Compassion, Empathy and Self-Regulation Can Help in a Time of Stress and Uncertainty
We are home and now we are on lockdown following Governor Hogan’s latest message delivered on Monday, March 30, but for some of us, we have been home together for weeks now – home with our kids, our spouses, and even our parents or grandparents. Like many Americans, our households are made up of different ages, different maturity levels, and let’s face it – different personalities. While the threat to our physical health lurks outside our doors, perhaps one of the biggest threats to our mental health may be in our homes. So how do we all- just get along?
Susan Truitt, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Director of Clinical Services at For All Seasons, said, “As humans, we often want to take ownership of someone else’s poor behavior – blaming yourself for their words and actions.”
She said it is helpful to recognize that the other person may be having a stress response.
With the talk of COVID-19 on television, social media, and in our everyday conversations, it is understandable to have an unusual heightened level of stress. Combine that with social distancing, self-isolation and an abundance of family time, and a typical healthy family unit can become a powder keg of emotions.
In order to diffuse those situations, Truitt offers ways we can balance ourselves and our relationships with others using compassion, empathy, and self-regulation.
Truitt said during these moments of tension with our loved ones is where compassion really comes into play – compassion for others and ourselves.
“Bring self-compassion to your thoughts, knowing you are all in a tough situation,” Truitt said. “Treat yourself just as you would a close friend. Step back and tell yourself what just happened is not about me. This person is not at their best right now.”
Truitt said being able to recognize their emotions and understand their perspectives in the situation might improve their mood and show them support through this challenging situation.
“You can show that person some empathy,” Truitt said. “Let them know that you understand they are having a hard time.”
She said it also important to acknowledge our own needs as well, even if that means stepping away for a moment.
“Let the person know, I want to be here for you, but I need a moment to myself,” Truitt said. “You may need to do things that you do not normally do such as take a walk outside.”
She adds, “Two dysregulated people cannot work out a problem. You need to become regulated in order to help regulate someone else.”
Truitt said “Regulation is the feeling of being grounded or calm. It is when we are able to take in information and provide information effectively.”
“We (clinicians) refer to it as being in your window of tolerance. Meaning you are in a place where you can tolerate what is happening around you and can respond appropriately.”
She said using the window as a guide helps people to stay self-regulated, knowing how to remain within those parameters and being able to acknowledge when one’s emotions may be leading them outside the window of tolerance.
“It is about taking the necessary steps, using the necessary skills and being able to settle back into this space mentally, emotionally, physically,” Truitt said.
There are many ways to maintain self-regulation, including using repetitive movements that help individuals feel centered such as exercise, knitting, rocking in a favorite chair, drawing, playing with Playdough or gardening. Another way to maintain self-regulation is by taking a walk around the house, or in the yard. Other helpful techniques include deep breathing and connecting with a safe person.
For other mental help tips, visit forallseasonsinc.org.
For All Seasons serves Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne, and Talbot counties. For All Seasons Rape Crisis Center offers certified sexual assault victim advocates, counseling and support groups, free and confidential services in English and Spanish, support in the hospital, police department, and court and referrals to social and legal services. For All Seasons English Hotline is 1-800-310-RAPE (7273) and Spanish Hotline is 410-829-6143.