Practicing Self-Care in the Face of Coronavirus

Saying no to work and social obligations can be a necessity.

Posted Mar 17, 2020

Photo by Lachlan Dempsey on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Lachlan Dempsey on Unsplash

There is no doubt that we are living in unprecedented times. In fact, if you stumbled on this article through the Psychology Today homepage, there is one clear theme running loud and clear. Whether discussing working from home, strengthening your bond with children, or otherwise, each and every expert or mental health professional has a unique and valuable take on attending to one’s emotional needs during this global pandemic.

It is natural that we are all searching for answers. When will it end? How long will we be trapped in our homes? Will grocery shelves be restocked soon? Who will survive it and how many lives will it take? These are scary existential concerns, to say the least. And then, of course, there are the more intimate stories of the quieter minority. The immunosuppressed individuals who are already homebound much of time during cold and flu seasons; who have made a life of being mindful of never getting sick. The elderly who are living on their own with no one to help them get groceries or attend to other basic needs. Those getting regular medical treatments, unsure if they can get to a clinic safely and unharmed.

This pandemic has ramifications for countless service workers who are struggling to make ends meet. As many articles have already so rightly suggested, social distancing and quarantine is far more attainable for those with preexisting means and privilege. Most engineers and data analysts can stay home. But what about the countless others being laid off from work, uncertain of how they will make their rent payments? What about childcare for schools that are shutting down and parents who must work? There is no doubt each and every single one of us is being impacted by this pandemic in ways small and large.

While much of the media has also focused on the careless youth in bars and clubs, the reality is that a public health problem is not an individual problem. We can all be carriers and we all have the potential of relieving an already overtaxed and burdened medical system. All this to say, there is oh so much on our minds right now that we can hardly start to grapple with it all. My sister had a wedding canceled, we sold our home and are unable to travel to find a new one out of state. We considered apartments, and then I remembered the story about coronavirus jumping 10 floors between apartments due to ventilation systems. While these have shaken our worlds, they are trivial in comparison to what others are facing daily.

In the midst of all of this, mental unrest is making many of us grow weary and on edge. So much uncertainty. As such, setting boundaries and learning to say no is key. Many are under the false assumption that now that many of us are working from home, it’s like a never-ending Spring Break. Just last week, there was footage of Selena Gomez and the latest “winner” of The Bachelor, Maddie P., at Target in the board game section. It evoked images of a slumber party with snacks and cozy PJs.

But the reality for most of us is that in the middle of an underlying anxiety are requests for hangouts and meet-ups. There is a notion that now that we are at home, we can get more done in less time. When in reality, as with clinical depression, focus and attention can decrease. Concentration can go down. A sense of hopelessness and fatigue emerges. I know that in my life, the impacts of coronavirus have very much mimicked many of these core symptoms of depression. How can it not? I’m constantly reading CNN, The Washington Post, NY Times, LA Times, and everything else that my Apple News feature throws my way. Constantly canceling appointments, wondering if that wedding is going to happen, pushing back that dentist appointment, all exhausting to contemplate on top of an already full plate.

As such, learning to say no during this time is critical. As one who already works from home 100% of the time, I can tell you candidly that even for my work schedule, the distraction and disruption of pandemic concerns are very real. I’ve had to learn to push off certain projects, ask for help, and take a step back. All things that if I had to be honest, are difficult for me to do as a recovering workaholic. But they are critical nonetheless. There are bigger concerns to grapple with. What will we eat, how much do we ration? How do we responsibly stock up without hoarding?

Given the mass existential questions and concerns that can emerge during these times, it is natural that we need more quiet and less distractions. While some news is good and healthy, too much can quickly send us over the edge. While social media can help us feel connected, it can also still drain us. The reality is that these times can be excellent for integrating those healthy behaviors you have always known you needed. Meditation, yoga, less screen time, a digital detox, and journaling. Take a bath, take time for yourself.

Recognize that panic is normal and don’t try to keep pushing it away. Take extra special care of yourself. After all, sleep, nutrition, exercise, and mental relaxation are the critical elements that will keep you strong anyway. You wind up doing yourself and the public a huge favor. Seek solace and hope where you find it. As one of my favorite sages and mystics, Rumi, said, “Let the waters settle and you will see the moon and the stars mirrored in your own being.”