April 3, 2020
I’ll be honest, I’ve been having a hard time feeling grateful lately. The world feels like it’s been turned upside down overnight, and I fluctuate between feeling scared for my life and like everyone is overreacting. I’ve been more judgemental than usual, more on edge, and more impatient with people whose opinions are different from mine.
Coronavirus seems to be bringing out the best and worst of humanity.
As someone who is half-Chinese, I have to wonder how much conscious or unconscious racism goes into people glaring at me on the street, gesturing rudely at me to move further away from them on my runs (when I’m already giving them plenty of space), or completely turning their bodies away from me as if my mere presence will infect them with the virus.
At the same time, I’ve seen people offer to walk their neighbor’s dog, pick up groceries, run errands, organize fundraisers, check in on their grandparents, arrange family game nights, and lead healing meditation circles for the masses.
The thing to realize is we will all experience an entire range of emotions during this time, sometimes changing from one minute to the next. Some days I feel so inside of my own struggle that I can’t think of, or take care of, anyone other than myself. Does that make me a bad person? No, it makes me human.
If you’re struggling like I am, or maybe just looking for more ways to practice self-care, here are four tips to keep in mind to practice more gratitude during the coronavirus outbreak:
If you are having a hard time feeling grateful right now, don’t beat yourself up. The best thing you can do for yourself during this tender time is give yourself the grace to process your emotions however you need to process them, and at your own pace. Unconditional self-acceptance is more important than ever. We are quicker to judge ourselves and others when our survival feels under threat. None of us are at our best right now.
Practicing self-compassion and giving yourself space to first accept your own thoughts and feelings is critical — research suggests we are more judgemental towards others when we are more judgemental towards ourselves. Once we realize that we are imperfect, it will be easier to accept the imperfection in others.
I keep hearing the advice: be grateful you have food on the table, a roof over your head, and clothes on your back. First of all, gratitude doesn’t really work when someone is telling you what to be grateful for. I find that kind of gratitude practice a touch too dogmatic. Personally, I trust people to be able to tap into their own gratitude wells when the time is right.
Second of all, be careful not to minimize your own suffering. While having food, shelter, and clothes are absolutely things to feel grateful for, you can feel grateful for these things and still feel sad or afraid or anxious or angry. There is room for all of your conflicting emotions. It’s important to remember — it’s all valid and you don’t need to minimize your own struggles.
No need to complicate the gratitude process. Just take note of all the things that make you smile throughout the day, even if it’s for a fleeing second. It’s okay if that thing doesn’t make you smile again tomorrow, or even in an hour. But, at this very moment, what makes you happy?
Here’s what’s coming up for me:
Your list might look different. It should look different. We all have different needs and desires and things that bring us comfort when we are feeling upset or lonely or however you are feeling right now. And remember that it’s okay for whatever you are grateful for in this moment to be different from what your partner, friends, or parents are grateful for.
If gratitude feels too difficult for you to access right now, that’s okay too. Gratitude is part of a larger family of positive emotions that includes love, hope, laughter, inspiration, creativity, and pride. Any of these emotions will also help you weather the storm of this unprecedented disaster.
According to Barbara Frederickson’s Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions, positive emotions help broaden your thinking and attention (i.e. helps you problem-solve and be creative) and build your personal resources (i.e. boost your immune system and build resilience). Stress, fear, and anxiety, on the other hand, narrow your perspective and put strain on your personal resources.
The amazing thing about this theory is that studies have shown that positive emotions can even undo the harmful effects of negative emotions on a physiological level. That’s why practicing gratitude and upping your levels of other positive emotions (which is not to say “be happy all the time”) can be beneficial during the coronavirus outbreak.
Be gentle with yourself during one of the most stressful time periods in recent human history. Be grateful when you can have compassion for yourself and when you can’t. Allowing yourself to feel all of your feelings is the greatest gift you can offer yourself right now. And when it comes down to it, you deserve as much gratitude for yourself as you give everyone else.
This piece was originally published on Talkspace.