We are currently living in the end times. Well, not exactly the end times, but sometimes it feels like it if I look out my window. I should see cars passing by and people enjoying the outdoors, but instead, the city is stagnant. In a world as terrifying as the one we live in, it is vital that we not only support those around us who are most affected by the pandemic, but also practice self-compassion and self-care. Only by treating ourselves with kindness can we develop the resilience that will allow us to fearlessly confront every obstacle that crosses our path.
As we navigate these uncertain times, anxiety is increasingly becoming our new normal. From worrying about a loved one contracting COVID-19 to coping with unexpected, pandemic-related financial burdens, students across the globe are suffering enormous stress. For many Emory students, our dislocation from the typical routines of college life and demotivation at the hands of remote learning have compounded this anxiety.
With finals officially over, the only thing left are those dreaded “Emory Grade Posted Notification” emails. While the University has helped alleviate some of this stress by allowing students to change their grading designation to pass-fail until April 27 and permitting College students to petition to do so even later, this process will still be taxing on many students.
It is to these students as well as to everyone else who is facing anxiety and sorrow during this time that I would like to emphasize the importance of self-compassion and self-care. University of Texas at Austin Associate Professor of Educational Philosophy Kristin Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion research, defines the practice of self-compassion as comprising three core elements: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.
In Neff’s words, exercising self-kindness “entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.” In practice, this involves treating ourselves like we would treat a friend who is undergoing a similar crisis. We would not think our friend inadequate or incompetent for receiving an undesirable grade. We would instead support and comfort them as they deal with their frustration.
Understanding the common humanity of one’s problem involves “recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience,” Neff writes. When we undergo a painful experience, it can often feel as if everyone else is happy and we are the only ones who are suffering. In actuality, however, many people are undergoing similar hardships as well. This is not a trivialization of your anguish — everyone’s pain is personal and unique. If you acknowledge this truth, though, it will help you recognize that you are not suffering alone.
Practicing mindfulness “requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated.” We should not run away from our emotions but should also not lose ourselves in them. A disappointing or poor grade does not equate to stupidity or incompetence; it merely signifies that one did not meet one’s own expectations in a certain subject.
As professors release grades and students navigate this pandemic, I encourage students to take some time, reflect on their emotions and treat themselves with compassion. It might be difficult at first, but we all owe it to ourselves to try.
We are all important, we all matter and we can all get through this together.
Akash Kurupassery (22C) is from Franklin, Tennessee.