Self-care has been a powerful tool for coping with the pandemic but it is a double-edged sword that can create adverse effects.
Let’s face it: the pandemic has changed all of our lives—for better and for worse—and it’s not over yet. Although there have been undeniable upsides to the global ‘pause,’ to say the last year has been a struggle is an understatement. Of course, the scope and flavour of our individual struggles has depended heavily on our individual life circumstances, incomes, and responsibilities.
Some of us have kids and partners and have been faced with unprecedented challenges in the form of less alone time and remote schooling, while others among us have gone unprecedented lengths of time without interacting with another human being. And still others have struggled with the realities of working on the front lines in hospitals, schools, and factories, to name a few. Personally, I already worked from home, but have been struggling to contend with a partner who’s at home a lot more—that, and spending far too little time outside of my apartment.
Is it self-care or over-indulgence?
Regardless of the nature of your personal relationship with the pandemic, chances are you’ve indulged in some creature comforts over the last year which you might have avoided altogether if COVID-19 had never happened. It’s understandable: you’re working overtime and have to figure out how to care for your kids whose school was just closed due to an outbreak, so you institute ice-cream as self-care; you have no time for yourself, so Netflix marathons are all you have energy for when you’re not rushing around; the gyms are closed, but you’ve been so stressed that you’re too tired to take walks most days so you’re scrolling rather than strolling; or, you’re unemployed and anxious and have ben punctuating your job search with video games while neglecting tasks like cooking and cleaning—because, self-care, self-love—whatever you want to call it.
There is no blame to lay here, and the issue is not so simple. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with a little indulgence here and there—and goodness knows we all need a few extra comforts to ground us during the ongoing pandemic—the fact is, sometimes the lines become blurred between self-love and over-indulgence. Your chosen act(s) of self-care, as a way to enforce self-love, may be good for you so long as they don’t become an addiction or an obsession. If any form of self-care that you’ve instituted to get through the pandemic has become a compulsive need, chances are it’s not doing you as much good as you think it is. For my part, I admit that Netflix and android games have taken over more than I’d like (and I’ve always been a computer game hater!).
The point is this: a year into this craziness, you may find yourself in a big ol’ funk—or a small one. If this is the case, know that you’re definitely not alone!
Consider the following strategies to help get those juices flowing again so you can reclaim a little balance in your day-to-day, even as the pandemic continues. Little secret: they’re actually just heartier forms of self-care—ones we really can’t do without. There’s no point in waiting for the pandemic to end to engage more energetically with the universe again. Even if the following suggestions seem to require time or energy you simply don’t have, they’ll give you more of both in the longer term.
1. Sleep well
Can’t stress this enough! Getting enough quality sleep keeps your immune system at its strongest, so it can fight off infections (like the one caused by COVID-19). Getting enough sleep also helps keep stress under control, since running on inadequate sleep (even if you’re in denial about how much sleep you need) can make you more sensitive to the stressors at play in your life, making you more (over)reactive. With 7-9 hours of good sleep each night, you’ll be more patient and focused, make better decisions, and feel happier overall.
2. Sweat it out
Spending a lot more time at home makes it incredibly easy to spend a lot more time on your couch—especially, if, like me, you live in a place with winter. But staying active keeps you physically healthy, helps release toxins, and produces endorphins which improve your mood and sense of well-being so you don’t bite someone’s head off just because they’re in your space. You know what I mean, I know you do! Bonus: it also helps you sleep better and gives you more, not less energy. Try building a workout into your routine in the form of yoga, running, walking, biking, Tai Chi, or even dancing it out to your favourite album.
3. Go outside
If you can do your workout outside, all the better. Getting a little sunshine changes the chemical composition of your brain and makes you less anxious and depressed. You can breathe better in the open air. Being outdoors in general also reduces, stress, helps us heal quicker from illness or injury and supports graceful aging! Not to mention, it can also mean a much needed change of surroundings, a masked/distanced walk with a friend, a break from your home setting, and possibly even some coveted alone time. The outside world still beckons! Personally, I work much more efficiently when the sun’s out because I know how good it’s going to feel to get out there.
4. Eat mindfully
If you’ve been snacking like there’s no tomorrow, I feel you. Rather than impose strict rules on what you can and can’t eat, give intuitive eating a try. Intuitive eating doesn’t restrict any specific food or have you counting calories, but rather, is about listening to your body very closely and asking it what it needs. Ask yourself if it’s time for a snack or a meal. Ask yourself if you’re too full to keep eating. Ask yourself if you’re not really craving something other than food. Ask, and ye shall receive your answers. Slowly but surely, if you keep asking, your eating habits are bound to change as you tune in more deeply to your body’s needs.
5. Go unplugged
The pandemic made our already virtual existence even more intense. From social media to Zoom and back again, many of us find ourselves all but tethered to the screen (especially those of us working in front of a computer all day!) But while we use social media to connect with friends and family we can’t see in person, it quickly becomes all-consuming, and before you know it you’re obsessing over the wedding photos of your high school classmates. Try avoiding the endless scroll and sending direct messages instead, or forego online chatting or zoom sometimes and simply pick up the phone to switch it up, give your eyes a break, and connect more meaningfully. Same goes for the news. We’re bombarded with anxiety-inducing news—anyone can see it. Try limiting your intake of news to 1-2 sessions a day. And very now and then, if you can manage it, schedule a day where you get to live 100% offline. Try it before you knock it!
Bottom line: it’s hard being human, and it’s hard differentiating between all the different urges, cravings, needs, and desires floating around in our heads. I believe the most impactful thing we can do is to take care of our basic health needs first—at the mental, physical, and emotional levels. Everything else will fall into place, pandemic or not.