Reflection + Being Kind to Yourself

Contributor: Catherine Sherman Diaczok, RN, BSN 

Wow. What a weird time, huh? I think many of us, myself included, oscillate between struggling to slow down, and searching for motivation. We’ve all heard (either from our own mouths, or the mouths of others) the variations of, 

“I can’t concentrate.”

“I didn’t get anything done.”

“I’ve just felt kind of… meh.”

“I feel like I should have done more.” 

“Is it acceptable to nap through this pandemic?”

Or conversely,

“I tried the most delicious sourdough recipe last night.”

“I finished that DIY project I’ve been putting off for 6 months”

“I took a refreshing 5 mile hike with the kids and dog.”

“My baseboards haven’t been this clean since we moved in.”

“I get so much more accomplished working from home!”

As we all share in this collective departure from normal, we either occupy one of these camps, or we find ourselves traveling between them. Why is it that some of us feel weighed down by this experience, and others cannot seem to sit still with it?  I will be very honest, on my part (as a registered nurse still physically traveling to work for 12 hour shifts) I’ve found it particularly challenging lately to get out of bed/off the couch/into a routine on my days off (despite genuinely wanting to do so). There is a proverb that reads, “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart”– what we do with our time is usually a direct reflection of where we are on the inside. While we are living a surreal moment in tomorrow’s history, we have been given the perfect opportunity to take a look in the mirror. As you settle into the discomfort of this new and unprecedented time, ask yourself why it is you feel, think, and respond to your life the way that you think, feel, and respond? When you feel stuck, or restless, or unsatisfied, listen to the messages your mind and body are sending you. What can your coping mechanisms– both the positive, and those you are working to unlearn– tell you about your internal world? Do a quick run-through: what are you doing, why are you doing it, how do you feel about what you are doing, and what will you do (or not do) next? 

What is the tone of your inner monologue lately (and leading up to now)? Equally as important as identifying vulnerabilities and examining our coping mechanisms, is the conscious awareness of the thoughts and feelings we direct toward ourselves on a day-to-day basis. On the neurochemistry of kindness, Professor Nigel Mathers of Sheffield University in the United Kingdom reveals that “acts of kindness release both endorphins and oxytocin, and create new neural connections”, that “kindness … is not an ‘optional extra’ only to be deployed when we have sufficient time and energy,” and that kindness is a“self-reinforcing habit”– one that grows more natural and effortless with practice (2016).  For so many reasons, we need kindness now more than ever. In times of stress, when our perhaps already-erratic neurochemical systems are frantically (and sometimes ineffectively, it feels) working to return us to homeostasis, we do ourselves a service by taking action to encourage any safe release of happy hormones. We live in a society quick to call self-love selfish but research is informing us that we can help ourselves by extending to our own bodies, minds, and spirits, the love we so often reserve for others. It is not extraneous, it is necessary. 

If you’re stuck: a good way to be kind to yourself is by creating simple, realistic, attainable goals that feel positive (and possible!) for you. My biggest mistake setting goals, historically, is trying to bite off more than I can chew. Though the intention is to motivate myself, by making inflexible, overly-ambitious plans for my day (without consideration of, and compassion for my emotional/mental capacity), I set myself up to feel unsatisfied by what I have accomplished. “Today I’m going to tidy the whole house, and work out ” instead of “today, I want to clean the dishes that are in the sink” and “I am going to try to walk for at least 20 minutes 3 times this week” (shoutout to my counselor for reminding me it’s okay to start somewhere, we don’t have to begin at our best). By keeping your goals specific and singular, a would-be daunting task in combination becomes a series of bite-sized efforts, and our brains are rewarded by a little rush of dopamine (another happy hormone!) for each individual success. The key to this one is giving yourself lots of credit for “the little stuff”. 

If you’re restless: a good way to be kind to yourself is to start meditating, which– before you run for the hills– I KNOW is not everybody’s “thing” (it’s no cakewalk for me either), but it’s such a great tool. Start small. I learned from who-knows-where about “7 Minutes of Meditation”, which challenges one to set a 7 minute timer, find a still position in a quiet place, and breathe slowly and deeply. Nothing fancy, just 7 minutes alone with yourself. If you can do 7 minutes, try 10, and then maybe 15. If you can’t do 7, try 5, or even 3. Don’t quit because it’s uncomfortable. Don’t quit because you’re bored. Ask why it is that you’re so uncomfortable doing nothing or so bored on your own. If we can’t be alone with ourselves for 7 minutes a day, what does that say? 

Be where you are, know how you are doing, do only what truly needs to be done, and don’t do what doesn’t. Speak gently to your inner child, teach it that it can trust you to give exactly what it needs. Give yourself the gift of generous rest, always, if that is what you need. Let the guilt go. If you are feeling like you aren’t doing enough, take a step back and ask yourself outloud, “Why isn’t this enough? What would be enough?” Do what you can, and leave the things that feel impossible for tomorrow, or the day after, or whenever you feel ready (as long as it doesn’t derail your life). Forgive yourself for sometimes failing.

If you slept all day, or the baseboards didn’t get any TLC, or you’ve been wearing the same sweatpants for a week, or you’ve really been getting your steps in: hang in there, take a good look at your reflection, and promise to be kind to it. 

Mathers, N. (2016). Compassion and the science of kindness: Harvard Davis Lecture 2015. British Journal of General Practice, 66(648). doi: 10.3399/bjgp16x686041

Lansing-born, Southeast Detroit-based Registered Labor & Delivery Nurse, Holistic Natural Health and Nutrition Masters Student, Wellness Junkie, Mental Health Warrior. Pure Aries.