How to Practice Self-Care and Support Others During Stressful Times
Stress is something we all face every day. That stress was compounded by the many ways the COVID pandemic affected our daily lives.
So many of us have been exposed to loss and trauma at unprecedented levels. In addition, unemployment, schools being closed, caring for loved ones at home, and the isolation and loneliness also contributed to increases in depression and anxiety. Burnout, helplessness, post-traumatic stress, and grief are all common reactions to what we’ve experienced.
In these times of increased stress, it is more important than ever to find ways to support one another. Based on research and our clinical experience, we know that supportive relationships and healthy coping strategies can buffer the effects of stress.
Tips for self-care and supporting others
The following are four tips on how to take care of ourselves and support one another, based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
1. Make space for our own and others’ emotions.
For many of us, our natural reaction during difficult times is to try to stay strong and uplift others. We often push aside our own stress or painful emotions to do that. Caretaking, giving helpful advice, positive thinking, and trying to inspire hope come naturally to many and can be wonderful ways to help at times.
But an important part of healing from stress and trauma requires being allowed to feel all our emotions while being supported and understood. It is key to remind ourselves and our loved ones that negative, painful reactions are normal and not a sign of weakness. Pushing them aside might help for the moment, but it can often worsen stress long-term if we do this too much.
- Find ways to help each other talk openly about the struggles you are facing.
- Don’t worry about saying the right thing or giving advice.
- Be open to others letting you know your reaction is valid. It is often what we most need.
2. Practice self-compassion.
Self-compassion is a technique that helps us to be kinder to ourselves. It can also help us to be more patient and understanding towards others.
Many people find that being compassionate toward others comes more naturally than showing compassion to ourselves. Instead, we’re more likely to criticize ourselves.
When faced with trauma and uncontrollable stress, it is common to doubt and blame ourselves (or others). It can be helpful to remember that this is just our mind’s way of problem-solving and controlling potential threats. Sometimes it is a false alarm when we’re not actually to blame.
How to practice self-compassion:
- First, try to notice and acknowledge times when you catch yourself being overly critical or harsh towards yourself.
- Second, remind yourself in setbacks or difficult moments that you’re not alone. While it can feel during these times that we’re doing worse than others, reminding ourselves that all people struggle with setbacks and feelings of failure can help us to be gentler on ourselves.
- Finally, aim to practice softening self-talk and doing a small action of self-care or self-kindness during difficult moments. Check out this website for more ideas.
3. Take time for self-care.
Research shows that caring for ourselves allows us to better care for and relate to others. Proper nutrition, healthy sleep and exercise routines, and making sure to take time for rest all help to maintain the energy we need. Taking time for rest and self-care actually increases our productivity and our ability to care for others over the long haul.
There are many ways to practice self-care, large and small.
- Take time outside work to disconnect from email and work tasks.
- Find small ways to share or cut down on lower priority tasks.
- Help others by encouraging colleagues to take time for rest on weekends and vacations.
- When caring for loved ones, find time to recharge without guilt, even if for short breaks. A favorite self-care tradition among my colleagues on especially challenging days is to go on a short walk and buy ourselves a “coping cookie” from the hospital café.
- Humor can also help! One of my colleagues once dealt with a perfect storm of stressors, one of which was about his pesky (though beloved) beagle dog. He returned to his office the next day to find dozens of beagle stickers taped everywhere in his office, bringing much-needed lightness to a rough week.
4. Remind each other that what we’re doing matters.
While our minds are focusing on coping with negative emotions and fixing what’s going wrong, we often lose sight of what is going right -- and what truly matters to us. It’s important to remind yourself of your values, what is most important to you, who you want to be, and how you want to live your life.
That exercise is a powerful way to help us not get stuck on painful emotions. It can be helpful to remember that we are still contributing in powerful ways to our families and friends, and in our work. This is true even in the presence of stress, negative emotions, and setbacks.
Practice these ways to be kinder to yourself. Try to take time to make a note of your successes, and to remind loved ones and colleagues of their successes and the things that you most appreciate about them! Most importantly if you are struggling, remember, help is available. The Lifespan Psychiatry and Behavioral Health access center at 401-606-0606.
Find more posts to help you feel your best in the Being section of our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog.
About the Author:
Catherine D'Avanzato, PhD
Catherine D’Avanzato, PhD is a clinical psychologist and the assistant director of the Rhode Island Hospital Adult Partial Hospitalization Program.
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