Updated: Jan 7, 2021
Are you struggling to maintain your sense of equilibrium while trying to navigate all the new demands and realities of the COVID19 crisis? Many people seem to be reporting a variety of challenges, so if you are, you’re very much not alone. Therapists are trying to share whatever knowledge we have about encouraging people to especially attend to our personal needs and psychological well-being. Taking care of yourself is a worthy goal in its own right. But it also helps to remember that the better we attend to our own needs, the better we can show up for the people we love, attend to our responsibilities, and be there for others in general. Then, when we can invest in our wellness, we feel good, so we get more energized, and are able to do more, and it creates a virtuous cycle. First let’s look at some of the common problems we’re seeing:
There is widespread anxiety about public health and safety, especially about loved ones who are at higher risk. There are worries about the future, and frustration about the disruption of regular life routines. Some face financial hardship, professional downsizing, and economic uncertainty. Tough stuff.
Some people are feeling very lonely and isolated: empty nesters, those without partners, or those in unhappy relationships. Many miss being around others, the sounds and signs of life. Others have the opposite problem: they’re feeling cramped, annoyed, and overwhelmed by their families being way more around than usual, in limited space, and with limited available diversions and places to go. Everyone has needs and feelings and want attention.
Some people are bored and under-stimulated, because they aren’t able to do what they normally fill their days with- like: work, socializing, volunteering, the gym, or errands. Conversely, others are stressed and overstimulated; they might have far more on their plate than ever before, tasks that clash with other necessities like parenting and the absurdities of “zoom-schooling.”
Some are struggling in their relationships, and others are wishing they were in relationships. We’re used to more diversity of interaction and experience in our lives; now we’re all very concentrated; stuck in a petri dish of our innermost circle of people and problems, and stripped down routines- it can get very intense. Usually we dilute our interactions with a variety of activities, humans, and places- now we don’t have that, so we’re all more edgy and vulnerable.
We’re living through a trauma, even if we’re not all necessarily feeling traumatized. So we need to be extra gentle with ourselves, just like we are being with the kids. When I recommend that clients work on attending to their own well-being, I find it helpful to break it down into four categories: mind, body, heart, and soul. We can work on nourishing ourselves and our loved ones: intellectually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Let’s look at some ideas for each quadrant:
Mind – stimulate and strategize. Stimulate intellectually, strategize practically. Be discerning of what intellectual content you consume, especially when scrolling online. Be mindful of your thought patterns. Intentionally determine your needs, your families’ needs, and then curate your time and resource allocation accordingly. Take a look at your time and money management, and how you’re utilizing your supplies and space. You may need to revisit the distributions of household responsibilities. Try to take some time to read or watch intellectually engaging content. Recognize that our needs are changing as the days go by- sometimes you may want more structure, more scheduling, more tidiness to feel better, and other times you may want to just be more relaxed and easygoing. It doesn’t need to be carved in stone or so consistent. Just a dynamic, solution- seeking process that works for you and your household.
2. Body: When we feel like we’re in survival mode, basic physical well-being can easily get neglected. Making sure to hydrate and feed ourselves regularly is a vital way to keep healthier, have more energy, and better moods. Try to move your body- even a five minute dance party or mini exercise session can make a big difference. Try to get some fresh air daily if possible. Honor your body with real foods, and not just grazing random things that you find around, like kids’ pizza crusts and leftover scraps. Online, you can find free yoga, dance, and other exercise classes of all levels and lengths. Try them with your partner, kids, or virtually with a friend. Indulge in showers that you can savor, rather than rushing through- enjoy lathering yourself, and the smells and feels of your toiletries. Try to have things in your space that feel good to the touch- soft, comfortable clothes, cosmetics and fragrances, and tasty foods, if possible. Use the power of your senses to uplift your mood and self-energize.
3. Heart – We can ask ourselves: What usually helps us feel good? This is subjective- it varies by person and circumstance. It might be listening to music or playing an instrument. Or dabbling in different types of art or creativity. Enjoying entertainment- drama, action, comedy- it’s so healthy to laugh and cry. Writing is my own craft of choice. Some more domestic folks like to have fun with food prep or home décor or organizing. It’s really important to do some virtual socializing. Even as an introvert, who rarely wants to reach out to friends, I’m always happy once I have. I also love reading: for fun, for education, for inspiration. Try to notice the things that give you pleasure and lift your mood, and do more of that. There’s nothing noble about being a martyr or feeling miserable. Generating more of your own smiles radiates outward and warms those around you too.
4. Soul: Try to find some solitude and carve a little time for the things that help you connect spiritually. This could be religious, like prayer or study, but doesn’t necessarily need to be. Try sitting in stillness, meditation, intentional crying, self-improvement, personal growth, or motivational content if that speaks to you. Don’t underestimate the power of a little deep breathing exercise to slow down racing thoughts or runaway feelings. Outdoor time and yoga-style stretching help connect body and spirit. Try to think of ways to reach out and support others, if you’re up to it, in whatever way you can; that is not only noble but therapeutic. Try to be present as much as possible in whatever moment you find yourself, and not get too fragmented or distracted by other thoughts or pressures. Writing in a daily journal to process feelings, set intentions, and especially a gratitude practice, are linked by much research to more serenity and productivity.
Most importantly, try to be kind to yourself and others around you. Try to edit the self-critical mental voice, reset expectations for these times, and show ourselves grace.