Updated: Apr 12, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has unquestionably changed the way many of us have lived our lives. The days of going out without fear of spreading the virus feel so far as we cross the one-year mark of the pandemic’s official title in the United States. During this year, we all have varied in the ways that we’ve fared. While some of us thrived while working from home, others of us miss the office. While some of us have no issue bingeing Bridgerton or Schitt’s Creek on Netflix, others of us crave the crowds of people the shows portray. But it does beg the question of how long can we keep doing this? And if the answer to that question is unclear, what can we do to keep going?
Self-care is a huge part of how all of us, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexuality, class, religion, or other identity, are able to continue functioning. Self-care works like this: imagine a glass of water. The water in the glass is all of the stuff you have to think about and balance: hygiene, meals, work, school, kids, finances, and today, the pandemic’s effects on all of these things. The water level increases each time a new item on your list is added. One day you may take on a new volunteer position or you may have to pay a higher credit card bill than usual. Maybe one day, one of your kids or your pet gets sick. When the water levels get high, you start running out of space and fear overflowing with all of your tasks.
Self-care helps you take water out of the cup without it overflowing. And contrary to popular belief, it isn’t always getting a massage or taking a bubble bath. Self-care, especially during this pandemic, has become a booming topic that, in reality, has been a necessity all along.
So how do you take care of yourself during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Acknowledge when you're distressed. It is no secret that we are being impacted by this pandemic, and bringing attention to how it has impacted you is the first step to ease you into a self-care act or routine. We may try to bottle up our emotions and thoughts because the tasks that we need to do call for more attention, but if the vessel sinks on its voyage, the ship will never complete its mission. Acknowledging when you’re distressed means to check in with yourself. Take a moment away from your task and do a quick body scan. If you’re feeling distressed, where does it show up in your body? What is the emotion that you’re feeling? And then, what is that emotion or your body telling you that you need? Labeling these things can help you pinpoint how to de-escalate your distress and pour some of the water out of your cup.
Satisfy your basic needs. We are built to survive. When we experience high levels of stress, our brains try to tackle the biggest obstacle so that we can push through and live. Then, after we survive the big problems, we can go back to addressing the basic stuff. This was helpful back in the times when predators like bears would chase and hunt us, but the biggest stressors we have these days don’t have sharp teeth or claws; they’re more chronic and impending. Satisfying your basic needs has become more important than ever during COVID-19. So, check in with yourself! Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Are you sleepy? What’s something nourishing that you can eat to keep you energized? Where’s your water bottle or the nearest hydrating liquid you can have? When can you get a full night’s sleep or squeeze in a nap?
Engage in joyful movement. We have all heard the whispers of pressure that after a year of being in this pandemic, we should have a stunning body or that we should feel shame if we gained weight. Remember: we are all surviving and this looks different for everyone, including exercise and movement. With many of us working from home, we are confined to small spaces with limited access to amenities like the gym where some of us may have thrived. Or maybe we have a disability that prevents us from moving the traditional way others expect. Or maybe, we just plain don’t like the exercise routines others promote on their social media platforms. Joyful movement is movement that helps you feel good! This type of movement doesn’t value one type of movement over another, because everyone finds different things enjoyable. And, if you have a disability, some movements out there might not even be possible. Joyful movement is meant to help promote your physical and mental health! Taking a walk if able, stretching, dancing, gardening, playing with a fluffy friend, or even cleaning. Anything that gets your body moving that also helps you feel good.
Connect with loved ones. By now, many of us have experienced hours of video calls on Zoom or Google Meet for school and work. A lot of us have also had to be creative with the way that we connect with our loved ones to stave off the effects of loneliness which are often tied to depressive symptoms. Some things that you can do virtually are virtual game nights, live-texting a TV-show together, or video chatting while synching your favorite movie with a loved one. It may even just be helpful to be on a video call with someone while you work in quiet, as some find it comforting to know that someone is just on the other line. If you feel comfortable, you can also spend time outdoors while following social distancing guidelines to get a bit of sun and spend a few hours with a loved one. The key with this suggestion is doing what makes you feel comfortable while also remaining conscientious of the potential viral spread.
Take time away from the screen. Working from home can be exhausting. Our eyes can get weary, our backs can start hurting, and we can grow stiff from sitting in one position for a long time. In addition to joyful movement, it might just be nice to step away from the screen and switch tasks so that you don’t strain your vision or your body. This is especially true if we’re doing all of our work in a single room. Perhaps your office is the only space you have and “clocking out” means walking ten feet and into your bedroom. Taking time away from the screen, even if it’s just for a few minutes, can keep you interested in your task by changing up the scenery a bit.
Add mental health to your checklist. Your mental health is deeply tied to your physical health. What we suppress later manifests. Sometimes that headache might be from chronic anxiety, or those tears that feel like they’re coming out of nowhere are linked to sadness. If you’re not fully comfortable with therapy, there are other ways that you can engage in treating your mental health (and yourself) with love and compassion. You can look at different phone apps for meditation and mental health (here are some made by people of color!) that can help you decompress. And if you are comfortable with going to therapy, many clinicians are offering services through telehealth or teletherapy like Cultured Space!
Give yourself permission to do these things. We live in a world where productivity is placed above our humanity, and sometimes that mentality can be deep in our bones when it’s no longer the case. Take it from us: you have permission to take care of yourself even when you feel like you don’t.
Of course, we know that some of these self-care activities do have a level of privilege. Not everyone has the ability to step away from the screen or even have access to stable WiFi to connect with loved ones. In some communities, access to basic needs may be even trickier, including water or a reliable source of food. What’s important is to know what is within your realm of control and ensure that those things are cared for so that you are able to pour some of that water out of your cup before it overflows.
The last year has been difficult for all of us. We’ve been tossed into situations that have no precedent. There is no guide book for our specific set of needs and obligations that fill our cup or how to keep its contents from overflowing. At Cultured Space, we provide telehealth (otherwise known as teletherapy) from the comfort of your chosen space to explore these things with you. We want to make mental health services more accessible for those who need it while also taking into account how your identities, experiences, and types of waters in your cup can be balanced.