The importance of looking after ourselves and others during uncertain times

The importance of looking after ourselves and others during uncertain times.

A reflection from Geoff Wraight, Head of Spiritual Care, Baptcare

As the coronavirus spreads around the world, already in over 80 countries, we are all being affected in some way. Travel is being curtailed, the stock market is tumbling, some schools and workplaces are temporarily closing, and hand sanitizer costs as much as $250 a bottle on Amazon. Epidemiologists are trying to make sense of the situation, but many questions remain: How can we slow the spread of the virus? What will be the impact of this global epidemic?

"Global" is the key word. Many of the problems we are now facing are global in nature, such as the warming planet, economic inequality, and now a contagious virus. The coronavirus is pointing out just how interdependent we are, with disrupted supply chains slowing down manufacturing and international travel spreading the virus.

Globalization is a fact – the only choice is whether we will work together to solve our problems. In essence, the choice is between reacting with fear or responding with kindness.

What can each of us do? This is where self-compassion comes in. Self-compassion boosts the immune system, it reduces anxiety, and it's the easiest way to keep our hearts open to others. Some measure of fear is a healthy response to a contagious virus, of course. We want to respond to the contagion in a wise manner – with preventive measures that benefit ourselves and others. This reflection from Drs Chris Germer and Kristin Neff of the Centre for Mindful Self-Compassion offers three practical responses to the anxiety we are all feeling:

1) Mindfulness

Become aware of how you feel about the virus. Are you feeling anxious, disheartened, confused? Can you feel it in your body? If so, where? Is your mind preoccupied with the virus? If so, what are your thoughts? Can you validate for yourself how you think or feel in a kind and understanding manner? For example, "Yes, this is hard." "This is difficult." "This is really stressful." Can you offer yourself a little space around your feelings, knowing that it's part of the current situation we're all in?

2) Common humanity

When you hear news of people struggling with the virus, can you allow this to enhance your sense of being part of a global family rather than feeling separate? Can you imagine yourself in their situation and say, "Just like me." Or when you reflect on your own distress, can you remind yourself, "Others feel as I do—I am not alone." "Sickness is part of living." "This is how it feels to be a human being right now."

3) Self-Kindness

Try putting your hand on heart or some other soothing place, helping to calm some of your anxiety through touch. What words do you need to hear to comfort or reassure yourself about the virus right now? Are they realistic? Can you talk to yourself in a warm, compassionate voice? What actions do you need to take to protect yourself, or to provide for yourself? Can you encourage yourself to take these steps, in a supportive manner?

These responses resonate very much with Baptcare's spiritual care and wellbeing values that begin with learning to be kind to yourself in order truly companion others who are struggling. It was Jesus who said that "loving your neighbour as you love yourself" is the greatest of all the commandments.

Like any crisis, the COVID-19 virus is also an opportunity. The silver lining to this cloud may well be the opportunity to pause, reflect and re-connect with family as we temporarily spend a bit more time at home.

It may also be an opportunity to become part of a bigger movement that is reminding us that we are indeed part of an interconnected global family, a family that needs to find ways to expand hearts and minds as we embrace challenges that require us to work together and not apart.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky has written: (in response the negative connotations of distancing and self-isolation)

"Every hand that we don't shake must become a phone call that we place.

Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern.

Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another,
must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other
should the need arise."