The following information and links are very helpful in dealing with this pandemic!
The importance of self-compassion
A different value system for a different "normal".
Being isolated and confined can trigger many mental health issues. After all, we are all programmed to either fight or take flight when faced with a threat, which is not a sustainable coping strategy. An alternative mindset is to develop self-compassion.
We know by now that the relentless drive for perfection in every sphere of life may facilitate outstanding achievements, but come at the cost of individual mental health at times. The neurotic or maladaptive kind of perfectionism may predispose individuals to depression, according to a recent study by Ferrari and team. Such perfectionism may be accompanied by excessive self-criticism, in turn leading to feeling bad about self, which may, in turn, manifest in the form of low mood, criticism of others or even bullying or abuse. Kristen Neff and team, as well as Ferrari's study, have shown that self-compassion may be an antidote to the maladaptive kind of perfectionism.
Self-compassion has been shown to improve depression in adolescents and adults, reduce anxiety, emotional deregulation and improve life-satisfaction. Longe et al. found through fMRI studies that self-reassurance or self-compassion induces neural activity in similar brain areas as are involved in compassion towards others. The roots of such unhealthy patterns of perfectionism are often laid in childhood and adolescence. School and university systems traditionally focus on grades and high standards of achievement but don't always include an emphasis on learning to deal with failure or to treat self with compassion while being aware of one's weaknesses. Young people may be learning to perform better and to keep reaching out to achieve more and more but don't always learn to value what one has in the current moment or to develop contentment. Due to this and other factors, rates of burnout are high, and our current system of education is not helping to combat the escalating rates of global anxiety and depression, even in regions that are not crisis or poverty-ridden. Our value system, which is based on achievement above all else, has left us completely unprepared to deal with the onslaught of a pandemic.
We need to teach ourselves and our young people not only the value of striving for excellence but also the value in learning to treat ourselves with kindness. In doing so, we, but especially our children and teens, will learn that failures and suffering are a part of the human condition. Through this, we can develop a healthy and stable sense of self-esteem that is not affected by success or failure at the moment. This pandemic provides us with the ideal opportunity to develop a different value system and prepare us for adversity in the future.
Compassion to self is closely intertwined with compassion towards others. When there is a deficit of self-compassion, it eventually translates into a drop in compassionate behaviour towards others (this may manifest in the form of bullying, abuse, and that includes substance abuse and violence). This contributes to decreased self-compassion among recipients, thereby creating a vicious cycle.
While utilising evidence-based medications and psychotherapy is beneficial and essential, let's embark on a journey to contribute to greater contentment in the world through learning and teaching compassion towards self and others. This may not address or prevent all mental health problems but could help reduce and prevent some of it.
- Ferrari M, Yap K, Scott N (2018) Self-compassion moderates the perfectionism and depression link in both adolescence and adulthood.
- Warren R, Smeets E, Neff KD (2016) Self-criticism and self-compassion: Risk and resilience for psychopathology. Current Psychiatry, 12: 18-32.
- Bhat SA, Shah SA (2015) Self-compassion and mental health: A study on young adults. International Journal of Research in Applied, Natural and Social Sciences, 3: 49-54.
- Neff KD. Germer C (2017) Self-Compassion and Psychological Wellbeing. In: Doty J (editor); Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science, Ch. 27. Oxford University Press.
- Longe O, Maratos FA, Gilbert P, Evans G, Volker F, et al. (2009) Having a word with yourself: Neural correlates of self-criticism and self-reassurance. Neuroimage, 49: 1849–1856.