Self-Care in the time of COVID
“I’m doing great, relatively speaking. We are healthy, we are financially ok, I’m staying connected with friends. But I feel bad most of the time.”
Checking in with the people in my life, I keep hearing versions of this complaint. On some level, we know we’re good. We can look at the big picture around us and see - we’re the lucky ones. We studied Maslov’s hierarchy, and intellectually, we get that we should be basically fine. So why does everything still feel so hard?
THERE’S NOTHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO
How many of us underestimated just how important it was to our mental health to know that we could plan and actually count on taking a trip to see family, or get out for happy hour, or go to a show? Even as these activities are becoming more available, and people begin to engage again with our old sources of joy, the understanding that at any moment we might have to change course again is heavy. Our opportunities for connection and fun feel tenuous at best.
THE COGNITIVE LOAD IS HEAVY
As the pandemic drags on, people find that they cannot simply stop all potentially dangerous behavior indefinitely. Each trip to the grocery store, each haircut, each time your kid gets together with a friend (even if it’s outside!), we re-evaluate the risks all over again. We look at COVID prevalence in our areas and gauge that against the riskiness of any behavior. It’s a million tiny decisions and tradeoffs every day, and over time, it’s exhausting.
So what do we do to take care of ourselves in this moment, especially when so many of the ways we used to engage in self-care are unavailable, or unwise? I reached out to some friends and colleagues to see what their approach looked like, and here are their responses.
Shawna, Burnout & Autoimmune Coach, HealthTech founder
One child, age 8
Recommends: Meditation, delegating chores, and mindful food choices
My self-care routine isn't one time of the day, instead, it's several deliberate choices throughout the day. I know it's effective because I get pretty immediate feedback when I'm off-kilter — I have autoimmune issues that if I ignore, flare-up.
Every morning I start with a little time to myself and 20 minutes of meditation before I wake up my kid. During the school day, I sometimes find myself swimming in irritation being in 3rd grade again, and trying to become an overnight math teacher. A 4-7-8 breath routine for a solid minute usually does the trick!
Choosing to eat well is one of the easiest and hardest ways to honor a self-care routine. When we eat poorly it causes inflammation and stress, which leads to poor sleep, which leads to poor eating. The cycle continues. I drink my morning mojo blend: coffee or tea with ginger, cinnamon, maca root, mushroom powder, cacao, a scoop of collagen, and a healthy serving of coconut cream. I eat a breakfast that is either a veggie smoothie or fish and salad (yes, fish).
The one I'm most proud of is off-loading chores and tasks to family members. My daughter is responsible for her own breakfast and lunches. I batch cook veggies and proteins and put them where my daughter can reach them. She is also responsible for her daily dishes, taking out the trash, her laundry, and her bathroom. Are they done perfectly? Nope, but she's 8 and she's learning and it's fewer things for me to handle.
Lastly, I have been protecting my sleep time like it's gold. I stop looking at screens at 8pm and go to bed by the time it hits double digits. I sleep with my phone in the other room and do some more breathing techniques to get me into a deep rest.
Julie, Operations Specialist
Recommends: Exercise, a regular schedule, and adopting a puppy
Before COVID I was in the habit of working out daily. It nourished me to wake up early, hit the gym, and arrive at work having spent a ton of energy. It was the way for me to feel in control of long work days and time in the car. On the weekends I would connect with friends, go out, and also take some time on my own for quiet time to read, watch Netflix, and reset.
These days, working out has been necessary but isn't as intense. I find myself needing to physically get outside for a brisk walk in order to break up my day working from home. Moving my body either walking/running outside or doing at home videos is one of the only things making me feel good at all.
Keeping a schedule and keeping my home clean are forms of self care as well - I find it helps a little bit to always get up in the morning and get things moving even if I don't have a meeting, otherwise I just feel like crap.
My partner and I have also gotten a puppy since COVID work from home, and spending time with the dog has been amazing. Playing with her and walking her has been the one bright spot of a shitty year and I think spending time with her is definitely self-care.
Food has also been self-care - both eating fresh and healthy when I can because I know I feel better when I do, but also letting go of some food guilt and realizing I'm not a bad person if I eat some cheesy pasta on a Tuesday night that isn't a special occasion
Ali, Manager of Wellness and Engagement for a vitamin company and a yoga instructor for Equinox
Two children, ages 16 & 19
Recommends: Yoga (of course!), meditation, and getting creative in the kitchen
In the past, one of the things I used to look forward to was date night with my husband. We’ve had to get creative since March in how we connect.
I start my morning with meditation. I had always wanted to add meditation to my routine, but found it challenging to fit into my schedule before. With COVID, I have no excuses anymore!
I have found replacements for my gym workouts through Peloton and online apps that offer fitness classes I enjoy. And even though I miss going to in-person yoga, I have found appreciation for rolling out my mat and practicing on my own schedule versus the schedule of the instructors.
I'm taking more pleasure in cooking, even on the weekends, when I used to go out more. Cooking is an expression of creativity for me so I find it relaxing and fun. I haven't found a way to successfully sleep in. My internal clock still gets me up at 5:00 am every darn day!
If you want to take up early like Ali and get going with yoga, check out her YouTube channel.