Rest, Recuperation, and the Need for Self-Compassion

We have all faced a wide range of challenges as we have navigated our way through the current pandemic. One thing I have been observing and reflecting on is my own uncomfortable feelings about being unable to rest or slow down. Though there has been countless advice floating around  the web about taking this time as a personal slow-down, an opportunity to rest and reset, or even a time to begin working on new hobbies or projects (hey, why not learn a new language or master the piano??), I have found myself unable to slow down, rest, or relax much at all. Though it is true that I have had fewer clients over the past few weeks, I have also had to rapidly adapt how I work, seek out and participate in additional training, ensure my children are completing their home-school requirements every day, and adapt to parenting on a 24/7 basis. It has been a whirlwind of adaptation and activity and responsibility, and because of this I have felt the need to cope with an unusually high level of frustration, fear, and resentment amidst it all, even in amongst the moments of connection and gratitude that also arise.

This reminds me of a theme that comes up a lot in my work with clients, and has come up plenty in my own life as well. It is the need to rest and to recuperate – to compassionately give ourselves permission to have needs and to find ways to meet those needs. We have a great tendency to “push through” – to ignore our body’s signals to rest, relax, and recover. Our bodies are constantly giving us signals to nurture ourselves with food and water and sleep, to seek the comfort and support of others, and to heal when we are hurt. I have seen what happens when we push through these signals – indeed, I have lived it – and I can tell you from all kinds of experience that eventually those signals become louder, and louder, and even louder, and eventually they get to a point that they can no longer be ignored. They take over until your capacity to push through them is overwhelmed entirely – at this point, your body forces you to stop. Perhaps it is through illness, or fatigue, or emotional breakdown – however it happens, you can find yourself forced to stop and recover because you are no longer physically or emotionally able to return to “pushing through”.

It can be terrifying, to be sure – but I promise you, there is wisdom in this. If your body is no longer allowing you to keep going, it is for a good reason: because whatever you were doing before was not sustainable, and you must either adapt or continue to be sidelined. In some ways, I can see the current pandemic driving this point home. A Facebook friend and fellow psychologist, Claire Wilde, recently wrote on social media, “I really hope that regardless of what happens in terms of vaccines, cures, or the [corona]virus simply dying out, that we continue to figure out an economy and a way of living that allows for us to respect the need to rest, heal and recover.” She makes a really meaningful point here: that perhaps this pandemic, this period that has required us to stay home for 10-14 days even if we have a simple, mild cold, and that has forced us to reflect on whether we truly are symptom-free or just wanting ourselves to be out of necessity or boredom or self-importance, is teaching us how to take our symptoms seriously, to stop and rest, and to give ourselves permission to heal.

Another friend and fellow psychologist, Nicole Perry, also advocates for us to listen to ourselves and set appropriate boundaries in the interest of health, wellness, and sustainability. She shared this wonderful article about the science and practice of self-compassion recently and I thought you might find it interesting and helpful, especially in light of the above arguments. We cannot learn to prioritize rest and recuperation, and we cannot change our relationship with our bodies (and their signals/symptoms!) from one of conflict to one of cooperation, without practicing self-compassion.

You do not have to do anything extraordinary during this pandemic. You don’t have to better yourself or “fix” anything, or do anything aside from just get through it. But I do hope that along with all the adaptation you have to go through during this time, you are able to practice treating yourself with compassion and giving yourself permission to rest and recuperate when needed. I promise I will try to do the same!

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