It’s tempting to use the pandemic as a reason we don’t have time or energy to take care of ourselves right now. It seems that every day we must deal with unfamiliar and unexpected challenges. Just when we feel like we have a handle on our current situation, it changes. For some of us, the working from home arrangement that seemed like a short-term solution has now become a long-term reality. Others have lost employment or needed to take a leave from our work to care for family members. Those of us with children are trying to figure out what virtual learning will look like this fall and how to make “hybrid” learning work for our schedule and our children. Most of us are living with the nearly constant worry that we or someone we love will get sick.
These are all current realities and it makes sense to think that taking care of ourselves will be one more source of anxiety. Yet, self-care practices are exactly what we need to keep our immune system working well, our stress levels in check and our families strong.
Now is the perfect time to take stock and get creative in establishing (or reestablishing) healthy habits. At MCF, we have scoured the internet and asked health professionals as well as our staff, to give us their top tips for self-care practices that are simple, inexpensive and that don’t require a lot of time.
- Establish Daily Rhythms
Keeping a regular routine is actually critical for maintaining physical and mental well-being. Most of us have lost the predictable day-to-day rhythms of our lives and changing this might be a good place to start. To bring structure back to your days, start by creating regular times to wake up and go to bed. Start setting your morning alarm again, if you’ve gotten out of that habit. You can also set your phone alarm for a time you plan to start your bedtime routine. Once these habits are reestablished, look for other ways to bring structure into your days. Easy next steps might be mealtimes, distance learning times with your children, and regular work hours.
- Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your physical and mental health right now.. Sleep supports your immune system, mental health, and overall well-being in too many ways to count. Most experts say we should aim for 7-9 hours of good quality sleep a night. If you’re currently nowhere near the recommended 7-9 hours, simply start by getting into bed 15 minutes earlier than you normally do. Keep adding 15 minutes to your bedtime each week until you’ve reached your sleep need sweet spot. To focus on the quality aspect of sleep itself, limit devices such as TV and phones 30-60 minutes before bed to help calm the mind and help with deep sleep.
- Eat Well
Remember the “Freshman 15” that referred to weight gain in college freshmen? We’ve been hearing lately about the “COVID 19” referring to…well, you get it. Now is probably not the time to tackle complicated or highly restrictive weight loss programs. Instead of thinking about what you want to take out of your diet, consider adding one or two foods that you enjoy and know are healthy. Almost all nutritionists agree that the focus of your meals should be on vegetables, fruits, lean protein and whole grains and that you should limit sugars and processed foods.
- Get Moving
Regular exercise and movement increases your energy and mental clarity and helps reduce stress. If planning the suggested 30-45 minute workout seems too ambitious or unrealistic at this time, aim for short bursts of activity several times a day. Can you go up and down stairs for 5 minutes between meetings? Can you have a dance party for 10 minutes between virtual lessons with your children? Can you walk for 10 minutes before lunch or after dinner? Even marching in place while you’re on a conference call can help. Before you know it, you’ll reach that 30 minute activity goal.
- Be Creative
Another way to give yourself a boost right now is to think about creating something every day. It could be planting herbs in a pot, writing in in a gratitude journal, assembling a colorful salad, rearranging the furniture in one of your rooms, or downloading a free mandala from the internet and coloring with your children. By making a decision to do something meaningful for yourself or others, you’re paying attention to what you can control and deciding how you will move through this difficult time.
- Find “You Time”
We saved the best for last—and it’s the one you probably put last on your list. For many of us, this is a time when we find ourselves being pulled in many different directions and are needed more intensely by others. One of our MCF staff members, a mom of two special needs children, reminded us in a recent meeting that, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” At least a few times each week, identify what you need to recharge and renew and then create boundaries and/or ask for help to get your needs met. Some of our staff shared their “Me Time” practices and they include, a quiet walk around the block, an uninterrupted cup of tea, reading a chapter in a book, and guilt-free scrolling through social media.
In summary, focusing on what you can control, especially during times of uncertainty, is one of the best well-being and resiliency strategies there is. Establish your self-care non-negotiables. Identify ways you can make them happen in small and meaningful ways and remember, be gentle with yourself. One choice or one day will not make or break you. What you do most of the time is more important than what you do some of the time.