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A Self-Care Alphabet for Week 4 of Quarantine

This part of the COVID-19 marathon is taxing. Here are some tips for the road.

As we approach the one-month mark of sheltering in place, many of us are beginning to feel weary. Remembering that this pandemic presents as a marathon, not a sprint, it’s important to have some specific ways of caring for ourselves at this point in the race. What worked at the beginning may not be working now.

As an analogy, when quarantine guidelines were put in place, those whose jobs could be done remotely got to work setting up makeshift “offices” in their homes. Unprepared for the length of time they’d be using these, they made do with what they had. Three weeks in, however, those who are sitting in dining chairs for multiple hours a day are realizing why ergonomic chairs are used in work settings. It turns out that upright, wooden, for-the-table chairs aren’t made for sitting all day. Neither are the patterns that we cobbled together, from a panicked place, at the beginning of this marathon.

Here are a few open-ended ideas (in the form of the A, B, Cs so that you can easily remember them) to get us on a path of intentional self-care during this monotonous and anxiety-provoking part of the journey. Taken together, they can help us set a sustainable pace.

Step Away.

Time spent with screens can cause us to feel dysregulated, anxious, and depressed. While it’s important to stay informed so that we can do what is needed to keep ourselves and others safe, it’s also crucial that we take breaks from media. Consider turning your notifications off for part of the day or determine pre-set times to look at the news with no checking in between.

Social media breaks are as important as every other kind of break from the media right now. Given that social media use is not only correlated with loneliness and depression but can also cause it, it’s crucial to be mindful of our engagement. Too often, we use this kind of platform to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking or to share our accomplishments without recognition of how they might land with others. In this time of increased stress and anxiety, the external locus of control encouraged and fed by social media can be particularly harmful.

Return to Your Body and Breath.

We don’t just feel emotionally frazzled from what is going on around us; our bodies are also registering the stress. It’s crucial to eat nutritious food and get plenty of sleep when we are feeling taxed. Fresh air also helps, as does any form of movement that gets our blood flowing. This doesn’t need to be complicated. Walk circles around your home or apartment or go up and downstairs. Do some jumping jacks or turn up the music and dance. Stretch, do yoga, or juggle some fruit.

It’s also important to maximize the air that you are taking into your lungs. If you can, step outside or breathe deeply in front of an open window. Inhale through your nose (smelling the roses) and exhale through your mouth (blowing out the candles). If you feel up to it, make your belly expand on the inhale and flatten on the exhale, drawing breath into the lower quadrant of your lungs.

Get Creative.

When we feel bored, we too often reach for our screens to entertain and distract us. Right now, this can cause harm. Find some ways to bank and use at least some of your idle moments away from your screens and in your creative mind and body.

Look around at what you have at home. Relearn solitaire with physical cards. Fold a paper airplane, measure your flight distance, make modifications, and try again. Learn origami. Make up a new recipe using what is in front of you. Use two tin cans and some string to make tin can stilts, or cut out both ends of a can and dip it in bubble liquid (homemade) and blow bubbles. If you don’t have paint, grab paper and some cold tea and fingerpaint with that.

We are all creative; many of us have simply forgotten how to access this part of ourselves. Remind yourself by daring to look silly and feel awkward. This will save us all.

Determine what is and is not working.

Whether we started our isolation off with aggressive goals or with denial, very likely, we’ve created some new habits that are working and some that are not. It’s important to do an evaluation of our daily and weekly patterns and see where our behaviors are helping us or hurting us. Once we’ve done this, we can begin to consider what habits need breaking and what new norms might help us in this next part of the journey.

It’s always easier to establish healthy norms than it is to break bad habits. The sooner we can put healthier norms in place, the more likely we are to arrive at the (constantly moving) finish line well. Breaking habits is hard. It’s also completely doable.

Adjust Your Expectations.

In some form or another, most of us have likely felt disappointed during the course of the last month. Whether this has been with our selves or with someone close to us, things haven’t been exactly what we’ve wished for. Children have said, “I hate being home!” to their parents. Parents have been overheard saying, “I can’t handle another minute with my kids.” Partners have eaten that one piece of cake that we hid in the back of the fridge for ourselves. Adult children have failed to check in with their parents. Friends haven’t called friends. Other friends haven’t answered. And the list goes on.

No one is at the top of their game right now. Everyone is frazzled and trying to figure things out. It’s important (as initially penned by Ian Maclaren, and often misattributed to Plato) to be kind to everyone, for their’s is a difficult journey.

This is the time to work hard to not take things personally. Instead, identify if there are things you need from others, and communicate these needs clearly, giving space for the other to respond honestly in keeping with their reserves. Similarly, be gentle with yourself. This may not be the time you can thrive, and this won’t last forever. We can be our “best selves” later. For now, we need to take good care of ourselves.

Together, we will get through this time of physical distancing and will return to our thriving selves. To do so, we must tend to our own mental health. We must be gentle with ourselves because we cannot serve anyone out of an empty cup.


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