As the pandemic stretches on, it’s harder and harder to be kind to each other and ourselves. Maybe your patience is stretched thin. You’re bored. You’re sick of take-out or cooking. Maybe you cannot bear to reset your Wi-Fi one more time! COVID can take a lot away from us. But in all of this, there are lessons that we can take away, and one major lesson is about kindness to ourselves.

My friend, Sara, got COVID-19 over the holidays. She had been very careful with her health this entire year then, boom! Sickness. She was in bed, unable to function well for more than two weeks. Leftover symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath and mental fog kept her from rejoining life as the pace she was used to.

Beyond healing, Sara found the hardest part was the complete humbling nature of it all. Sara is used to getting up early, taking care of a mini-farm, hitting the gym then cranking out work all day. Her clients love that she’s fast and responsive. But suddenly, Sara wasn’t able to keep up – with anything! At home, she couldn’t do much to help around the house, or with her child’s online schooling. She couldn’t cook (a huge passion for her), hold a long conversation or even drive anywhere. She couldn’t process information the same, respond quickly or work at the same pace – even weeks after her quarantine was over.

What Sara struggled with then was self-compassion! It’s hard to go from powerhouse to powered down in the span of a couple of weeks. Even though her clients were supportive and understanding – sending cards, gifts and checking in on her, it was Sara herself who couldn’t seem to give herself some grace.

Isn’t that sometimes the hardest part – giving ourselves a break and respecting our own limits? Sara’s biggest fear was that this would be her new normal. The past year was already hard enough, but what if she couldn’t work or drive anymore? What if it always took her this long to process information, make a decision or understand a concept? What if…

Self-compassion is simply showing ourselves the same grace and kindness that we show others. But why is that so hard? Self-criticism and self-pressure are much easier than forgiving ourselves for perceived shortcomings.

Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading self-compassion researcher, says there are three elements: Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment, Common humanity vs. Isolation, and Mindfulness vs. Over-identification. All three of those perspectives are critically important during this time!

Here’s how to begin to put this into practice:

  1. Ask yourself why you don’t deserve the kindness and grace you show others. Who is really putting performance pressure on you? If it’s others, do you want to continue surrounding yourself with people who cannot give you grace? If you are your own worst enemy, what steps do you take to get to the root of that mindset? We are all going through a lot right now. It’s ok to not be ok!
  2. Realize self-compassion and kindness do not make you lazy or weak. Our society values drive and hard work and achievement, and sometimes at a great cost! Step outside of yourself and ask, “What would I do if my dearest friend was sick and needed grace?” Then become your own best friend!
  3. Ask yourself what you need. Yes, plans have been changing for more than a year now. Have you been holding tightly to your old plan? It’s time to create a new vision for what the rest of 2021 looks like – personally and professionally – this time with a new reality of what IS and not what was supposed to be.

Sara took some steps to help herself as she struggled to overcome COVID-19. First, she told her clients what aspects she was struggling with. She knew clarity and memory were problems for her as she healed. So, she asked her clients to do an extra glance at her work and make sure she had done what they needed. One client expressed that he had had the virus over the summer, and he completely understood the mental fog she was dealing with. Next, she scheduled downtime each day where she would take a nap or a slow walk to try to regain strength. She knew working all day wasn’t going to speed up the healing process. After all, a doctor never says, “Drink plenty of water and work a ton” when you’re sick! Finally, she drafted a plan detailing what her life and career would look like if these challenges were long term. What would her new normal look like for 3-6 months?

Sara may be a long-hauler in healing from COVID. Her fog is gone, but her fatigue remains. Her sense of taste and smell are back, but she still gets headaches. Now, with some self-compassion and kindness, she is able to schedule her day around extended healing. Even better, Sara has developed compassion for others who had the virus or other illness and aren’t functioning at their past level.

When we are kind to ourselves, we are more able to extend kindness to others. And we all need that a lot right now. It turns out, kindness is contagious too!