“Americans have discovered suffering. It is springing up all around us.” John Heers, Director of the First Things Foundation* observed back in March.
2020 has been a rough one, and it’s okay to be not ok right now. Acknowledging how you feel is important; equally important is honoring your feelings and finding the strength to keep going. Now more than ever, taking care of yourself is crucial.
Here are some practical ways you can take care of yourself during these stressful times:
Maintain as much of a routine as you can.
Familiarity puts the mind at ease, so do whatever you can to establish a new normal. Control the controllable and you will be better able to adapt to the unknowns.
Go outside daily if possible.
The mental health benefits of spending time in nature are well documented. Even small does of nature, like just sitting on your porch, can have a positive net impact on your mood. If going outside isn’t an option for you, find other ways to engage with the natural world. Here is a suggestion to get you started: the National Parks System is offering free virtual tours.
Engaging with the arts is vital right now; throughout human history, people have turned to art as a form of stress relief. That’s because creating or enjoying art can provide both a mental break and a cathartic outlet, so read a poem. Stream a musical. Go on a virtual museum tour. Schedule craft circles or jam sessions online. The point is to mentally unburden yourself by turning off your brain and tapping into your emotions.
Use this time to grow, not stagnate.
Have a book you have been meaning to read for months? A DIY project left undone? A skill you have been wanting to learn? What better time to do those things than right now, since you’re stuck at home anyway?
Be mindful of aesthetics.
Since you are spending more time at home, make sure your living environment is optimized to bring you joy. If possible, arrange your space to keep your work and personal life physically separate.
Try to avoid stress or boredom eating.
Only eating in the kitchen is one environmental hack to help cut down on unnecessary calories.
Touch more often (safety permitting).
Physical touch is a human need and it is often comforting in times of distress. If it’s safe to do so, be extra physically affectionate around people you love and live with. If you live alone, consider getting a pet or investing in weighted blankets.
Maintain connection with other people.
We live in the internet age so our communication options are endless. Find ones that work for you and your personal relationships. It’s especially important to stay in contact with friends, family, and those who bring you joy, but even connections with strangers can be meaningful. The goal is to remind yourself that you are not alone. There is strength to be found in community, as Italians in lockdown singing together across their balconies demonstrated.
Humor and horror are two sides of the same coin-sometimes when life surprises you, you have to either laugh or scream. Laughter is a form of release, so find whatever tickles your funny bone and enjoy it. Sometimes it’s ok, and even necessary, to just cut loose and be silly!
Consider implementing a mindfulness practice.
A mindfulness practice is anything that helps you focus on the present moment and engage your senses. These things are beneficial to do all the time, but especially important during periods of high stress. Yoga, adult coloring books, journaling, and meditation are all mindfulness practices. So is counting to 10 to calm down, taking a luxurious bubble bath, or applying your favorite cologne in the mornings. If you already have mindfulness activities that work for you, be conscientious about remembering to use them consistently.
Take a break when you need to.
Be aware of your own capacity to engage, whether it’s with the daily news or other people and their problems. Doom scrolling is a thing and you don’t have to participate in it.
Ask for help when you need it.
We all need to be supported, sometimes. There’s that old song, Lean on Me, which says “No one care bear those of your needs which you don’t let show”. When you are struggling, it’s ok to let other people know what’s going on so that they can help you. We can get through this, together.
Self-care is important all the time, but during a state of emergency, it can actually be an act of defiance. Practicing self-care is not passively retreating; rather it is actively practicing the virtues of courage and wisdom. It is saying “I may not be able to control circumstances right now, but I won’t give up my power to choose how I respond to them.” Taking care of yourself means that you are better equipped to fight when you need to. And as our CEO says, “Take care of yourself and you will always have something to give.” Hopefully, the suggestions above jumpstarted you thinking about ways to give yourself what you need and care of yourself better, starting today!