These Days Call for New Gentleness


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On Day 2 of the quarantine, I realized I had to switch up my game plan.

My daily game plan is usually centered around me working from my home office and doing my own thing, alone, at my own pace. I am productive, I am kind to me, and I am happily alone.

The new reality was two children home all the time, doing online schooling, missing their friends and the comfort of their daily schedule, and riding the twisty slide of emotion due of confusion and unease permeating the atmosphere. There was also my husband, now working more and more in a highly affected industry, coming in and out with his stress and exhaustion.

The thought that came to me in the middle of that Day 2 afternoon, with one daughter sniffling back tears, and the other jumping out of her skin with restlessness, and my own work demanding my attention, was: Be gentle.

Be gentle with yourself, and with them.

It was more a voice than a thought: a deep one from within, a resonant tone of intuition from my heart.

I immediately felt my body relax. My chest, which had been tightening, a typical sign of my elevating stress levels, loosened and opened up. The ripples of frantic energy pulsing up and down my spine quieted, smoothed and stopped.

I thought of how I would act in this moment if there was nothing to really to do, if we were on vacation, if what we got done today didn’t matter.

And I softened up even more.

Because the truth was and is that there is very little that has to be done this minute. And this is a little like a vacation in terms of it being an unusual amount of time of togetherness and wandering. And what we don’t get done today can most likely wait until tomorrow.

And there was the further truth that everyone was facing the same difficulty, and doing so with good, if wobbly, effort.

We are all doing our best, I thought.

I returned to my true self, the one with empathy enough to circle the globe and the hearts of my children.

I told myself what a good job I was doing and how precious I was, as if I was my own child. Then I extended that idea out to my girls.

That mantra has become my guiding principle in these times.

Be gentle.

To me, this means:

o Be careful how you speak to yourself

o Loosen up on you and on those around you, we are all doing our best

o Use words of love instead of criticism

o Extend oodles of grace in all directions

2007 study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology by Theodore Powers, Richard Koestner, and David Zuroff, found that self-criticism zaps motivation and increases rumination and procrastination and hampers progress towards goals. It also decreases one’s sense of autonomy.

So being critical of yourself, while it might be the thing that comes naturally to you, actually has the opposite effect to what we’ve been taught. In fact, self-criticism slows you down, steals your momentum and diverts your efforts towards a goal.

Each day of the Q(uarantine), when the list of to-dos is consulted at the end of my day, I am fighting the urge to criticize. When I run out of energy at 9 p.m. and can only lay in my bed and read instead of coordinating calming bedtimes for my kids, I stop myself from berating me.

When we have a day where we didn’t eat as healthy as we could have or didn’t get out as much as we should have, I resist the urge to compare what I think should have happened or what others are doing.

I think instead, Be gentle.