Thriving Together Well-Being Weekly: Compassion

by Dr. Suzie Carmack, Ph.D., MFA, MEd, ERYT 500, NBC-HW

Thriving Together Well-Being Weekly: Compassion

“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learned how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” – Nelson Mandela

Our third edition of the Thriving Together Well-Being Weekly was written by Dr. Suzie Carmack, Ph.D., MFA, MEd, ERYT 500, NBC-HW, an Assistant Professor at Mason in the Department of Global and Community Health in the College of Health and Human Services and an alumnae of Mason’s Ph.D. program in Health Communication (2014).

Whether it is social distancing, working from home, disrupted travel plans or the very real threat of the disease’s contagion, we are all experiencing an unprecedented level of stress in our minds, bodies and lives due to COVID-19. Because life event stress can be harmful to our health, and to others (through the phenomena of stress contagion), it is important that we each search for new ways to manage the stress of today’s tough times – even if we can’t change the stressor (pandemic) itself.

One way to manage stress is to practice compassion, which can improve your immune system; motivation; happiness; and foster resilience to adversity. Dr. Kristen Neff (one of the premier scholars on compassion), states that compassion has three components:

  • Mindfulness vs. Over-Identification
  • Self-Kindness vs. Self-Judgement
  • Common Humanity vs. Isolation

I invite you to practice these compassion elements with me:

Let’s be mindful that every human has their own secret struggle in these hard times. Let’s try to not be too hard on ourselves, or each other, as we all make our way these unprecedented times. Let’s listen.

Let’s be kind to ourselves – and each other – by not being afraid to ask for and receive help. Let’s remember that we each have a well of resilience within – and sometimes that still isn’t enough. Let’s make sure no one feels alone as we go through this challenging time together.

Let’s remember our common humanity by giving ourselves – and each other – a break for being human. Let’s take extra special care of our human systems so they can handle the extra stress load – with healthier choices, time for safe social connection (online if necessary) and a daily dose of laughter.

Self-Compassion Practice:

How would you treat a friend?

From Dr. Neff’s self-compassion exercises

This is a reflective writing exercise that can strengthen your self-compassion. Write your answers to the following questions.

First, think about times when a close friend feels really badly about themselves or is really struggling in some way. How would you respond to your friend in this situation (especially when you’re at your best)? Please write down what you typically do, what you say, and note the tone in which you typically talk to your friends.

Now think about times when you feel badly about yourself or are struggling. How do you typically respond to yourself in these situations? Please write down what you typically do, what you say, and note the tone in which you talk to yourself.

Did you notice a difference? If so, ask yourself why. What factors or fears come into play that lead you to treat yourself and others so differently?

Please write down how you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when you’re suffering.

Why not try treating yourself like a good friend and see what happens?

Compassion in the Workplace

Stressful circumstances can make it more difficult to exercise compassion. What Your Coworkers Need Right Now Is Compassion explains why feeling compassion for your colleagues and friends might be harder right now and offers helpful tips for engaging more compassionately with other.

Additional Resources

Exercise your self-compassion with Dr. Carmack’s book Genius Breaks that teaches you how to take mini-breaks of self-compassion and mindful movement throughout the day. She also offers a free online course, coaching, and consulting.

Go to Dr. Kristin Neff’s website to find more information about self-compassion, including guided meditations, exercises, and tips for self-compassion practice.