For many of us, around the world, this is the first pandemic we’ve ever lived through. It’s shocking, and we’re at a loss for words. So many questions have flooded our brains, and anxiety has filled our bodies. You can manage your anxiety with self-care strategies. What you consider to be and how you respond to self-care starts in one place: the mind.
Within the last couple of months, I’ve heard many stories about suicides, substance abuse, anxiety, and deep depression. Being isolated can leave us feeling bored, alone, and left with no hope. With no end in sight for the need to keep our distance from one another, it becomes more important, with each passing day, that we take care of ourselves, both mentally and physically. Routines and monotony take away much of our appreciation for this important practice. Although you might not think about it, you’re probably engaging in some self-care every day. But, effective self-care strategies require being intentional and mindful, as well as changing habits.
Intentional and Mindful Self-Care Strategies
Currently, I’m eight and a half months pregnant. This means I’ve been in the final trimester of my pregnancy during the most restrictive, and stressful, period of the pandemic. At the beginning of the outbreak, I was in a good head space. My thoughts, for the most part, were rational and I spent a lot of time practicing mindfulness. That was until the day a 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit Salt Lake City. This was also the first earthquake I’ve ever experienced. It may not seem like a huge deal to someone who didn’t grown up in this town, but it threw me for a loop. I spent the next couple weeks on constant alert, even though I knew that wasn’t good for me or my baby. This was also the day the place I work decided to enter “full pandemic mode”, and told employees to work from home. That didn’t help either.
Rationally, I knew my job was safe and I was still receiving income. But, my mind continued to over-react and run to unlikely (and some likely) scenarios. This left me feeling a little hopeless and in a state of high anxiety. I knew that something had to change, so I took a look at my current self-care strategies. I noticed that I wasn’t being very intentional about self-care. So, from that day forward, I’ve been paying special attention to my mental and physical wellbeing.
Self-Care Strategies are Important for Mental Health
One of the most important things about self-care is that it improves our mental health. When we don’t take proper care of ourselves, we’re much more susceptible to feeling anxious, depressed, and out of control. When we feel out of control, there’s a greater chance that we’ll use harmful coping mechanisms to suppress our emotions. If you’ve ever experienced anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts, you may be able to relate. Unfortunately, some people are having to contend with these types of feelings for the first time, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.
The Mental and Physical Effects of Quarantine
The dramatic changes happening during this pandemic can be a catalyst for unfamiliar behaviors and other reactions, which could be much harder to manage. Anxiety and depression can come in all forms. Although there is no formula, here are some warning signs you’ll want to lookout for.
Signs of Anxiety Include:
- Breathing difficulty
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Inability to concentrate
- Memory problems (brain fog)
- Mood swings
- Racing thoughts
Signs of Depression Include:
- Appetite changes
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Fluctuation in weight
- Loss of interest daily activities
- Suicidal thoughts
Experiencing these mental states can be frightening, whether it’s your first time or you’ve been there before. We may turn to harmful behaviors that bring us comfort in the moment, because they let us escape from, or avoid, the situation. That’s why the cycle of addiction is so easy to get caught in during times of distress. Any action that brings relief is sought out, and when the feelings return, we crave to numb again, perhaps even numb continually.
Behaviors People Engage in to Cope and Escape
In moderation, these examples aren’t all harmful. However, when they’re being used for the intention of “numbing out” or forgetting our problems, they’re being abused. At this point, we need to recognize that we need help.
My Personal Struggles with Food and Suppressed Feelings
For nearly half of my life, I struggled with an eating disorder. So, I’m familiar with the craving to feel good, or more accurately, numbing out painful or unpleasant feelings. When I felt out of control, I’d use food, exercise, and alcohol to hide away my emotions, discomfort, and anxiety. During the three years I’ve been in recovery, I’ve learned a lot about how to take care of myself. I now recognize when I may be falling back into that vicious cycle.
One problem is that we don’t always realize we’re suppressing our feelings, and reactions, before we’re knee deep in a mess. Then, trying to bounce back from our depressive episode has to take a backseat, while we attempt to deal with the impact of the addictive behaviors we’ve now piled onto our original problems.
