Lately I have been feeling challenged. I lost more than a month of productivity and energy to a bad sinus infection/head cold. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this period has been how hard I have been on myself emotionally. I am almost completely healed and most of my energy is back but I haven’t felt as motivated to do my work and do my art as I did before the illness. During the worst part of the illness I couldn’t do much other than sleep. Once I was in the getting better phase I often felt that I should push myself harder to get back to work! All of this points to my personal struggle with having to “do” all the time, rather than allowing myself to just “be”. But it also points to how hard I can be on myself. And that is a common problem I see with my clients and most of us.
What does being kind to yourself look like, anyway? Recognizing that there will be ebbs and flows in the body’s capacity is a big one. Sometimes we are ill, sometimes we have sore muscles, sometimes we are physically unable to do certain activities. Giving yourself permission to rest and restore is an important kindness tool for yourself. During my illness I slept in comfy jammies, kept the room temperature warm, snuggled with my kittens and when I had enough strength, unapologetically watched romances on TV.
For some it is very difficult to give oneself much needed TLC (tender loving care) in the form of physical comforts like sleep and hot soup. I find kindness deeds to myself are much easier than being kind to myself in my thoughts and attitudes. Although I was taking care of myself physically, I was beating myself up each day that I wasn’t getting better quick enough and wasn’t finding a way to get things done even if I was sick. I said unkind things to myself like, “You’re not really that sick—snap out of it!” And even worse, “You are being a baby and making excuses because you really don’t want to do your work or your art.”
If someone said those things to me directly I would be appalled at their meanness. But when you say such things to yourself, you rarely recognize how caustic the words are. If you are a perfectionist (or a recovering perfectionist as I like to call myself) it is common to set up huge expectations for yourself. Then if you don’t live up to your high standards, you are unkind and self-critical. Being kind to yourself takes practice but is truly worth it. At some level you might fear that if you are kind to yourself you will become too self-indulgent. So you keep yourself in check by creating high standards to meet. That creates a cycle of anxiety that can be broken. When you are compassionate about your own limitations, be them from being ill or simply the truths about your own capabilities, you will be more at ease. And you deserve compassion and kindness—from yourself and from others. The prescription from this doctor is to practice self-kindness every day.