Huge snowflakes are falling peacefully outside my sixth floor window, as an east coast storm begins. Hi, I’m Jeanni, and I’m a writer/educator on how to bring out the best in people. My home and heart are in beautiful Quebec City, near to my children and friends – but I’m temporarily in NB, helping my frail, 90 year old mom manage in the pandemic. It’s surreal to be back in my quiet childhood neighbourhood – after an adventurous life “away” to other provinces. I’m thankful for my precious time with mom – as I offer her the care and compassion, she once gave to me, in my vulnerability. Has our care been perfect? No. Love is always learning and growing.
It’s February – the “love month” – and lovers are sharing flowers and chocolate and kids are exchanging cute Valentine cards (in their bubble). Everyone understand that love is bigger, stronger, and more complex than Valentine poems express. We’re slowly learning about loving ourselves as a key to happiness and healthy relationships. Like speaking as kindly to ourselves as we do to others. Or wisely seeing self-care as concern for our long-term good – such as going for a walk instead of eating a tub of ice cream, when we’re stressed (I’m a Haagen Daz fan, so no judgment here. The tubs are small!). These are big steps forward for anyone used to being hard on themselves.
But how do we love ourselves – and each other – when things go wrong? When we mess up, as everyone does? When we’re suffering from emotional or physical pain? How do we stay calm and helpful, as the effects of a long pandemic and global uncertainty impact literally everyone?
As an experienced therapist and fellow human being, I’d like to suggest ways we can offer compassion to ourselves and others – without being overwhelmed by needs.
- We can begin by identifying feelings and concerns. Naming helps us respond more objectively to problem situations. “Stressed” or “anxious” isn’t our identity. We are “centered us”, presently experiencing anxiety. From “centered us”, we can see the problem more objectively and find creative solutions. And we can accept realistic limitations. “I can do this – but not that”.
- Calm our minds and bodies. Anxiety and fear automatically trigger the fight/flight/freeze/fawn reaction. Our ability to creatively analyze and problem solve gets shut down. Controlled breathing is the quickest way to calm our nervous system. Breathe air to the bottom of the lungs, more slowly out than in. Meditate. Pray. Affirm – such as “you’ve got this” or “we can do hard things” (Glennon Doyle)
- Find perspective. Most suffering is from past regret or fear of the future. In the moment, we’re often ok. Life is moments, well-lived. If we are presently in a storm, remember it will pass.
- Take even a small action. Action mobilizes us away from feeling overwhelmed. Offer food, kind words, prayer, a small amount of money, clean, organize, listen. When we’re suffering, we often feel alone – acts of kindness reconnect us. In difficult times in my life, people helped in small and big ways. It all added up – and I felt surrounded by care.
- It may be difficult, but we can try to hear and care about the perspectives of others. Caring doesn’t mean we agree with others’ perspectives. It means we acknowledge the suffering that their perspective is giving to them. Caring releases the love hormone oxytocin – in both ourselves and others – and calms everyone to be their best self. Our brain mirrors the emotions of others, so caring ripples to others in the same way other emotions do. If people feel heard and cared for, they’re calmer and often more willing to hear our perspective. Remember a perspective is just that – one view on a bigger picture. Perspectives are easily skewed by many things, like past pain. Be open to fresh views.
- Offer compassion to those nearest to us – including ourself – but be open to helping people outside of our immediate circle, widening the community of care. We likely can’t help everyone. It’s often surprising how other people will step up when they see a need. And our example.
- If we run dry, we can’t help others (or ourselves) effectively. Nature, laughter, loved ones, hugs, spiritual practices, sleep – whatever replenishes us and refreshes our perspective. Allow others the privilege (and the flood of oxytocin) of helping us.
Virtual hugs! Jeanni
About Jeanni Potter
A guest contributor to our Wellness website, Jeanni loves empowering people with the skills and mindset to bring out the best in themselves and others. She has a Master’s degree in Counselling, a B.Sc in Rehabilitation Therapy and worked as a psychosocial therapist in public and private practice. As an educator, Jeanni offers online workshops on Bold Kindness – a compassion-based systems approach to motivating personal and interpersonal change. You can learn more by visiting her website at boldkindness.ca