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    To provide the best care during COVID-19, remember self-compassion

    Self-Compassion During COVID-19

    Photo By Savannah Blackstock | US Army Capt. Fawn Walter addresses the importance of self-compassion during the...... read more read more

    JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, WA, UNITED STATES

    10.05.2020

    Courtesy Story

    Defense Health Agency Connected Health

    As Military Health System providers, we strive to serve as role models for strength, bravery, and compassion. We accept, as our duty, that doing the right thing for our patients sometimes requires doing what’s hard for us. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc, we should consider this: Sometimes, the strongest and bravest thing we can do for our patients is to give ourselves the same compassion we show them.

    We regularly have compassion for other people. When a friend or patient is suffering, we carefully listen without judgment and offer kind, gentle words: “That sounds so difficult. I know it didn’t turn out the way you wanted, but you’re doing the best you can. No one is perfect.”

    If only we were instinctively this kind to ourselves. Instead of self-compassionate monologues, we frequently respond to our own missteps with self-critical, judgmental diatribes: “What is wrong with you…[insert harsh statement about how you should have known better, didn’t try hard enough, weren’t good enough].”

    Self-compassion doesn’t come easily, especially for MHS providers. We are especially prone to perfectionism because we have an incredibly important mission to ensure force readiness. While upholding that duty, we must also remember that we are part of that force. As Kelly Blasko, lead for mobile health clinical integration at DHA Connected Health, wisely noted, “If we don’t take care of ourselves when we need it, we can’t give patients the best possible care when they need it” (https://go.usa.gov/xfGtc).

    Being kind to yourself is more than just a warm-hearted sentiment – it is a practical and effective strategy for reducing stress and improving care in any challenging situation, and especially during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Self-compassion helps slow down the cascade of negative emotions and thoughts that can occur when we don’t have friends or coworkers physically nearby to distract us and remind us that we are all struggling in this together. Enhancing self-compassion can lead to better overall physical and mental health, making it a true bedrock to individual well-being (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2790748/#B7) and overall force readiness.

    Benefits of Self-Compassion

    Research is clear: Self-compassion encourages behavior changes that contribute directly to improved mental and physical health, such as better sleep, increased engagement in physical activity, and lower levels of stress.

    A key benefit of self-compassion is its association with improved self-regulation – the ability of a patient to better control and adjust their own actions (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25243717/), which is essential for both physical and mental readiness. In my clinical experience, self-compassionate people also believe in themselves more. This often happens when people actively change their behavior, embrace both positive outcomes and setbacks with equanimity, and realize their ability to keep moving forward despite adversity.

    On the other hand, research also indicates that a lack of self-compassion impedes health and readiness. In fact, decreased self-compassion has been directly linked to higher levels of psychopathology such as anxiety and depression and reduced resilience to stress (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22796446/).

    Even in the absence of psychopathology, people are frequently harder on themselves than anyone else. This “tough love” can sometimes contribute to enhanced results, such as handling increased workload and improving patient outcomes. Unfortunately, excessive self-criticism more frequently acts as a virus to the psyche – reinforcing dysfunctional self-talk and beliefs about the self that increase stress and threaten personal well-being and mission effectiveness.

    Three Principles of Self-Compassion

    If you want to stay healthy and motivated, you shouldn’t respond to setbacks with self-criticism or reproach – negative approaches that impede your ability to proactively perform in and improve your situation. You should instead treat yourself with self-compassion: the way you would a friend or loved one going through a tough time.

    For those of us who may be unfamiliar with it, self-compassion has three core principles (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2790748/#B7):

    1. Be mindful of your experience: An important part of self-compassion is mindfulness, often described as “being aware of one's present moment experience in a clear and balanced manner so that one neither ignores nor ruminates on disliked aspects of oneself or one's life” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2790748/#B7). Rather than let misfortunes hijack your mood, take a moment to mindfully attend to your experience: “I’m really frustrated by this. Even though I feel disappointed in myself, I will not get hung up on it or make excuses. I take responsibility and will keep working toward my goal.”
    2. Be kind to yourself: We tend to be impatient with ourselves, especially when we work hard to achieve difficult objectives on tight schedules and things don’t work out as planned. Instead of beating yourself up, put the situation in perspective: “That was harder than I expected. I did my best and will learn from it.”
    3. Recognize our common humanity: A sense of isolation driven by excessive self-criticism is all too common (e.g., “I’m the only one who can’t understand how this virtual care thing works. I keep fumbling, and everyone else seems to have it figured out.”). The reality is we are all fallible, so take comfort that your mistakes are part of what make you like everyone else, not different from everyone else.

    DHA/VA Resources

    In addition to applying the three principles above, you can explore Defense Health Agency and U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ digital health technology resources that can help providers and patients incorporate self-compassion into care:

    • DHA Virtual Hope Box app: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/virtual-hope-box/id825099621
    • DHA Provider Resilience app: iOS: https://apple.co/2WEw4gT, Android: https://bit.ly/3hqQFNZ
    • VA COVID Coach app: https://mobile.va.gov/app/covid-coach

    A useful subset of these tools are apps, podcasts, and other digital health tools that encourage mindfulness, including:

    • VA Mindfulness Coach app: https://mobile.va.gov/app/mindfulness-coach
    • DHA Military Meditation Coach podcast:
    o Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/militarymeditationcoach
    o iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/military-meditation-coach-podcast/id1313813296?mt=2
    o YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NR7OGVH2y0&list=PL8PcXBrsYZ8HDDglCEPt0y5OGSEXxR27c

    A self-compassionate attitude takes hard work, but it’s worth it. Practicing self-compassion can help you, your teammates, and your patients keep from falling into the trap of self-blame and painful emotions – and if you do, get back on track and stay there during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

    Army Capt. Fawn Walter, Ph.D., is a clinical psychology resident at Madigan Army Medical Center based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 10.05.2020
    Date Posted: 10.06.2020 13:34
    Story ID: 380340
    Location: JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, WA, US 

    Web Views: 221
    Downloads: 0

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