6 Self-Care Strategies for the Road Ahead

Rivky Steen, LGPC on Sep 10, 2020 in Mood and Feelings

Back in March the pandemic hit us like a tsunami wave. Within a few weeks our entire world as we knew it abruptly shut down. Work and schools were closed as we all sheltered in place. Our world was filled with chaos as we tried to listen to the doctors, scientists, and government officials who knew very little about this new beast.

In our pre-pandemic lives we established a sense of expectations and predictability. We had our goals and aspirations that we were working towards. We had a sense of stability and systems in place as we strove towards our goals. When the pandemic hit, many of those plans and aspirations had to be shelved, either temporarily or permanently.

Because we left our workplaces and former lives with a sense of panic and chaos, this created a sense of anxiety and grief as we did not have closure upon leaving and had/have no sense of time when things will return to normal. We were left with an open wound.

For many, being in lockdown was a painful experience. For the first time, families were confined to the space of their home for weeks on end, with nowhere to go. They were faced with seeing things in their spouses, partners and children and most importantly, themselves, that may not have been so great. For relationships that already experienced fractures, the fractures may have been amplified, yielding fighting, arguing and abuse. For those who experienced lockdown by themselves, many found themselves ruminating about negative and anxious thoughts. Mild feelings of loneliness and isolation were exacerbated manifold. And there was no hiding from these painful feelings.

Heading into the summer months, we are still experiencing these effects. While the initial shock may have worn off, we are still faced with great uncertainty. Our summer plans may have been canceled or changed. Job owners are experiencing extreme stress as they struggle to rebrand and revamp their operations to accommodate the ever- shifting restrictions. On one end of the spectrum, parents are unsure if their children will be attending school next year and are anxious about out how they can get to work. Other parents are anxious about the stress placed on the family should their children be home and have to deal with the stress of managing them 24/7 with no personal space or time. On the other end of the spectrum, others are experiencing extreme loneliness and isolation as they face quarantining alone.

While we have now experienced the pandemic for a number of months and have put the initial stages of the pandemic behind us, we are still experiencing its effects. Our current lives are still far from normal. Grieving a loss, being it loss of hopes or dreams, loss of predictability, or loss of a loved one is emotionally draining and physically exhausting. It saps us of much mental, emotional, and physical energy and depletes our internal resources. We may find ourselves feeling stressed, overwhelmed and irritable. Continuously supporting yourself during this time may be the single most important thing you can do to retain a sense of calm and inner peace.

Here are six tips to help support yourself as we head into the next stages of pandemic life

1. Practice self-care. It is important to take time to care for and nurture ourselves. Frequently, we are so wrapped up in caring for others or in the stress of the situation that we forget to care for ourselves. The reality is though, that when we take care of ourselves, we are calmer and more able to adapt to whatever the situation brings us. Identify what makes you feel good and carve out time to do it. Consider reading a book, drawing, walking, exercising, calling a friend or whatever you enjoy doing. Be sure to prioritize self-care and carve out “me-time” consistently even when it is difficult to do so. Remind yourself that the times that are most difficult to carve out me-time, are the most important times to do so.

2. Practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself. Recognize that this is still an unprecedented situation and you don’t have your de-stressing tools that you typically rely on. Remind yourself that things are still in flux you are doing the best that you can under the circumstance. Realize that this is process is a learning curve for all of us and you are just doing your best.

3. Practice radical acceptance. Accept your circumstances as they are and let go of emotional suffering associated with it. Don’t dismiss your circumstances, but simply accept the new reality that exists without judgment. Acceptance doesn’t mean you are okay with the current situation. It means you accept what is.  Acceptance permits you to be present, non-judgmental, and allows your thoughts to shift in a different direction. When you let go of expectations of what you want reality to be, the more you can allow judgments about the situation to come and go. The more you can accept what is outside of your control, the more empowered you are to change that which is in our control. 

4. Plan ahead. As we head into the fall and winter, take the time to reflect on what worked during the lockdown at the end of last winter and early spring and what may need improvement. Note triggers that may have affected you and develop strategies to address them. If you noticed that feeling alone caused you to feel depressed, look for ways to help you feel more connected with others. This may include social distancing with others (when permitted) or accessing friends and family via video platforms. If your children were fighting and arguing during lockdown and will be home while attending school via distance learning, reflect on what worked last winter and spring during distance learning, and what needs to be tweaked.

5. Remind yourself that good is good enough. Reflect deeply and internalize that you may not be perfect but accept that you are doing your best. Reduce your standards and expectations when you can. Are formal dinners necessary for now, or can they be less formal for the time being? Is it realistic for your house to be spotless with everyone home all the time? As you notice things that you didn’t handle well, don’t judge, and merely note them and reflect on how you want to react differently next time.

6. Practice mindfulness. When faced with stress and anxiety, all it takes is a few moments to gently bring yourself back to the present moment. This includes taking a deep calming breath in and out and centering yourself. Avoid worrying thoughts about the future and what will be. Try to stay in the here and now and enjoy the present moment. A few moments of breathing and being in the present moment has the power to shift your mindset for the rest of the day.

As we head into the next few months, we hold the hope that sometime in the near future it will be safe and healthy to re- connect once again with others in close physical proximity. Let us take the lessons learned from our experiences during the pandemic and utilize them to create healthier and more balanced lives in the future.

Rivky Steen is a Counselor in Towson, MD.
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