What Does Self-Compassion Look Like During COVID-19How to practice self-compassion during (and after) the pandemic

It almost feels surreal that it’s been over a year since the global pandemic shut everything down. Many people have spent the duration of the pandemic experiencing persistent feelings of discomfort, anxiety, and uncertainty. Many have experienced loss. Some have lost loved ones. Others have lost jobs and businesses. We all lost a sense of “normalcy,” and we all collectively felt jolted. Then, we established a new “normal” — we got really acquainted with Zoom, the couch, and our kitchens.

And now, as many get vaccinated and restrictions loosen, we are experiencing new anxieties and uncertainties, along with residual symptoms of depression. Additionally, if you have gained some weight or fell into a routine of poor health habits during quarantine, you might be struggling with body image and self-love. The idea of stepping back out into the world may seem terrifying.

Just as it was crucial to show yourself love, kindness, and compassion during the initial stages of the lockdown, it will be equally important to practice self-love, self-compassion, and kindness as we transition out of it. But before we get to the “how” of the self-compassion practice, particularly around self and body image, here are some things you should know:

1. You're not alone!

Please understand that we all, collectively, underwent a traumatic and life-changing event. As a result, we all dealt with the circumstances the best way we each knew how. Regardless of what that looked like for you, now is the perfect time to practice forgiveness. Forgive yourself for acting the only way you knew how to cope with trauma.

2. There is going to be a grieving process

The discomfort and anxiety you may be experiencing about returning to the “before times” may actually be grief. Grief is a highly individual process. To move forward to the next stages of our lives, we have to go through the grieving process. For many, a second or third time. Maybe you may have come to accept the current way of life and no longer wish to return to how things were. You may need to grieve the end of binge-watching shows and the comfort of your home. If you put on weight, putting on old clothes may serve as a trigger for you, and you have to grieve that old version of yourself. You might need to stash clothes that don't currently fit, maybe for good.

Regardless of what you may be grieving, there is no right or wrong way to go through it. There is no “timeline” either. So take that load off yourself.

3. Reach out for support

Support is crucial when making transitions such as this. If you have a support system, now is the time to communicate how they can support you best. Also, depending on what you’re struggling with most, consider reaching out to a professional who can make this process easier by providing you with the tools you need to ensure success.

Start to see yourself through a lens of love and compassion

Having a practice of self-compassion is a necessary tool in your wellness toolbox. Like other skills, this is something we have to learn to do. There will be a learning curve, so remember to be patient. The more you practice it, the easier it becomes.

It may seem difficult to see yourself through a lens of love and compassion. All too often, we spend so much time judging ourselves, comparing ourselves to others, and carrying the weight of other people’s or our own expectations of how we think we should be. If you’ve been practicing self-compassion throughout the year, keep going! Apply that same practice to this new setting.

If you haven’t, now is the perfect time to start. Remember, this is an opportunity to become a better version of yourself.

Here are some simple steps to take to start your practice:

1. Acknowledgment

Acknowledge your feelings and thoughts that occupy your mind and body, and allow yourself to feel them fully. Allow yourself to cry, be scared or frightened, and be excited and relieved, even hopeful. Emotions can coexist.

2. Acceptance

Know that it’s okay that you aren’t “ready” to socialize again. Understand that your process is YOUR OWN and is unique to you.

3. Forgiveness

Know that no matter how much weight you gained or what less-than-ideal habits you may have developed, you are still loved and supported.

4. Observation without judgment

Allow yourself to be still. Give yourself the time to OBSERVE without judging yourself. It’s okay if you haven’t figured it all out. It’s okay that you haven’t been as on top of your workouts and your nutrition. Take notice of these things, and then decide what you can manage.

5. Stress management

Whether you’re aware of it or not, stress is high. Stress management is one of the most overlooked and underrated behavior practices. Practice self-care and stress relief. It can be as simple as taking one to two minutes of deep breaths, a whole meditation session, taking a long shower, or going on a walk. As long as you are doing something to be kinder to yourself, practice self-love, and doing what makes your soul happy, you are reducing stress.

Approaching body image with self-compassion

Permit yourself to love yourself fully and completely, without conditions. Self-love and happiness do not require a contingency. All too often, self-judgment takes over, and we attach conditions under which it is okay to love ourselves. But that’s just simply not true. You do not need to have accomplished something to love yourself. You do not have to lose weight or have abs to be worthy of love or to accept yourself exactly as you are right now. Give thanks to your body for getting through this time period and for being able to adapt again and again. The more appreciation you show yourself, the more likely you will move forward with more ease and from a place of love.

Be kind to yourself, regardless of how you treated your body through the pandemic

Nothing good can come out of shame and guilt. Self-deprecating, self-shaming, and self-minimization will only add more shame, guilt, and possibly disordered methods of “undoing” what has accumulated over the course of the year.

Instead, begin to appreciate all the amazing things your body is capable of. Rather than stating all the things that need to be “fixed,” express how proud you are of yourself for making it through this difficult period of your life, even if it isn’t where you want to be.

Practice those aspects of self-love. Start to treat your body better because you are worthy of feeling good. Stop beating yourself up over the “mistakes” you made. Instead, treat them as opportunities to learn something about yourself, then align your actions with your desired outcome.

  • Learn to embrace all of you.
  • Stop battling yourself.
  • Make self-love a habit!
  • You are worthy of being happy because you are.

Remember that you are only human, and we are all continuously learning. We have all engaged in behaviors for the sake of survival, whatever that may have looked like for you. And although it may be difficult to see, the collective grief we experienced also serves as a reminder of how limitless our capacity to love truly is.

Aleks Zavlunova is a Holistic Behavior Therapist and Wellness Coach. She uses human learning and behavior modification principles to help people develop sustainable skills and habits to lead healthier and happier lives. Aleks combines cognitive behavior psychology and nutrition science to help her clients begin to address maladaptive and self-destructive patterns and habits, build self-esteem, confidence, and self-love by systematically improving their relationship with food. She strongly believes that our relationship with food greatly correlates with our relationship with the self, our emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing, as well as our relationships with others.

mental health | wellness | COVID-19