How I Used Quarantine to Develop Self-Care Strategies
Self-care is the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health. It’s not one and done, a solid self-care strategy depends on repetition and practice to make a significant difference in your life and habits.
I’ve used this quarantine to bolster my self-care skills and soothe my anxiety. The main shift is that I’m taking the time to practice self-care, mindfully and intentionally.
Our busy and hectic lives can take away our appreciation of the moment. Quite often, we’re in such a hurry that we don’t enjoy our morning shower, or even taste the food we’re eating on our short lunch breaks. However, when you’re in social isolation, as a lot of people currently are, you don’t have anywhere to go. You can slow down, stop, and think about what you’re doing, and simply enjoy it!
There are so many ways we can engage in mental and physical self-care. Some practices take longer than others, some are quick and easy. Self-care strategies should encompass both. My practice has improved my overall well-being.
Simple Ways to Enjoy Mental Self-Care
Fully Enjoying a Meal
In the past, due to my disorder, eating was just another thing to get done. I didn’t have much appreciation for it, and I certainly didn’t enjoy it. This was until I sat and thought about eating for a moment.
What makes eating so special?
Well, there are a lot of things. It nourishes our bodies, it tastes so yummy (most things), and many of us are blessed in that we get to pick the foods we want to enjoy. This is true for me. I PICK the foods that I want to enjoy. I have choices. Many people who don’t have the same luxury.
Personally, I fully enjoy my meals by thanking God and eating slowly. I savor all the flavors as they hit my taste buds to fully experience what I’m eating.
Showering, like eating, can be done intentionally and mindfully, bringing you into the present moment as you care for yourself. In fact, this is true for any of our personal hygiene routines.
Why focus on sensations? Part of caring for ourselves is noticing what is happening in our body, and our body’s reaction to our emotions. When we are mindful of feelings, we learn to savor the moment and also strengthen our mind-body connection.
I used to think applying lotion was an inconvenience. But once again, it’s a luxury that many people don’t have, and that realization is what makes me appreciate my wonderful opportunity.
What makes something inconvenient? We perceive something as inconvenient when we feel it takes to long, or our time could be better used elsewhere. Notice how that perception continues, even when we have plenty of time, or nothing more important to focus on. It is important to question these thoughts. If it truly is a waste of time, why do it? If it is not, why not find the enjoyment in it.
Praying and Meditating
Prayer and meditation, as an action or practice, is just as important as our focus or intention.
How can prayer and meditation help ?
Suppose you’re feeling high anxiety one day. Stop, force yourself to sit, and just be. Focus on what you’re hearing around you, where you are, what your body is feeling. I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy, but repeating mantras, or praying, can help anxiety become more manageable.
Simple Ways to Enjoy Physical Self-Care
Incorporating mental self-care strategies while you’re engaging in physical self-care has an additional calming effect. Mental focus adds reason to our actions.
If you’re like me, sometimes it’s hard to get motivated to actually exercise. Thinking of fitness as a choice (because it is), one that brings many benefits, makes it a worthy endeavor. As you engage, thank your body for what it is doing and what it can do.
Sleep is so important! It helps us feel rejuvenated and gives us the energy we need for our day.
Take a long bubble bath, or sit out on your patio, and just be present in the moment. Ask yourself:
What am I hearing?
What sensations are running through my body?
How can I be grateful in this moment?
Participate in Something You’re Passionate About
I’m passionate about blogging. If I couldn’t write during this pandemic, I’d have gone stir-crazy a long time ago!
Try Not to Make Self-Care Stressful
As humans, we tend to overthink things, but self-care shouldn’t be one of those things we overthink. If something (healthy) feels soothing to you, go with it, even if it’s something you wouldn’t ordinarily think of as self-care. The point is to take care of yourself, feed your mind with positivity, and practice self-love.
This won’t come immediately, either. That’s why you hear so many people talk about daily and weekly self-care. The appreciation comes when you practice frequently, and take the time to be mindful as you practice. After all, isn’t that something we’ve all been given plenty of during this quarantine? Time. Take it, and use it to the benefit of your well-being!
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