Self-Care and COVID-19 Self-Care Are Different

Last week, I was rubbed raw and pushed over the edge. I screamed, indulged on sugar, and wanted to pull my hair out. Somewhat consciously, I flushed my identity down the toilet. So much for being resourceful, resilient, skilled, and less stressed. I also know that I’m not alone. 

This unprecedented experience is bringing a lot of people to their knees, even people proactively engaged in self-care. And I’m not surprised. Self-care and COVID-19 self-care are two different things. 

I should preface this post by saying that my blessings are immense. So far, my family and circle of loved ones are home, safe, and secure. I speak daily with friends and clients on the frontline and know that not everyone is as fortunate. As a psychologist with over twenty-five years of experience, I also understand stress and how to mitigate its effects. Even with all these things on my side, yesterday, I fell face down amid a tantrum. I am learning–the hard way–that what worked as self-care amid my busy, full, fast-paced life doesn’t work now.

We are all experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic differently. We are in this together and yet living it separately. I know single friends reexamining their life, feeling lonelier now than ever before. I have clients who were casually dating and are now cohabiting. The pandemic has changed how we live, who we live with, and in some cases, where we live. Thousands of medical workers are now living in hotels and other temporary homes to avoid putting their families at risk.

Put Self-Care First 

  • Stay Focused on Health: Eat well, exercise, sleep, rinse with salt water, and take a daily dose of apple cider vinegar. Even if you already know this, don’t underestimate the value of established routines. In COVID-19, I have discovered that routines are more important now than ever before. Daily, we need to be building our immunity. 
  • The Double Benefit of Physical Exercise: I have always been a runner. Now, I realize my family’s well being (reducing “Mommy meltdowns”) necessitates that I run. Running is now my recalibration time. It is when I do my deep breathing, perspective taking, and find space to reset. When we stay active longer than 30 minutes, we reset our parasympathetic nervous system (i.e., move out of “fight/flight response” and into resilience). 
  • Practice Mindfulness: At this time, I need more gratitude and to take myself less seriously. On this level, mindfulness is essential. Start small. Focus on breathing and stillness. It may seem simple, but the effects are powerful. For this reason, I have been meditating regularly. It settles my nervous system. Fight/flight/fright drains our adrenals and reduces our ability to fight illness. It is essential to shift into a rest and digest (rejuvenation) mode to stay well. There are infinite free resources to help get started. 
  • Find Flow: Amid the current crisis, finding flow is even more critical. During COVID-19, flow is more than being focused and productive. It is time when you’re fully present, connected to a purpose, and deeply engaged. Amid COVID-19, finding flow (i.e., turning off all the other information channels/distractions) may be the very best thing you can do for yourself. Commit to doing something you love every day, whether it is talking with a friend, yoga, writing, or singing at the top of your lungs.
  • Feel Progress: We feel happy when making progress. Making progress on non-COVID-19 crisis work may seem impossible, but making progress on all fronts is critical. It will help you and your business survive, and it may help bring a bit of normalcy into an admittedly abnormal time. At the beginning of the day, make a list of things that can help you feel less distracted and able to stay centered. Start by simply listing what you did manage to do.
  • Reconnect to Purpose: When I’m serving others, I have purpose. When I am homeschooling and doing bi-weekly grocery runs, I have purpose (I’m supporting my kids and my family). However, I know that I also need to feel purpose beyond my immediate family. Having purpose in relation to my employees and clients is also essential at this moment. My toughest times are when I feel I am spinning and not doing meaningful work. 
  • Be Realistic with Expectations: Pre-COVID-19, I would roll my eyes at this statement. Now, I’m setting clearer and more specific goals (no yelling, help children teach each other, give more positive feedback, escape to hot tub pre-tantrums, etc.). Shift gears and do purposeful work on weekends. Beyond the tactical aspects of self-care, it’s essential to have realistic expectations. It is also important to remain reasonable about what you can and cannot accomplish. To start, break tasks into even smaller tasks. If you don’t get through everything on your plate, don’t beat yourself up. Appreciate that we are all doing a lot at the moment: self-distancing, homeschooling, working remotely, and the list goes on. 
  • Be Human: Some days will be tough. Cry, comfort yourself, put aside what should be done, and re-focus on basics: surviving. There will be other times to thrive. And, when you have one of those days, notice who is around you, who is kind, and how much their kindness means. Commit to more compassion, gentleness, and gratitude—the more humanity we see and embrace, the better.
  • Feel Seen: Behind and between everything going on, we’re all craving heartfelt connections. I feel alive when I feel witnessed for who I am. This now feels more important and harder to accomplish. Fully seeing others is the quickest way to feel seen, too. However busy you may be, take time to connect with people and appreciate them and everything they are doing. 
  • Connect to Community: COVID-19 will be a transformative moment for most of us. How we learn at this moment is critical. Doing this together and learning from each other is also vital. It’s what will help us keep moving forward. 

Don’t Resist Change 

COVID-19 is going to change all of us. It already seems unlikely that we’ll return to business as usual anytime soon. How we live, how we interact, how we work, and where and how often we travel are going to be permanently disrupted. To move forward, build a solid foundation. After all, we’re all going to need to do a lot of soul searching. Who am I? What are my priorities? Before COVID-19, was I living the life I imagined myself living? What changes have I made over the past month that I should have made before this crisis? 

It is clear to me that self-care under COVID-19 is not only important–it is different from the self-care we were doing before the pandemic. To remain energized, agile, and focused on the COVID-19 crisis and the future, we need to re-imagine what self-care means. 

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