Whether it’s trying to stick to those New Year’s resolutions or dealing with constantly changing conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are under a lot of stress right now.

Working from home, managing online schooling for children and other major life adjustments have been challenging this past year to say the least.

How people deal with those situations and how they approach any changes or goals in life doesn’t have to be so difficult, according to wellness coach Erin Pover.

What’s a wellness coach?

“A Wellness Coach works with individuals to develop realistic, actionable goals to improve their physical and emotional well-being by providing support, education and encouragement,” said Pover, who is a registered dietitian and wellness coach in clinical care and wellness with Highmark, Inc. “I became interested in wellness coaching while I was completing a training program in motivational interviewing for dietetics. I work with our members in areas like diet and disease prevention/management, physical activity, weight management, tobacco cessation, every day stress management and improving sleeping habits.”

Pover said the key in dealing with the pandemic, as well as any other challenges, is to not be so hard on ourselves. She said she believes in the concept of “self-compassion.”

“I have been talking with members that have put an enormous amount of pressure on themselves to adapt quickly to these changes and feeling like they have failed when they can’t,” Pover said. “Mentally this can feel taxing and emotionally this can feel draining. The practice of self-compassion allows us to continue to make goals for ourselves but approach them from a healthier mindset that gives us the space to accept that things are challenging but doable.”

Pover said self-compassion is different than making excuses in one important way.

“In the concept of lifestyle goals, making excuses is the practice of listing all of the barriers that got in your way of acting out the changes you were hoping to make,” she said.

Pover said people who don’t exercise one morning because they went to bed too late are making an excuse.

“Self-compassion is approaching our goals from a problem-solving lens and encourages keeping a positive attitude in the process,” Pover said. “This would sound like, ‘My body was telling me I needed some extra rest today so I honored that feeling. I will plan to carve out 10 minutes of my lunch break to get in some exercise. This will also give me a mental break during the course of my workday.’ It’s focusing on solutions and not barriers.”

Many people may have heard the phrase, “We are our own worst critics.”

“We tend to live in a world where we are always thinking of the next thing and not living in the moment,” Pover said. “We want to go from point A to point B as quickly as possible with preferably as little discomfort as is required.

“When we set those expectations for ourselves,” she added, “we inevitably become disappointed when we realize it’s not happening the way we wanted. We end up taking that out on our ourselves because we are the ones that felt it was a reasonable goal.”

Pover said social media certainly doesn’t help because users only see what posters want them to see, which is usually the best of people or the end result.

“We never get to see the hard work and effort behind the scenes,” Pover said. “Remaining truthful with ourselves, living in the moment and not wishing our days, weeks, months away, and talking to ourselves the way we would talk to a loved one can help us take a softer approach and ultimately build our self-esteem to accomplish realistic goals we set for ourselves.”

Pover also said she noticed many patients are not dedicating enough time to self-care activities especially during this past year of the pandemic.

“Our work and home life now have blurred lines with the changing working environments,” she said. “Parents are asked to fill in as teachers, we have lost our social circles, and we are worried about a lot. Despite having more time at home, it seems like we have less time to engage in things that bring us relaxation and joy.”

She said she encourages her patients to make a list of self-care activities they can do ranging from five minutes to an hour and try to set aside some time every day to engage in at least one of them.

“This could be taking a walk, reading a book, listening to music, journaling, calling a friend … anything,” Pover said. “This could also include things we would like to limit, such as our intake of the daily news or our time spent on social media outlets.”

It is nearly two months into the new year, but it’s never too late to make new resolutions. Trying to employ the concept of self-compassion might be a way to help deal with stress and anxiety and also a way to start working toward our goals in 2021.

“Self-compassion is not about making an excuse for falling short of our goals,” Pover said. “It is about approaching our goals from a healthier mindset, problem-solving when the goal may not have worked out and keeping a positive attitude when attempting our goal.

“We are all human,” she added, “we will all make mistakes. Our progress will either be hindered or heightened by our reaction to them.”

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