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The past year has brought many ups and downs. From adapting to online schooling, learning how to bake bread, or attempting to become Tik Tok famous (I see you), the Covid-19 pandemic has brought many new challenges our way. 

The one challenge in particular that I've found the most difficult to deal with is self-criticism. While I've always been a firm believer in being realistic with myself, over the past year, this turned into something slightly more harmful. I began to get this awful feeling, constantly telling myself "I'm never going to make it" or "what if things don't work out?" After some reflection, I realized that my straight self-talk had started to become toxic self-criticism. So, after a year of trial and erro, I've come up with a few strategies that may help you overcome self-criticism in this challenging time. Practicing these steps worked well for me, and I hope it works for you too! 

1. Acknowledge how you feel.

In my experience, when I began to feel self-critical, I tended to immediately shut down or push away those thoughts. I would try my best to completely ignore them and the way they made me feel. Over time though, I realized that this just made things worse. I would become more agitated and frustrated with myself, feeling like I was not enough. 

Instead, I learned to acknowledge how I'm feeling and why. Now, I allow myself to feel whatever I need to feel, and welcome questions about my own self-criticism. I don’t shy away from wondering why I didn't get any work done today, or why I wasn’t productive this week. Maybe I was tired; perhaps I needed a break from studying the whole week. All in all, suppressing how I felt was not the answer; acknowledging and learning to understand the root of my emotions was a step in the right direction. 

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2. Rediscover your hobbies and passions.

I think it's safe to say that the pandemic has taken away the "work-school-home" separation for many of us. It's easy to become self-critical and convince yourself that you need to be “grinding” 24/7, whether that means getting schoolwork done, going to a job, or any extracurricular responsibilities. Just doing activities for fun becomes a second thought when you feel guilty for not working constantly. I’ve eliminated many of my passions in the past, simply because I criticized them or thought that I should be using my time for something more "useful." However, over time, I learned that making time for your passions is valuable and important. Even if you don't feel that you're great at them, who cares? Your hobbies and passions are there to you’re you relax. So, whether it's getting yourself to write, play sports, cook, exercise, play video games, whatever – I  promise, making time for fun activities without judging yourself can help boost your mental health. 

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3. Confide in trusted loved ones. 

When feeling self-critical, it’s easy to close off those feelings, especially around loved ones. Sometimes speaking to trusted friends and family about being self-critical can help you feel better and remind you that the people closest to you believe in you. It can also help to hear that everyone can become self-critical no matter what stage of life they’re in. Sometimes sharing your experiences with each other can actually benefit both of you! Whether it's family or friends, allow yourself to let people in can help you regain your confidence and squash the negative self-talk.

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4. Practice self-compassion.

Reminding myself to practice self-compassion over self-criticism is a strategy I learned to help reframe toxic critical thinking. The idea is quite simple: firstly, we must determine how to have compassion in general. From what I've learned, to truly feel compassionate, you must be able to recognize and feel moved by the suffering of yourself and others, and then realize that suffering is a part of the shared human experience. Self-compassion involves applying this emotional intelligence that we tend to use with other people to ourselves. It is to remind us that we nor anybody else is perfect. We all, in our own way, have hardships and failure. It is also important to note that self-compassion is not self-pity. It is not a way to become swallowed by our own problems and allowing ourselves to feel like we are alone. Self-compassion has helped me put into perspective my self-doubt and that sometimes it's okay to doubt yourself! You're going to make mistakes, you're going to fail sometimes, you're not always going to put your best foot forward, and that's okay because that's part of being human. Cheesy, I know, but trust me, reminding yourself of this can really help get you out of that ruminating headspace. 

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5. Understanding that toxic positivity is not the answer 

This was the most important lesson I learned about toxic self-criticism, which is that toxic positivity is not the solution. Toxic positivity is the idea that despite feeling down, critical or upset, we should always have a positive mindset and outlook. We've all heard the phrases "look on the Brightside" or "everything happens for a reason." I'll admit I am guilty of saying these statements because they made me feel better about an uncomfortable situation, whether with myself or with friends. For example, when I did not do well on an assignment, I shouldn't be critical and look on the bright side because "I've done well on the other assignments or in my other classes." In reality, these phrases don't make others, or you feel any better about the situation; they just dismiss the negative emotions entirely. While staying positive can feel like the right thing to do, I've learned how to keep positive while allowing myself to feel and understand my self-criticism. Now, I tell myself, "it's okay that I didn't do as well as I hoped, and it's okay to be upset about it, but I have to continue onto the next assignment and find out what I need to do to improve."

Self-criticism is a feeling that affects us all, especially during these times where it can feel that we need to constantly be working and finding our way. It is easy to feel like you don't know where you're going when your plans have been thrown out the window this past year. Rest assured, you're not alone. I hope that sharing some of the tips I've encountered throughout my self-criticism journey can help out some of you! 

I also want to mention here that none of these tips are supplementary or a replacement to receiving professional help or you are in a time of crisis. If you are in a crisis or need professional help, please do reach out to resources; I have listed some below. 

Canada Suicide Prevention Line: 1-833-456-4556

Kids Help Phone (age 5-29): 1-800-668-6868

Criss Services Canada: https://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/en/looking-for-local-resources-support/   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gen is a fourth year student majoring in Health Science: Population and Public Health stream. She loves yoga, travelling, caring for her grandparents at home and video games!
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