Self-compassion in a time of Coronavirus

It seems fair to say that COVID-19 has dominated most of our thoughts, feelings, and actions over the prior two months. Oregon has been on Stay Home orders for over 6 weeks, and our state of emergency was just extended to July. In this time of uncertainty, it’s difficulty to know what the summer may hold, how future plans will be affected, when this all will end, or even what tomorrow will bring.

Each of us is coping in our own ways, managing however we are able, and caring for ourselves, our families, and our communities as best as we can.

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Maybe you know someone who has contracted COVID-19. Maybe you, or someone you know, works in healthcare. Perhaps you don’t know anyone who has become sick.

But even those of us who are maintaining our overall physical health, have likely come down with a case of the SHOULDs, which affect our emotional and mental health.

A Case of the SHOULDs

SHOULDs are these sticky, icky little gremlin type thoughts that condemn you for not doing that thing you SHOULD be doing. SHOULDs thrive in situations of uncertainty or change, are fed by guilt and shame, and trick you into believing you are never doing enough and that you will never be enough. Ever. No matter what you do. Because you should always, ALWAYS be doing more.

Here are some SHOULDs that I’ve heard from people in the last 6 weeks:

– I SHOULD be exercising more
– I SHOULD be taking the time to cook from scratch
– I SHOULD be going outside more
– I SHOULD have taken time to paint/draw/create today
– I SHOULD be putting more effort into school
– I SHOULD keep my room cleaner
– I SHOULD have called my parent/sibling/friend this week
– I SHOULD use this time to plan for my future

…the list could go on and on. I’ve even found some sneaky SHOULDs in my own life lately.

But, here’s the thing:

It is RARE that SHOULDs actually motivate us into being more thoughtful, grounded, intentional, present folx. Most often, SHOULDs drive us to guilt, shame, embarrassment, and self-loathing. Things I’m sure that we can all agree are… less than preferable… at the very least.


I’m so glad you asked! While there isn’t a quick fix to ensure the SHOULDs never bother you again, there are some things you can do when they show up to encourage them to become quieter, give you some space, or take a break entirely.

The following SHOULD-banishing recipe can be a helpful starting point. Here’s what you’ll need:

– Start with a some gentleness (Suggested mantras include: “I am doing the best I can,” “I can take time to nourish myself,” or “I am important regardless of what I produce.”)
– Remind yourself that adjusting to COVID-19-related changes is something you’ve never done before, which means you’re practicing something new, and learning new things is hard!
– Mix in some gratitude (Such as: “I saw a hummingbird today!” “I can access my community’s resources,” or “Gosh. Baby animals  are just so cute!“)
– Add a dash of self-compassion (Some of our personal favorites are: “Today, I will treat myself with kindness.” “I am a human being. I don’t need to be a human doing.” or “I am worthy of compassion.”)
– Find a small victory to sprinkle on top (Examples include: “I showered today!” “I took a moment to breathe!” or “I thought about going outside!”)

Blend it all together and spray liberally whenever the SHOULDs appear.

If you notice that you have a particularly strong case of the SHOULDs (perhaps they’ve been with you longer than our current pandemic or the above recipe just doesn’t seem to be doing quite the trick), you might benefit from a little extra guidance in mixing your SHOULD-banishing spray. Our therapists are particularly skilled at helping folx figure out where and why the SHOULDs started, redecorating the internal space they take up, and developing lasting strategies for self-harmony.

We are accepting new clients for online therapy appointments and you can schedule your FREE phone consultation in just a few clicks!

And remember, as long as you aren’t actively harming yourself or others, there’s no particular way you SHOULD be getting through this time. Lean into your self-compassion and remind yourself: “I am doing the best I can.”

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Featured Image by Anthony from Pexels