managing the stressors that come with situations like COVID-19 – though she would be the first to admit following this advice is sometimes easier said than done.

“In the early days, I threw best practice strategies out the window and was staying up late, drinking too much wine, and self-soothing,” she admitted. “As time went on, I realized I needed better structure and more of a weekday schedule. This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Françoise offered four tips to calm yourself and help manage stress:

  1. When you are washing your hands, take the time to tune into how your body feels. Are your shoulders tense? Is your stomach knotting? Your jaw clenched?

  2. Use deep breaths to self regulate. Try to take four deep breaths per minute with a deep exhale that takes longer than the time you spend inhaling.

  3. Take time to connect with people and make eye contact. Pause and call to mind a being you love which could include a friend, family member, or even a pet.

  4. Review and, if necessary, revise the story you tell yourself. Remember that this pandemic is a temporary situation and the difficult changes and limitations you’re experiencing now are not forever.

Françoise also suggested limiting your COVID-19 news to select sources and certain times of the day to help avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Her advice is about more than just finding it easier to get out of bed this morning or being politer to clients and co-workers.

During her presentation, Françoise referenced the book Five Days at Memorial, a recounting of what happened at a pair of hospitals in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. While one hospital benefitted from strong leadership that tightly controlled the number of hours healthcare workers were on the job, the other allowed staff to become worn down during the disaster. In the end, there were several deaths that could have been avoided at Memorial Hospital.

“The key takeaways from that situation, and others like it, are that we need to retain the ability to think clearly, recognize the dangers of wear and tear, understand and work with the fog we’re experiencing, and ensure we get adequate social support, breaks, and flexibility in our work,” she said.

TEND Academy has numerous free resources on their website and will be rolling out more in response to questions received on this webinar. In addition, they operate a Facebook group where they will be posting tips and other information.

Watch the webinar here. Webinar Password: joybeazleyAPRIL2020

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