Self-care may seem like the least of your worries right now. As institutions vacillate between reopening or remaining closed and as coronavirus cases skyrocket in some states, our anxieties about the future and about dealing with the strange, isolated world around us may have us more focused on fixing external problems rather than pampering ourselves.
Stressing over the influx of daily bad news concerning the virus is definitely not self-care. Getting angry at ourselves or coworkers over the foibles of online work environments, not self-care either. Wallowing in depression over isolation or taking out our frustrations on our loved ones, nah, that’s not it either. And while it’s perfectly natural to feel all of these emotions in this stressful pandemic period, being aware of what self-care is and incorporating its practices into your life may not only help you avoid negative behaviors, but it may also improve your health.
That’s right, the Mayo Clinic reports that positive thinking and behaviors that encourage feelings of self-worth can reduce depression, alleviate stress, and bolster both physical and psychological well-being. In fact, a study by Johns Hopkins Assistant Professor of Medicine Lisa Yanek concluded that of those with a family history of heart disease, people with “a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within five to 25 years than those with a more negative outlook.” So self-care does make a difference and may be the thing we most need during the covid crisis.
But What Is Self-Care
Self-care is a collective term that encompasses behaviors that alleviate stress and induce positive attitudes toward others, ourselves, and our situations. Self-care focuses on inducing better psychological and physical health by promoting self-esteem, reducing stress, and focusing on overall health management. There are a number of techniques that can improve our attitudes towards ourselves, and no one is necessarily better than the other. The trick is to find a routine that incorporates techniques that are more beneficial to your outlook. As you build a program of self-care, here are some possibilities you might try.
Basic Lifestyle Routines
The first step to proper self-care is to create routines that alleviate stress. Experts, for example, encourage sticking to routines that make life feel normal, such as packing a lunch even if you’re eating at home or going for your morning run even if you don’t have to be at work by 8:00. It’s also important to prioritize your obligations and to allow yourself the space to accomplish less during these stressful times. Furthermore, be ready to pivot if things don’t go the way they normally would or if you can’t accomplish something because of current covid restrictions. Finally, stay connected both socially and professionally, with the caveat that too much news consumption may only increase your stress.
Mindfulness techniques such as yoga and meditation have been proven to reduce stress and “can be helpful for dealing with anxiety,” says Richelle Concepcion, PsyD, MPH, of Tripler Army Medical Center. But mindfulness also means being aware of the body and our stress-induced responses to our environment. Allow yourself the time to walk or exercise. You can find online exercise videos and even live classes that will allow you that physical outlet your body needs. But also be aware of the negative bodily responses such as overeating or self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, particularly if you have a history of substance abuse.
Enjoy Some Health Promoting Behaviors
At the top of the list of behaviors that will not only improve psychological health, but also boost physical health is to get sufficient sleep. A good night’s sleep reduces the body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol that leads to physical and emotional ailments, and doesn’t everything just seem a little better when you’ve had a good snooze?
Finding something that makes you smile can also be beneficial to your health. A comedy program, some favorite piece of positive music, or even those cute online pictures of bunnies and kittens can actually promote significant health improvements.
And speaking of health, don’t let work creep into your home space. The way to accomplish that even when you work from home is to establish a work space that is as far from the areas where you relax as possible. When your work day is over, step outside that space and don’t come back until the next work day. This will help keep home life sacred.
Finally, give yourself a break. As in, don’t be so self-critical. We are all working through difficulties in trying to figure out this new covid world, so mistakes are bound to happen. Being angry at yourself or engaging in self-critical thinking won’t fix anything, but it will increase your stress.
If it makes you happy, why not offer yourself some of those little delights? Maybe something as simple as a bubble bath or scented oils can put you in a positive frame of mind. Or now may be the time to buy yourself something frivolous from online. A massage, a cuddle with your dog (or other favorite pet), or even a little hanky-panky with a loved one can be just the indulgence the doctor (or you) ordered to make you feel a little brighter. Last but not least, spend some time outside even on your busiest day. A little fresh air and sunshine gives you a chance to exercise a little and to alleviate stress. A study by the University of Edinburgh in Scotland showed that “even a short walk in nature produces neural effects similar to those achieved through meditation.”
Just a Little Bit, Just a Little Bit
Incorporating some of these small changes into your daily routine is bound to improve your positive outlook on the covid situation. And positive outlook means a stronger you both physically and mentally. So go ahead, show yourself a little respect!
Megan Glenn, Meghan Writes