Community members reach for various mental health pamphlets at a community suicide information night earlier this year. File Photo

Mental health and COVID-19: compassion for ourselves and others

Dr. Tyla Charbonneau explores compassion in her weekly mental health column

As we look toward the new phases of opening up our province we need to focus on kindness. Be kind. These two words were present at every press conference Dr. Bonnie Henry held and they are very important.

As we see businesses open and people gather in small groups, we need to remember that each person will have a different approach and comfort level with the process. If some want to stay home longer or wear masks in public, that is okay. Others will immediately have small gatherings of six or less in their yard, and that is okay too. These new phases are a long way from being back to normal, each person and family has the right to decide what is right for them and what is not within these guidelines as we move forward.

Compassion towards others and ourselves is a key. Remember we never fully know what another person is going through, and we need to avoid a fundamental attribution error. This is when we look at our own behaviours from a situational perspective and the behaviour of others from a personality perspective. For example, if you have a difficult day and snap at a neighbour you can justify it with the situation of a bad day. If our neighbour snaps at us we are more likely to attribute it to who they are as a person and not the situation. The key to this is to assume that everyone is doing the best that they can. If you find yourself bothered by someone else’s behaviour as the rules ease up, stop yourself and ask, “what are all the possible reasons that person is doing that?” You are likely to find yourself in a more understanding place where kindness is easier to access.

This compassion also needs to be extended to yourself. This has been a difficult few months and it is okay to be angry, sad, or worried. Instead of telling yourself to buck up or listening to the critic in your mind tell you unkind things about yourself, provide yourself some comfort. Dr. Kirsten Neff talks about how important self compassion is in our lives. She says in difficult situations we need to remind ourselves of three concepts. The first is that life is difficult. This pandemic has been challenging on so many levels and it is temporary. It will end, and we will bounce back. Second, remind yourself that you are not alone. Common humanity is the idea that others share in our experience and can relate to our feelings. Finally, and many find this part challenging, offer yourself some words of comfort. Ask yourself, “What do I need to hear right now?” Then tell it to yourself. We tend to look to others for comfort and support and are sometimes disheartened when we do not find it. It is always within us to provide. As we move forward let’s put shame and judgement aside and make room for compassion, kindness, and understanding.

The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician or mental health providers in your community.

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