The pandemic has taken a toll on all of us. Our normal daily routines have been turned upside down and often, when unexpected changes happen, our fight or flight response kicks in. We focus on “priorities”, such as figuring out how to work from home and home-school children at the same time, and neglect things in our lives that we consider secondary – such as exercising and/or eating well. The temporary closure or limited use of fitness centers and gyms in most areas also did not serve us well. Due to this, our overall wellness has declined. Weight gain and mental health symptoms – such as depressive disorder, anxiety, trauma- and stressor-related disorder, and substance abuse – have risen amongst many Americans this past year.
Amidst all of this chaos, is it possible to maintain your wellness? The short answer is YES and the best way to do it is to practice self-care.
Self-care is not SELFISH
When you take care of yourself, you are nourishing your own wellness from within. From that wellness, you will be able to take better care of everyone – your family, friends, colleagues, clients – around you. As a health and wellness coach, I firmly believe in taking care of oneself, both physically and mentally, and I am going to provide you with tips on how to maintain (or jump start) your wellness during this pandemic, and beyond.
Remember the Oxygen Mask Rule
When flying on an airplane, we are always reminded of the Oxygen Mask Rule by the flight attendant. Should the plane lose oxygen, we are to place the oxygen mask over our nose and mouth first, then assist others with their mask.
When you are feeling pulled in many directions – by work, by kids, by obligations, by stress – your initial response may be to try to fix everyone / everything else first. However, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Remember the Oxygen Mask Rule and take time to “re-fill” your cup before attempting to fix everything else.
Self-care is about setting priorities and setting boundaries with your time and your emotional well-being. Use these boundaries to create a physical or mental separation between you and someone else. Examples include stating your opinion in a conversation with a colleague even if it’s different than theirs or physically separating yourself (going in another room or closing a door) from your child because you need a moment to clear your head. Being consistent with boundaries will clearly let the other person know what your rules and expectations are in the relationship. When boundaries are let down, or not in place, you run the risk of losing yourself by letting others take advantage of your kindness or use you for their own benefit.
Setting boundaries can be hard, especially when it is with people we love like our children or partner. It will take practice to enforce those boundaries, but don’t be hard on yourself if you have a weak moment. Like any other skill, setting boundaries takes practice. The more you practice, the easier it becomes.
Refuel Your Body and Soul
Just as we need to refuel a car, we also need to refuel our body and soul. When we start to feel rundown or “running on empty”, we subject ourselves to making poor decisions, mood swings, less patience, and exhaustion. In order to bring the balance – and wellness – back into our lives, we need to refuel.
The best way for refueling to occur is to shift the focus of our attention. There are many ways to do that, including:
- Refraining from arguing about something trivial
- Using your vacation time, even if it’s just for a “mental health” day
- Practicing mindfulness and/or gratitude
- Doing Pro bono work
- Doing any activity that you love
Use Your “No” Button
We cannot be everything to everyone. Many of us say “Yes” to things because we don’t want to disappoint others or we feel an obligation to show up. However, if we don’t say “No” then we become over-scheduled and end up feeling overwhelmed, resentful, and giving less of ourselves all around.
Using your “no” button is also a way of setting boundaries within relationships. Keep in mind that you are not obligated to give people an excuse about why you are saying no. In certain situations, you may simply say, “That does not work for me.”
Take a moment each day to pause and be thankful. One of the easiest ways to do this is to keep a gratitude journal to write down five things that you are grateful for that day. When you’re feeling down, read the past entries for an uplift. Make time for a gratitude walk to elevate your mood and increase happiness. Go for a nature walk and focus on all the beauty that surrounds you. Using a gratitude trigger in the house or office – such as an object or photograph that reminds us to feel grateful – is another way to practice gratitude throughout the day.
It is well-known that physical activity stimulates areas of the brain that improve mood and relaxation which provides an emotional lift and stress reduction. Exercise does not have to be a 60-minute sweaty and intensive HIIT class. It can be a long walk (or 3 short walks throughout the day). Everybody’s exercise level and needs are unique, so it’s important to listen to what your body is craving and to make the time to move it daily.
De-Clutter Your Diet
“Going on a diet” that has restrictions, that are usually not sustainable for the long term, will only add stress (and often, disappointment) to your life. Instead of going on a diet, think about moving your diet in a healthier direction by making small incremental changes – like substituting sparkling water for soda, or choosing a fruit for your afternoon snack instead of a cookie. Practicing these small swaps consistently will eventually make them habits. As you stack these healthy habits up, your diet will improve, as will your mood (and your waistline may shrink too).
One note about alcohol. While alcohol may make you feel good in the moment, it increases depression and anxiety. It also decreases your body’s immune system and interferes with your sleep cycle. Thus, drink in moderation.
Get a Good Night’s Rest
Sleep may be the most important part of self-care wellness. Getting a good night’s rest gives your brain the time to reset for the next day. Sleep can help you think clearly and do better in work (or school), it improves mood, stress, and boosts immunity. Set up a sleep schedule by scheduling in a time to turn off electronics (usually 1+ hour before bedtime is ideal), indulging in some relaxing rituals (i.e., taking a bath, drinking chamomile tea, meditating, or reading), and then drift off blissfully to recharge for the next day.