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Feeling stuck at home may lead you to think that you have a unique opportunity to get things done. So, the home improvement lists come out, you consider learning a new language, and friends circulate free masterclasses. On the other hand, you may be a working parent with exponentially increased demands on your time. You juggle working from home, home schooling, IT support for the grandparents, and managing home responsibilities that typically could be outsourced (housecleaning, haircuts, car wash….and suddenly many more dishes!). Or maybe you land somewhere in between.
Either way, you might find yourself more irritable, distracted, sluggish, and struggling to focus or motivate. What happened?! You start beating yourself up that you are wasting an excellent opportunity to get more done. Or you feel frustrated that just getting out of bed is a herculean task.
This is our natural stress response. When things feel out of control, moving into action helps us regain that sense of control, or shutting down helps preserve that little bit of energy that we have left.
We may feel powerless against a pandemic, but deep cleaning the house or reorganizing the garage can help us feel more calm for the moment. Maybe there is a quick sense of accomplishment, and then we are spinning onto the next thing. Just keep moving.
Or we may feel so overwhelmed that we start to shut down. We don’t want to do anything. It’s harder to get out of bed, the kid’s demands are just too much, and there is little focus or energy for work. Food that normally energizes us or TV shows that can typically distract us just feel unfulfilling, so we go for more and more.
These unprecedented times require a new response to stress. Our go-to strategies may only bring temporary relief. If distracting, numbing out, or shutting down is not helping, maybe it’s time to give ourselves permission to take care of ourselves above all else. Taking care of ourselves helps us regulate. We are happier in our skins, more able to connect with others, and more able to focus on the task at hand. Who couldn’t use a bit more of that these days? Here are some self-care strategies to consider:
- Check-in with yourself: Give yourself permission to take care of YOU. Is your mind racing? Do you struggle to get off the couch? What is one thing you can do to bring yourself back toward a state of calm? What do you need in this moment? Do this for yourself before focusing on other people or things. You will be much more ready to tackle the day.
- Allow yourself to grieve: Life is dramatically different today than it was just a month ago. Jobs lost, weddings delayed, vacations canceled, births restricted, graduations canceled, budding romance curtailed… the list goes on. Maybe you are grieving the loss of loved ones or fear that you may. Every day seems to bring a new wave of acknowledgment of all that is lost. This loss is real; don’t allow yourself to downplay it simply because others have lost more.
- Savoring and appreciating: Slow down and giving yourself permission to experience life’s little moments and appreciate what we have helps cultivate joy. Take a walk and notice the wild flowers and birds singing, savor a nice meal, appreciate a nourishing night’s sleep. The possibilities are endless.
- Reset expectations: Simple things like buying food have dramatically changed. Mentally prepare for the anxiety that restrictions, long lines, and the somber atmosphere may invoke. Realize that your daily energy may be drained by all the changes you are adjusting to. Let go of the perfectionist mindset.
- Start new rituals: Beginning the day with the news may be too jarring. Consider a morning meditation, stretch, or a walk to start your day gently. Consider a gratitude practice at night or a body-scan while you wake up in the morning.
- Surround yourself and loved ones with extra loving: Anticipate more disagreements among family members and pause before reacting, remembering that they are suffering too. Your compassionate, calm energy can help regulate them and diffuse the situation.
- Find your flow: Being in flow is when we feel immersed in something, body and mind are connected, senses are heightened, and action feels effortless. Couldn’t we all use a bit of that right now? You may find it when doing physical activity, art project, or even a day-to-day task. Either way, your body experiences a host of pleasure-inducing and performance-enhancing changes (Psychology Today) when you are in this state. Can you put your worries aside and allow yourself to get lost in something enjoyable?
- Consider your purpose: According to the Atlantic, “Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression.” Have changes in your life forced you to re-identify your purpose? We each have a light within us, can it shine a little bit brighter?
You may notice that connecting with others, which has been on the top of many self-care lists, is not here. It can be draining if the conversation spins into a mutual sharing of fear and loss. After tending to ourselves, our sense of calm can be infectious. What better gift to give to a loved one (and ourselves), after we have prioritized our own self care?
I like to think of this as a pebble hitting the water. The calm, compassionate and focused energy we cultivate inside overflows to others through our mirror neurons. It is a gift to ourselves, our loved ones, and our community. As an added bonus, we are even more regulated to take care of all that needs to get done.