I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I really care for this “new normal” that I keep hearing about. Let’s face it: this has not been an easy year—I’ll spare you the list. On the bright side, however, I have picked up some new skills and learned how to make far better use of web-based communication to help support people who are, like all of us, not having an easy time of it lately. I have facilitated discussions on self-care, mediated conflicts between co-workers and presented webinars on coping with anxiety related to returning to the workplace amid a pandemic—all without leaving my house. Except for their differences in delivery method, all these interventions are about helping individuals, teams and organizations become more resilient. A key aspect of all this work on resilience is fostering self-compassion.

When we experience a setback or go through difficult times, it’s normal to react negatively by blaming others or criticizing ourselves. Unfortunately, neither response is especially helpful. Getting defensive may temporarily ease the pain, but it comes at the expense of learning. Self-criticism may feel warranted in the moment, but it can lead to an inaccurately negative assessment of one’s potential, which interferes with growth and resilience.

A kinder, gentler approach would be to treat ourselves as we would a friend. With a friend who’s feeling down, we’re more likely to be understanding and encouraging. Directing that type of response internally, toward ourselves, is known as self-compassion. A growing body of research is showing that self-compassion is a useful tool for enhancing our resilience in a variety of settings, from business to sports, and shows clear benefits in managing challenging life circumstances, including pandemics.

It’s important not to confuse self-compassion with self-esteem. While people who engage in self-compassion tend to have higher self-esteem, they are different things. Self-esteem tends to involve comparison to goals or other people; self-compassion, however, doesn’t involve judgment of self or others. Instead, it fosters a sense of self-worth because it encourages us to genuinely care about our own well-being and recovery after a setback.

Self-compassion tends to show up in three main ways: kindness rather than judgment about our mishaps; recognition that failure is a shared human experience; and balanced emotions in the face of adversity, i.e., we may feel bad, but we don’t let negative emotions overwhelm us.

The good news is that learning self-compassion is a resiliency skill that can be built. When troubled or facing challenging times, consider this:

Have a mindful moment

Being mindful is about noticing what is happening in the moment and having no judgment about it. What are you feeling? Guilt? Shame? Anger? Notice the feeling, name it and just be with it. Don’t try to make it go away. Just hold space for the feelings in a kind, loving way, without making the suffering disappear.

We will always have pain. But as meditation teacher Shinzen Young has noted: Suffering = Pain x Resistance. The more we resist our pain, perhaps by trying to make it go away or denying it, the more suffering we experience.

Don’t take it personally

Often when we are struggling and in pain, we make it worse by criticizing or judging ourselves. This makes us feel more isolated and alone, like we’re the only one in the world who has this challenge or who has made a mistake. But all human beings are imperfect. We all suffer. And we are all connected by our shared humanity.

One of the benefits of self-compassion is an enhanced sense of being part of the human experience, the feeling that we are all in this together. Which is much better than what a good friend of mine calls “terminal uniqueness.”

Be kind to yourself

Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend. If she had just gotten some really bad news, would you tell her to “quit whining and get over it”? Probably not. Would you say it to yourself? Remember that you are just as worthy of kindness and compassion as any other person. Often when we are caught up in anxious thoughts, we think things that are unhelpful or self-critical, such as “I shouldn’t be sad,” “other people have it worse” or “I should have saved more money.” Don’t believe everything you think!

It helps to acknowledge that you’re a human being who is feeling human emotions and that this is normal and OK. Reminding yourself “I am feeling anxious right now, and it will pass” or “this is a really hard time” is a good idea. Don’t have unrealistic expectations of yourself that you should somehow be just fine. In other words, be gentle with yourself.

If you need help coping with the challenges of this pandemic, please reach out for assistance. If you have an FEI Employee Assistance Program, please contact your EAP Services Center, which is accessible 24/7/365.