No matter how you’ve been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the last few months have likely come with new pressures and anxieties. We were all thrown into crisis mode overnight, faced with new concerns over aging family members, family health, isolation from friends and family, and juggling work and kids.
The pressures are even more intense for front-line medical workers, those who lost jobs, and those who became sick or lost loved ones. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 53% of American adults have reported that the pandemic is negatively affecting their mental health.
In short, practicing self-care is more important than ever. When it feels like there’s no way to fit in one more to-do on your list, here are some simple ways to incorporate self-care into your everyday life.
Why self-care matters
We often associate self-care with indulgences, like a pedicure or a glass of wine after a long day. But self-care is about more than treating yourself.
Self-care is the set of deliberate steps you take to maintain your physical, emotional, and mental health. It includes things like nutrition, personal hygiene, exercise, relationships, and how we spend our leisure time. It’s intentional, and it’s important.
When you fly on an airplane (remember those?), the flight attendants always instruct you to secure your own oxygen mask first in case of an emergency, so you can help others next. With self-care, the same principle applies—you can’t be of service to others unless you care for yourself properly. Self-care provides important benefits like:
- Better physical health and overall longevity
- Increased positive thinking and reduced stress
- Improved focus and productivity
- Improved compassion for yourself and others
How to practice better self-care
Like any other skill, self-care requires finding a routine that works. Here are some simple ways to fit in the act of self-care right now:
Acknowledge things are hard.
This may be the simplest and most important one of all, yet you might find it surprisingly hard. COVID has disrupted schedules and put loved ones at risk, triggering a type of grief in all of us. Don’t feel like you have to put on a brave face. It’s important to pause, reflect on what’s changed, and grieve things that impact you—from loved ones who have gotten sick to the fact that you miss seeing your friends. Give yourself space to express sadness, disbelief, anger, and anything else you might be feeling right now.
As Americans, we live in a culture of “busyness.” We juggle tons of tasks and commitments, wearing them like a badge of pride. However, for many of us, COVID is taking that always-on mentality to a new level. Schools and daycares are closed down, and normal familial support systems like grandparents aren’t always accessible, leaving working parents to shoulder extra burdens. The breakdown of regular routines can also create added 24/7 pressures. If you’re working from home, you may feel like you never leave work.
It’s important to set boundaries and acknowledge you may not be able to tackle as much as you normally would. If you’re trying to balance working from home and tending to your kids, talk to your employer about your availability and any accommodations that might be helpful. It’s also helpful to be realistic about prioritizing. Chores like vacuuming and doing the dishes might get done less often—and that’s okay. So many of us live and die by our to-do lists; consider creating a “not-to-do” list and giving yourself permission to let certain things go.
Make time for things you love.
Making time for the things you enjoy is just as important as scaling back on must-dos. Find ways to connect virtually or safely at a distance with friends and family to help maintain mental and emotional health. Isolation has been shown to reduce lifespan by up to 15 years, so keeping connected can literally help you live longer.
As for hobbies, focus on the simple things. If learning a new skill seems overwhelming, carve out a few minutes to do something easy, like reading a book or gardening.
Take good care of your body.
This is important all the time, but it’s especially relevant now. This includes:
- Eating well. Even if you’re sick of cooking every night, try making and freezing healthy meals ahead of time.
- Getting enough sleep. It can help to go outside during the day, even for a few minutes, to keep your inner clock on track. The Mayo Clinic recommends adults get seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
- Exercising. Try a home video, run around in the yard, or find an isolated trail for a bike ride. There are great ways to replace favorite workout classes or hitting the gym that help keep you safe.
Take control where you can.
For many, stress is coming from a sense of uncertainty and lack of control right now. Planning can help reduce anxious feelings. It’s helpful to make sure you’ve taken care of preparations like a will. If you don’t already have life insurance, look into getting covered, too. It can provide peace of mind that your family will be protected financially, no matter what.
Why self-care counts
COVID has reshaped the world as we know it, and it’s been an understandably stressful and uncertain time for all. Taking the time to practice self-care amid the uncertainty can be highly beneficial to your mental, emotional, and physical health. It might take some practice at first, but once you get the hang of it, prioritizing your own needs can enable you to weather this storm a lot easier.
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