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Staying Mindful and Empathetic During Difficult Times
April 10, 2020 at 1:00 PM
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Because every human on this planet is an individual, we process difficult times differently. None of us are strangers to traumas and hardships and certainly all of us have seen negative news stories before. But, there is something quite different about what we are all facing right now with the COVID-19 pandemic.  This pandemic is being experienced globally by all of us simultaneously.

Many of my clients have expressed that they do not know if they are “coping properly,”  or “feeling the way they should,” which led me to thinking more about how we are taught to believe that there is a one size fits all way to approach life and its tough challenges. This belief is very harmful because there is no right or wrong way to cope with anything, just like there are no “good” or “bad” emotions.

When I speak with clients about how they are doing, I have noticed that everyone has a unique reaction and perspective. Most of these reactions tend to be familiar emotional or behavioral patterns that each person engaged in prior to the pandemic. For example, if you are someone that has used control in the past as a strong coping strategy to help you feel safe, you are probably feeling very anxious right now. Or if you are someone who is uncomfortable feeling emotions, maybe you are worried you might go into a depressive episode or you feel guilty for not feeling much at all right now. My point is that in difficult or triggered times, we usually use our familiar coping mechanisms to help us through. What is different about what we are going through now is that we are all being forced to slow down and sit with whatever is coming up for us, rather than having diversions of a list of things to do, and places to be. Because we have fewer things to do, we have more time to think and feel.

One of the bravest things we can do in this world is to look at what is coming up for us on an individual level. When we observe patterns of behaviors that we might not like or try and change coping mechanisms that might be causing more harm than good, we will certainly be prepared to face any challenge in life. This practice will look very different for everyone given that we are all unique. 

Two strategies in the process of healing and growth that can work for most individuals is practicing mindfulness and empathy. Mindfulness is a concept that refers to simply being in a state of observance and non-judgement. Any time we step outside of our autopilot behaviors or emotions, we are practicing mindfulness. This could look different for everyone. Some examples may include: journaling, meditating, taking a few deep breaths/breath work, or mindful movement (yoga, chi gong, dance). Some simple reflective questions you can ask yourself when you are practicing mindfulness could include: How am I feeling right now? Where do I feel sensations in my body? What thoughts are running through my head? What is the narrative/story I am telling myself right now? What do I need more of right now?

Another important concept to keep in mind is to continuously practice empathy- towards yourself and to others. Empathy is the practice of being understanding to something, even if you do not like it or are uncomfortable. If you have a difficult time being empathetic to yourself or to a difficult person in your life, try asking yourself what you would say to someone that you care about deeply instead. Even if this seems difficult, getting in the habit of being kinder and more understanding to yourself is incredibly useful in making yourself feel safe and nourished. 

While we are all experiencing the pandemic as a collective, it’s important to remind yourself that we will all cope and feel differently. Whatever you are feeling and however you are coping, please know that it is ok. By utilizing mindfulness and empathy, you can offer yourself a great opportunity to heal, evolve, and grow. 

Jenna Mamorsky, MHC-LP, is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in incorporating self-care into your life, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.