Self Care for the Long Haul
By Ginger Morgan, Director of Candid
I don’t know about you, but for me it’s beginning to sink in that we may be doing this “Safer At Home” thing for a while. One of the unsettling things about navigating this new normal is that we don’t really know how or when this will end… We also don’t know if we might be given a reprieve from #stayathome only to have to bunker down again later… (if it turns out this virus is seasonal and comes around again). This uncertainty can cause the “survival” part of our brain (which craves stability, consistency and familiarity) to feel uneasy, out of sorts… or… more intense feelings (like afraid, anxious, and angry) we don’t like to admit or say out loud.
Job #1: Be honest about how you are feeling.
(You could say be candid about how you are feeling.) Even if it is just to yourself. It is OK not to feel altogether yourself, for things to feel off. Sometimes, just acknowledging to someone that this makes you anxious or you can’t concentrate as well as usual or you feel sad not to see your friends eases the pressure of difficult feelings. If you know that your sadness is becoming despair or your uneasiness is a persistent debilitating anxiety, it may be time to be intentional about getting support beyond your friends and family circle.
Job #2: Take inventory of what’s in your control.
One of the hard things about navigating a pandemic is that it isn’t something we can control. We can’t control how long we are asked to #stayathome. We can’t control the supplies of ventilators (most of us anyway…) or personal protective equipment. (Read here about the UW Engineer who could and did improve the supply of PPE.) So, it can be helpful to make a list of things that you are worrying about and figure out what you have control over and what you don’t. So, for example:
How long I am asked to stay at home
Can’t take classes in person
Getting laid off from my job
What’s on the news
Being separated from friends/loved ones
Feeling cooped up
What I do at home
Washing hands; keeping safe distance;
Trying my best to learn remotely
Applying for unemployment or a new job
How much news I watch, read, and listen
Reaching out virtually to connect
Getting outside for a walk
Job #3: Create a schedule and routine that works for you.
For many of us, spring break was a welcome change from our highly structured days, class schedule, homework requirements, etc. Staying on a perennial “break” that has no end can have the opposite effect of relaxing us. We begin to get anxious (about things we are not getting done) or depressed (that nothing seems to matter) or unfocused (where do I start?). One day feels like the next and we start to feel lost and adrift. One simple way to get started is to make a list of things that you know are generally good things to do for your wellbeing, then find a routine or schedule that includes those things:
- Eat (hopefully meals that include some vegetables and fruit and protein)
- Move your body (lots of free or discounted workouts are available right now)
- Get outside if you can (this often goes well with moving your body!); find a park or commuter path or just through a neighborhood. Spring flowers are starting to bloom; children are out looking for teddy bears in windows; smile from a safe distance at others you see; look at the sky.
- Attend class and do your homework
- Connect with people you care about
- Play, relax, laugh, chill
- Sleep (sleep is really important to your immune system; now more than ever, try to get a solid 7-8 hours of sleep to help you stay healthy)
- Brush teeth, shower, wash clothes, etc.
- Help take care of your household: vacuum/sweep, clean bathroom, dishes, dust, water plants, laundry, etc. (even if you are home, part of “adulting” is pitching in to take care of where you live… maybe without even being asked!!)
- Devote time to a project, hobby or goal (see Job #5)
For some, you may have a Google calendar that you can literally schedule yourself to do different things. For others, a checklist that you can look at could help. (Haven’t gone outside today? Maybe I should get outside!) Or, if you like your schedule and routine to have an element of fun, play Candid Bingo!
Job #4: Find real, positive things to think about and focus on.
I am not a big fan of rose-tinted glasses or platitudes that don’t feel real. However, I have learned that I can choose how to focus my attention on things that are real and good. We do have some control over what we focus on. And, what we choose to focus on shapes our mood and attitude and feelings. It’s no accident that the national news often ends each broadcast with some type of inspirational story. These stories are real. People can be heroic and kind. Nature can be breathtaking and beautiful. Pets and kids can make you laugh your ass off. Did you know that laughing actually boosts your immune system? Mr. Rogers (Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) shared the advice he got from his mom, that illustrates this idea: “When something terrible happens, look for the helpers. There are always people who are trying to do something to help.”
Job #5: Use this unexpected time at home to learn something new or accomplish stuff.
Sometimes being forced to #stayathome provides an opportunity to learn something new or do something we’ve put off. My kids decided since they had to be at home with us 24/7 it was a good time to start learning piano. I am taking an online course. Maybe you’ve put off getting a resume written. Or, um, writing a thesis or dissertation work. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn guitar or how to build/design a website. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to undertake a project or set a goal so that you can point to some growth and accomplishment when we get to emerge from our time at home. (Of course, if you are working extra hours/shifts in a hospital or care facility or grocery store or pharmacy… then just staying healthy and on your feet is accomplishment enough. Thank you!)
Job #6: Music can help.
Many of us intuitively know that music can shape, reflect or enhance our mood. We play different kinds of music for different kinds of moments (angry breakup music, study music, workout music, get intimate music…). Well, it seems our intuition isn’t that far off! Research has shown that music can enhance focus, improve your mood, and help you release sadness. Quick report on what they found in the study: 9 minutes of upbeat tempo music with positive lyrics can lift your mood; 13 minutes of music with lyrics you emotionally connect to can help you release sadness; 13 minutes of slower, regular tempo with no lyrics can help you focus and release distractions. Cue up some tunes and a timer and see how it works!
Job #7: Find a wellness buddy.
As with most things having to do with wellness, we often know what to do. The gap is often between what we know and what we do. So, one way you can start to close the gap and take better care of yourself is to find a wellness buddy. Someone you trust. Someone who will agree to be encouraging (no shame, no blame). Each of you can share an intention or goal, one strategy you will use to try to meet that goal, and then every few days or once a week you check in. Just having that person outside yourself to report to is often enough to help you close the gap. If you can’t think of anyone to be a buddy, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll see if we can help you out!
Job #8: Let go of perfection and try for good enough.
This is an incredibly stressful time. Even when you “do everything right,” you are likely to feel a bit off. We are not in normal routines or places. We are worried about loved ones or our own health. We are frustrated about being cooped up. Stress can cause us to be absent-minded, lose focus, and just generally not be as efficient and productive as we might otherwise be. This is a perfect time to practice the idea of grace. One definition of grace is “courteous goodwill.” Basically, giving yourself and others a break, the benefit of the doubt, and a little extra room to not have to do this all perfectly. (An interesting note: the Latin root of grace is related to the root of gratitude…) Where should you start? Choose one of the Jobs from the list above. Find one thing related to that Job that you can do today. Start there. Remember that small hinges swing big doors! Then, follow the Candid Facebook page and Candid Instagram feed and let us know how you are taking care of yourself! Sharing success lifts us all up (see Job #4)! #StayHealthy #BadgersForever
Written by Ginger Morgan, PhD
Director of Candid–Health and Life Coach