For the first time in our lifetimes – in generations – virtually every person is dealing with the same challenges and fears at the same time. If you have a therapist, coronavirus has probably brought some changes in the way you see your therapist. You’re probably working virtually with them and you’re both likely at home.
As a therapist, I’ve had clients ask me if I’m ok and what I’m doing for self-care. At first, it felt odd because therapists don’t get asked that very often. But, we’re in a different time. The way we connect has changed. The more I thought about it, the more I started to see the value in sharing with others what we, as therapists, do to take care of ourselves. After all, we are the ones people turn to for help with coping. We also falter. What a great opportunity to share the realities of dealing with adversity.
Self-care is now more important than ever. But, with the isolation and many of our stand-by self-care outlets closed, how can we care for ourselves and practice good self-care during the Coronavirus pandemic? We have to find new ways of caring for ourselves.
So, I decided to pull back the curtain and give you a glimpse into the life of a therapist trying to cope with the coronavirus shutdown. I’m going to share with you the exact things that I’m doing to take care of myself.
What Does Self-care Look Like Now?
Self-care is about caring for yourself mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It is more than just face masks and bubble baths (although who doesn’t love a fabulous bubble bath). Caring for our well-being is also about the small rituals and practices that we can incorporate into our new normal to strengthen resilience, calm our fears, and foster confidence that we can handle whatever coronavirus brings.
I Begin Each Day with Purpose
As tempting as it might be to remain in my PJs and slippers, I make it a point to get up and get dressed each day. Whether I’m working that day or not, I make sure I am groomed and dressed. When you’re out of your normal routine, days can start to feel monotonous. Getting up and dressed each day helps to combat that Groundhog Day feeling of same thing, different day. I feel refreshed, grounded and ready for the new day. For those of you working from home, getting dressed for work helps me to get into my professional mindset and prepare to meet my clients.
I Organize My Day
The sudden changes have left many of us feeling powerless to do anything about it. For many of you, home and office have suddenly become one and you’re just trying to get your bearings. Some of you may suddenly have little ones home and needing your attention. It can feel overwhelming. You can’t change the circumstances, but you can take control of your space and your flow. I find that focusing on what I can control helps me to feel empowered and in control. Things like:
- Organizing my time.
- Setting a clear schedule, whether it is for work or personal time.
- Arranging my space.
- Planning my leisure time.
- If you have little ones, make sure they have things to do while you’re working.
By planning out my time, it allows me to have some control over how I manage my situation. Focusing on what I can control instead of what I cannot helps to keep excessive worry at bay so that I can focus on the things that are most important.
I Pause Throughout the Day
I take some time each day to pause and step away from my desk. Sitting and focusing on the screen for long periods creates tension in the body. Sitting and worrying does the same. So, I pause.
- I get up and stretch between sessions.
- I take mini breaks when I need them.
- I take a walk whenever I can or at least step outside for some fresh air and sunshine.
- I take time to check in with myself, breathe and release any tension I’m holding.
Sometimes, just taking some deep breaths and stretching my legs is enough to get me refocused on what I’m doing. Try taking the kids or dog for a walk, a few yoga poses or some stretching. Pause when you need to. It’s ok.
I Feed My Body
This one might seem to be a given, but the fact is we get busy and time has a way of slipping by. Before you know it, hours have passed. You haven’t eaten. You haven’t had anything to drink except maybe coffee (maybe you haven’t even used the bathroom). Hunger and dehydration can leave us feeling tired, sluggish and unfocused.
- Schedule time in your day for nourishing meals – away from the computer.
- Make sure you’re staying hydrated – keep a water bottle close by and refill it often.
- Have healthy snacks available for those afternoon lags.
- Schedule small breaks during the workday – and take them.
I Feed My Soul
You know that saying about all work and no play? It really matters now. Whether you’re working from home, caring for the kids, or an essential worker out there on the frontlines, things are super stressful right now. When our world shrinks, the lines can get blurred and before you know it, it feels like all work all the time. Just as your body needs nourishment, so does your soul. We need relaxation. We need soothing and comfort. It’s a human need and it’s what restores us. Take time to do things that are soothing and yes, even fun. It’s ok to step away from work and the stress of the day. Whether it’s just 30 minutes or an hour or more, allow yourself time each day to unplug and enjoy something you love:
- Listen to your favorite inspirational podcast.
- Listen to music that soothes.
- Watch a movie or show.
- Read a book that you’ve wanted to read.
- Take a nap (never underestimate the power of a nap).
This time in history is like no other we’ve experienced. You are going to experience emotions that may be quite intense and even unexpected. Journaling is a great way to allow yourself to be present with those emotions as you acknowledge and explore them. Your journal can be as structured or as casual as you wish. And you don’t need any special tools or training:
- Set aside a few minutes each day to explore what you’re feeling.
- All you need is paper and a writing implement. Handwriting seems to have the greatest benefit.
- You can use a structured journal or journaling prompts.
- Journaling in the evening is a calming way to lay any worries to rest and bring a peaceful close to your day.
I Practice Self-Compassion
Now, more than ever, we need to show compassion to ourselves. This is a hard time and all we can do is the best we can.
Self-compassion is the act of treating yourself gently and with kindness. It unconditionally accepting yourself and not judging yourself harshly even when you make mistakes. It’s not excusing bad behavior but acknowledging that we are all human. None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes. We feel, we hurt, we love and yes, sometimes we’re a mess. And, with all of that, we are each deserving of compassion and grace because we are all doing the best we can.
Self-compassion has been shown to correlate with less anxiety and depression which right now are real risks we all face. So, how can we practice self-compassion?
- Speak kindly to yourself and about yourself. Speak to yourself as you would a good friend or even a child.
- Give yourself permission to make mistakes. This pandemic is new to everyone and we are all finding our way. It’s OK to not get it just right.
- Adjust your expectations of yourself. Your level of productivity might have decreased some, and that’s okay. You’re doing the best you can do right now under extreme circumstances. Be gentle with yourself and don’t get upset with yourself if you’re not performing like you usually do.
- Remember that you’re not alone. We are all in this together and we will get through together.
- Let others support you. Reach out to your family and friends.
- Ask for help if you need it. Many states have free resources available to help.
At the end of the day, we are all facing this new reality together and doing the best we can for ourselves, our families, and our communities. As we move forward, we will no doubt learn new ways of coping and new ways of interacting as states begin to open up. When this pandemic ends, and it will end, we will look back and marvel at the power we have to endure challenges and capacity that we have to care for each other.
I hope that you find these tips helpful as you navigate the challenges and changes in our lives. Remember to be kind to yourself, do good for others and take good care of you.
I wish you well.