Here are 6 ways to practice self-care right now. These tips can help you better handle the stress and uncertainty during this time and reestablish healthy habits that may have fallen off.

Kara Mohr, PhD
April 28, 2020
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Since the onset of COVID-19, we've been hearing an onslaught of information about how we should be taking care of ourselves. From Pinterest-worthy home organization projects to getting your body into top shape, with all of this extra time at home, bucket lists of activities have been making the rounds on social media. And that's where the train can go off the rails.

Making the most of this time means that somehow, we need to do more and chase better version of ourselves. In reality, we are in the middle of a pandemic. While we may have more time at home thanks to an empty social calendar, we are faced with a host of new challenges including: working from home, working greater hours or not working at all, home schooling children, worrying over loved ones, taking care of family and dealing with stress and uncertainty. (Here's why it's OK to be eating fewer vegetables right now.)

It can be tempting right now to say that we don't have time to take care of ourselves or invest in our well-being. Instead, we seek comfort. We eat the cookie because we're stressed. Or, maybe the glass of wine because what else pairs with global pandemic? And, the pint of ice cream because, well, it's ice cream. In and of themselves these things aren't necessarily bad choices, but when we turn to them over and over again to escape or numb, those behaviors certainly aren't helpful. (Here are some tips to help you stay healthy when you're stuck at home.)

When the cookie becomes a sleeve of cookies in an anxious binge or the glass of wine turns to two...three…"let's just finish the bottle," then we aren't taking care of ourselves. We're numbing our fear, worry and anxiety with self-indulgence instead. Pay attention to those behaviors that feel comforting in the short-run but leave you feeling worse than before, they're likely self-comfort or self-indulgence disguised as "self-care".

If there has ever been a time to take care of ourselves, it's now. But before you pull out your bubble bath and face masks, let's consider what kind of self-care we're talking about. Bubble baths be damned (although that does sound lovely, doesn't it?). The self-care that's needed right now is about investing in yourself in a meaningful way, so that you can become more resilient to handle the challenges and stressors you face daily.

Here are 6 ways to set self-care non-negotiables to help you better handle the stress and uncertainty during this time.

1. Set a Routine

If perhaps there has been one thing that has changed the most with COVID-19, it's our day to day routine. Without a structured time to be anywhere and the whole day to fill, it may be tempting to just let the day unfold. Resist that urge, because keeping a regular routine is critical for maintaining physical and mental wellbeing. Start with creating a normal wake and bedtime and keep it consistent. Then consider what other routines you want to structure between those two bookends.

This can include mealtimes, work hours, distance learning if you have kids, family time or time to connect with others, and personal time for hobbies, exercise, relaxing, etc. If that feels like a lot—you don't have to include all of them or even all of those every day—these are just some examples of how you can build normalcy and routine into your day with the activities you are currently doing.

2. Get Adequate Rest

Next to staying home (and safe) right now, sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your physical and mental health. Sleep supports your immune system, mental health, and overall well-being in too many ways to count. Aim for 7-9 hours of good quality sleep a night and avoid the temptation to stay up all-night binge-watching Netflix or, worse, scrolling through (never uplifting) news. If you're currently nowhere near the recommended 7-9, 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.

3. Emphasize Healthy Nutrition

Taking time to fuel your body with quality nutrition will help you sustain energy levels and boost immunity during this time. No gimmicks or restrictive diets required. Focus on meals that include lean protein, fruits, vegetables and fiber-rich carbohydrates (think whole-wheat pasta, quinoa, sweet potatoes and oats). Try these 5 simple tips to get more nutrients in your diet right now.

As comforting as simple carbohydrates like cookies and chips can be when we're stressed, these foods can leave you feeling worse (especially if they're all you eat) and less equipped to handle the many challenges and stressors. (Find out what happens in your body when you eat too much sugar.)

4. Move Your Body Daily

Staying at home doesn't have to mean sitting still. Regular movement throughout the day helps boost your energy, reduce stress and minimize tightness and discomfort—all things that are so critically important during these times. Exercise can also help you feel more mentally grounded. If you're finding it hard to convince yourself to get 30-45 minute workouts in right now, break movement into periods of 5-10 minutes (think of it as an exercise snack) of any activity you can do. This can include a bodyweight circuit, walks around the neighborhood, taking the stairs or even marching in place. Spread these throughout the day to give yourself a much needed boost of energy. (Try these 6 at-home exercises from a personal trainer.)

5. Create Something Meaningful

Another way to give yourself a boost right now is to think about creating something every day. Now, I'm not talking about Picasso-style works of art or poetry, unless that's your jam, but rather an opportunity to have agency and decide how you want to show up and act each day. What's meaningful may be as simple as a connection with your children at bedtime, creating a journal over this period, or making a delicious and nourishing dinner. Take care of yourself by paying attention to what you are in control of and how you want to move through this time.

6. Take Time for You

Lastly, don't forget to schedule time for you. Create boundaries for those things that are most important to you. Boundaries are something you can control, and they give you the time and space to take care of yourself. What do you need to feel your best? Is it exercise? Time to read, or just sit in quiet? It doesn't have to require hours of time, simply being aware of what you need and being intentional about making it happen over the course of a week, may be the act that you need to remind yourself that no matter what happens, you have your own back.

Bottom Line

We find ourselves in the middle of unprecedented times where we are learning and adapting to so much change at once. Focusing on what you can control in 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, global pandemic or not.