Over the past six months, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the daily lives of all individuals, families, communities, and countries.
Its effects are being felt across the globe in ways that we are still trying to make sense of.
Many are rocked emotionally and are grief-stricken after learning that a friend or family member’s life has been taken by COVID-19 without being able to say goodbye, or who have survived COVID and still have (sometimes permanent) lingering symptoms. Many more of us are shattered and devastated by an unknown financial future, with a sense that the ground beneath our feet has completely shifted.
Health care workers, first responders, and those on the front lines—including police, grocery store workers, and people serving the public—are risking their lives and others’ lives to keep providing and taking care of those whose lives are on the line or in (sometimes dire) need.
Watching the news and witnessing the sheer number of cases and losses has brought up strong reactions, such as fear and helplessness, and social distancing measures. It has also brought extra doses of anxiety, loneliness, depression, and even thoughts of suicide. Parents tending to children full-time, helping them get through zoom-schooling may also be taking care of elderly family members and their own workloads, are overwhelmed, while others have entered into a state of fear, trauma, or exhaustion after facing layoffs or unstable work situations.
As we are grappling with all of this, please take the time to check in on loved ones and take extra measures to ensure that you and those you care about including neighbors and isolated elderly, especially, are not falling into an emergency situation.
And in the midst of all this, please make sure you take care of you. Here are some ways to help you do so:
1. Tap into your strength and resilience.
Now is the time to use your reserve tank of strength and resilience. Knowing you are strong and have a capacity to make it through this dire time of uncertainly and pain is critical.
The best way to maintain strength right now is to establish as strict as possible a sleep regimen. Keeping up with sleep helps you rebound from stress into reserves of strength as well as strengthen the immune system. Sleep may be hardest during stressful times, but tending to your daily routines and schedule, getting adequate nutrition, and some movement or stretching daily will help with sleep.
2. Allow time and space to feel everything.
From grief to gratitude, anger to confusion, all feelings are valid and need a place right now. The key is to feel what is coming up inside, and this process isn’t always easy especially if we tend to project blame or anger onto others or cover up the pain and feelings with food, alcohol, shopping, or other forms of escape.
Be gentle on yourself and realize that anxiety or irritability are usually part of the process. If you are in a family, use a feelings chart or better yet, allow children to make their own.
3. Take self-care breaks.
Even though you are at home, and unless you are on the front lines, you are probably running around less, and although most of us are still busy with work and tending to chores and others needs, take advantage of the time you have that you might have been out hopping in and out of the car, shuffling around.
It’s important to carve out specific time to tend to the self, whether it’s some form of movement or yoga, a walk outside, a silent meditation, a hot bath, a nap, or a do “nothing, be still” break—all of these can help recalibrate the system. Do these without guilt; you deserve this! As the saying goes, “We can’t take care of others unless we have tended to the self.”
4. Know when to reach out for support.
Staying physically and emotionally healthy as best to your ability right now might be your number one priority, and if you are struggling, there are many resources online for therapeutic support and at-home fitness and movement classes.
Knowing when to reach out for solid help when needed might save your life. Of course, maintaining “community hygiene” to protect yourself and others, preparing and eating balanced regular meals, connecting with friends and family, having break time with your partner, taking a socially distanced walk with a friend or a Zoom friend or family dinner helps keep life as intact as possible right now.
But if your regular systems of support aren’t working, or if you are feeling desperate or in despair or suicidal or know of someone else who is, or is at risk, please reach out to a local crisis hotline. You may be isolated, but you are not alone—help is here in these dire times.
5. Practice the “Rose, Bud, Thorn” method.
Check in each day with your partner, family members, and friends and give allotted time for sharing deeply. Be vulnerable and share what challenges, fear, or sadness are surfacing (thorns) and what gratitude and even joy might be coming out of this time (roses).
6. Ask important questions, and let others know you care.
Asking a question such as, “How can I support you right now?” is like a gold nugget especially for those who are isolated or on their own. Asking specifically, “Is there anything you need?” might be a lifesaver, and letting loved ones, especially children know, “I care for you and I love you and I will protect you the best I can” provides an increased sense of safety in this uncertain time.
7. Take a work/school/phone/computer/news break.
Just stop—stop what you’re doing for a moment; put the device away, push the papers aside, the dishes will be there later—close your eyes and let the mind still for a bit, or if you can, step outside for some fresh air. We are all overloaded with Zoom, Apple News, Instagram, Netflix, Facebook screen time right now.
Our immune systems need work breaks, too. I love the idea of a “Tech Shabbat.” What would it be like to be away from your device for an hour? A day? Two days? If you dare, try it.
8. Take a daily moment of silent rest (known to those who practice yoga as “Savasana”).
Lie down on the floor and relax as much tension out of the body as you can. Once or twice a day, allow a family member to call this break and set a timer for two to seven minutes to give the body and mind this simple but potent respite.
9. Give back.
If your inner resources are strong and you’re able to go out in the world, help another. Buy groceries for someone who might be immunocompromised or elderly. Sew masks or make face shields for medical providers if you can. Giving five to 10 minutes of solid presence to a child frustrated with their school work, or silent witnessing to someone who is grieving a loss or feeling overwhelmed can be a healing balm and help them find some peace. For more ways to give back, see suggestions in this article.
10. Take turns.
If you can, share tasks, divide the labor at home, know when it’s time to step away, lighten the load on yourself or another, and understand that everyone is handling this situation differently. When one member of your family is feeling stronger, another might be taking on the heavy emotional weight of this situation.
11. Practice gratitude.
Show kindness, patience, and forgiveness when possible, let go of grudges, and be grateful for your health, the health of your family, and for all the little moments of laughter, positivity, bonding, and connection.
12. Be present now but also prepare for the next steps.
While are all reorienting to a new reality, stay focused on what lies in the immediate future, but think about what may lie ahead no matter how difficult. Get support in this process for it may be overwhelming to even think about as life will certainly shift for all of us. As best you can, take time to prepare for what life may look like during the next chapter. And hold on, we are all on this ride together.