We are now well into the middle of February 2022, but it is never too late to say, ‘Happy New Year to you all!’ Usually, the start of the year is full of excitement about the new beginnings of another year, making New Year resolutions, and remembering the summer holidays and celebrations of New Year’s Eve. However, 2022 seems to have started with a whimper and a sense of, ‘here we go again,’ as COVID-19 continues to bite, creating continued levels of anxiety with the undercurrent and tensions bubbling away between the vaccinated and those hesitant to be vaccinated. I am hoping that we are coming out of this period and can begin to live outside our bubbles and be social again at home and at work.
In some ways, there are glimmers of hope with international students returning this year and the opening of the borders. However, the flow-on effect of financial constraints on many institutions, the much higher turnover of staff, the great resignation events, and the chronic shortage of skilled professionals in our field of institutional research, are stress points that create anxiety and tension for many.
Now like never before it is important to look after our own wellbeing and engage in some self-compassion. We need to be warm and understanding towards ourselves at those times when we get it wrong, feel inadequate, or heaven forbid, fail at something. For many of us, it is easy to jump to self-criticism, completely trampling on the feelings of pain we feel during difficult times. We are often good at offering kindness and acceptance to our family, friends, and colleagues when they falter, but respond to our own imperfections with heartlessness and reproach?
We should try to be more aware of our own emotional pain, understanding that while feeling this pain is hard, this is a normal human experience, and we are not alone. We need to direct feelings of kindness and care towards ourselves, just as we might support a friend who is struggling, then work through an action plan to manage and alleviate the struggles we are facing. Studies suggest that directing compassion inward can also trigger the release of oxytocin, which provides a calming, soothing feeling.
Self-compassion, or at the very least minimising the self-critic, is hard work. Some of us have the ‘critic’ that sits invisibly on our shoulders (some people even have a name for their critic or that internal voice who berates us). But that critical friend sitting up there is unhelpful and needs to be sent packing. A former Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, Paula Bennett, was talking last year about her own critic whom she has named Mildred. Paula recounted how it took her a long time to recognise Mildred and how unhelpful she was. Paula had believed that self-criticism had been a way to regulate and motivate herself. She has now ‘sent Mildred packing – on a cruise ship that may have COVID!’
For 2022, challenging my inner critic and developing more self-compassion is one way I am supporting my own wellbeing. Taking the opportunities to explore my own backyard has been my other way. Last month to celebrate a birthday with too many zeros I was in the mountains and fiords of southwest New Zealand, and I reminded myself just how lucky we are to live in this part of the world.
Please use the networks within AAIR to reach out and connect, take time for selfcare, and send your ‘Mildred’ packing.
Kia kaha – be strong
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