It is a strange paradox we are in right now- it seems like I should have “all of this extra time,” though many days I feel as if I still don’t have enough time. I swear, I feel like all I do is wake up, have coffee, get a bit of work done, exercise, clean, cook, spend time with my family, and go to sleep. Before I know it, I’m drinking my morning coffee again. Yesterday I realized I got 3 hours of work done. In the 12 hours that I had been awake. Where did the rest of the hours go?! Expectations on our days and routines are different, and everyone is working to figure out the new normal, at least for the time being, until it will inevitably change again.
If you are anything like me, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed trying to “do it all.” No, there isn’t as much time spent commuting or running errands or going to appointments or events, but that “extra time” is quickly slipping away. One day easily blends into the next, and it’s easy to forget which day it is. And it’s also easy to let self care go to the bottom of the list. With some special intention and a bit of planning and communication, it can become a little easier to bump self care higher up on the list, or at the very least make sure it doesn’t get bumped off completely.
With stress and anxiety high right now, and all the new challenges surrounding this pandemic, self care is a must. I keep hearing this message on every platform, but what does self-care really mean and how the heck do busy working people make the space for it? As a health coach, I help people figure out an approach to self care that is individualized and works for THEM. As a therapist, coach, and caregiver, I also am constantly practicing and refining my own self care practices as life ebbs and flows and new challenges and schedules arise.
Physiologically, our bodies need stress management in order to stay healthy, have a strong immune system, fight and recover from illnesses (and I don’t need to explain why that is important right now). I’d like to offer you 5 ideas that I use in my own life and coaching practice to prioritize and identify this concept of “self care.” They are simply offerings, and I just encourage you to be open to thinking about what might ring true for you. We are all different, and what works for me might not work for you, and our individual differences are valid and respected.
First, please let this soak in--- You work hard and you deserve to have your needs met. Repeat that. You work hard and you deserve to have your needs met. You work hard and you deserve to have your needs met. Also, your loved ones need you to be your focused, kind and loving self (as much as you are able). So, let’s get to it.
- Take Inventory. What feels like self care to YOU? What feels like it zaps you of positive energy? Self awareness is the first step. It doesn’t do any good for me to encourage you to take up meditation if you actually hate meditating. That’s a discussion for a different day, but now really isn’t the time to force yourself to start something that doesn’t make you feel good, grounded, energetic, focused, or positive. Be aware of what you want/need more of, and what you want/need less of, and put your intention and energy towards that. If you want to delve deeper, attach an emotion to actions. For example:
- A cup of tea makes me feel comforted.
- Trying to do too much in a day makes me feel unaccomplished, stressed, like I failed.
- Exercise makes me feel more energized and helps me get out of an icky head space.
- Three or more back to back Zoom calls makes me feel drained.
I find that the emotion I am usually trying to satisfy during this time is the need to feel comforted (and truthfully, I want to go right for the sweets). So, I made a list of self care routines that bring me comfort, and I taped that list to the cabinet that contains all of my sweet treats to remind myself to at least THINK about doing something other than satisfy that need for comfort through emotional eating.
- Pick a time of day that allows you to be the most successful with your self care/stress management tools. In a perfect day, I like to take the first hour of my morning to meditate, practice yoga, and take my dog for a walk. I get out for a short afternoon walk/outdoor break. And after work, I go to our thrown-together home gym in the garage. After dinner, I like to read, practice guitar, or watch a show. That’s a perfect day. Most of my days are far from perfect. Through trial and error, I have found that my mornings are the time of day that is the least interrupted. I am the first one awake in my house, and I have a policy to myself that I don’t log on to work or help anyone (unless it’s an emergency) until after I’ve done at least 30 minutes of self care. That helps me set my day up for success, and if none of my other “perfect day of self care” happens, then at least I’ve started my day with putting fuel in my own tank.
Maybe for you it’s the morning before everyone wakes up and the work day starts, or in the evening after your kids are asleep, taking an extended shower/alone time in the bathroom, or you schedule a fake “work call” midday and escape into your office for a quick nap or workout- whatever will give you a reset to feel the effects you desire.
Be open to experimenting with different times of day until you find the time that works best for you.
- Help your brain help you. It believes what you tell it over and over again, yes, even during a pandemic. Pay attention to the words you are saying to yourself. If you catch negative talk, write it down. Then, CROSS IT OUT and write a NEW MESSAGE. It might feel awkward or just plain untrue in the beginning, but that is because you’re challenging old beliefs. You know the saying, “Fake it till you make it?” This is that saying in practice.
Use this rubric over and over, anytime you are trying to challenge an old belief and install a new, healthy belief or routine.
4. Create policies for yourself so you don’t have to make so many decisions.
- “I only drink wine on the weekends.”
- “I don’t start work until I’ve done 30 minutes of healthy self care.”
- “I get takeout once a week.”
- “I do 10 minutes of exercise right after work ends, before going into dinner time.”
- Set timers or alarms on your phone. Use them to remind you it’s time for a break if you’re working at the computer all day, to drink a glass of water, or use them to set “minimum times” for yourself. When I really don’t feel like exercising, I set my timer for 10 minutes of intentional exercise (walk, yoga, stretch, squats, situps, pushups, whatever). That’s all I have to do. If after the 10 minutes I want to keep going, I will. If I don’t want to or can’t, that is ok too.
Finally, consider if the actions you are taking are helping or harming you long-term. I’m the first to admit that online shopping, having a drink after work, or eating a pint of ice cream makes me feel good and indulgent in the moment, and it’s easy to categorize those as “self care.” I have done my fair share of that during this pandemic. Those all release a dose of serotonin and happy brain chemicals for a “quick fix” and “instant happiness,” but the unfortunate truth is that none of them have lasting positive effects. Consider what it is that you find yourself drawn to for your own self care, and be OK questioning if those routines are truly helping or harming. If they are harming you long-term, then be open to just trying something different in place, that may have long-term helpful effects. Look at it as an experiment. And above all, practice patience and grace and give yourself permission to be less than perfect.
What I have found has helped me be the most successful is accountability and coaching. Even coaches need coaches, because life is full of challenges that can easily throw the best habits off course. If you’re needing support getting through this time, know that we are here for you. Tele-sessions are often just as effective at working through habit changes, and research is showing similar results to teletherapy and tele-coaching as in person services. Read more below if you’d like to learn some of the benefits of virtual coaching and counseling.
Once we are able to reopen, I am really looking forward to joining the Meridian team as one of the health coaches, and getting to meet some of you in person.