Now that it’s fall, many of us are heading back inside with colder weather. The daylight is fading and the darkness is descending. The global pandemic that has dramatically impacted our world and daily lives is still with us. On top of that, we are facing upheaval in many spheres—climate change, civil unrest, political divisiveness, financial uncertainty, and social isolation.
When the pandemic started, many of us were taking it day by day because we didn’t know what to expect. Life as we knew it had changed. Our daily routines were disrupted, we stayed home for days or even weeks at a time, we didn’t socialize, we didn’t go to work or school. Many of us lapsed into a bit of a trance state. We didn’t know where our days had gone, they seemed to blend into one another.
In the early days of the pandemic, we were taking the “we are all in this together” approach. It was all new. We didn’t have a clear picture of the future. We hoped it would be temporary.
By summertime, we were growing weary of social distancing and staying at home. The nice weather provided an opportunity for a reprieve. The days were getting lighter and warmer, numbers were down in many places, restrictions eased, and it was easier to spend time with loved ones, social distancing outdoors.
Now we are entering the marathon portion of this challenge. A lot of people I talk to are struggling more now than they were when things first started shutting down. Cases are on the rise. The weather is growing cooler and the days are getting shorter. We have a clearer idea of what it means to isolate, and with the winter stretching ahead of us, we are not amused.
But what if we made a plan to take care of ourselves during this challenging time so that we grow, become stronger, and more conscious?
Creating a Self-Care Plan for Growth
Back in the spring, we didn’t know what we were in for, we muddled through it, one day at a time. But now, we have more knowledge and experience. We know what we struggled with, what wasn’t so helpful, and what we might benefit from going forward. We can look back on the early days of the pandemic and use that information to plan for the challenges ahead.
Alas, the crisis hasn’t passed, but does that mean that we must throw our hands up and lose ourselves for another three, six, nine months? No. Now is the perfect time to create a plan so that we can not only survive, but also thrive during this unprecedented time. Being purposeful and focusing on growth and fulfillment takes effort and planning on our part.
Ingredients for well-being
Everyone’s recipe for well-being will be different. My ingredients won’t look like yours. But there are a few components that make up any well-rounded self-care plan.
Play with these ideas to find the practices that will support you right now.
One of the primary ingredients for well-being is exercise. Whether it’s stretching, strength training, or cardiovascular exercise, the physical and mental benefits are numerous. If you have limited time to spend on self-care, exercise will give you the most bang for your buck.
This doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon or do intense workouts every day, but moving your body in any way you enjoy will do wonders for your well-being. If you are currently sedentary, start small. Maybe you walk for fifteen minutes each day and gradually increase time or distance. Maybe you do ten minutes of yoga in the morning and then add in some strength training. Any movement you do will benefit you, especially if you do it outdoors!
Another important ingredient of any self-care plan is paying attention to what we consume. We take things in in a variety of ways.
We physically consume food, drinks, medications, and drugs. The statistics are clear that people are self-medicating at an alarming rate since the beginning of the pandemic. Alcohol consumption and drug use have dramatically increased. Weight gain is so common that it’s becoming a joke (have you heard of the COVID 15?).
We are also mental consumers.
Think about how much time you spend in front of screens, ie. social media, the news, playing video games, or binge watching TV shows. In general, consuming media does not elevate our well-being. Many people come away feeling down after using social media because they compare themselves to others, and think that other people are having more fun and interesting lives. Excessive consumption of news is easy. The news cycle is 24/7 and is designed to rattle our nervous systems. BREAKING NEWS!! Or we settle down to binge watch movies or tv shows thinking that we will relax, but studies show that our brains don’t actually relax when we’re parked in front of a screen.
When we read, listen to music, talk shows, or podcasts, or look at art, we are also consuming. What are we exposing ourselves to? If we want to elevate our mood, and spirit, it is important to notice what we are taking in.
You may want to evaluate your consumption patterns. What are you physically consuming and is it contributing to your overall well-being? Is the time that you’re spending in front of screens leading to more happiness and fulfillment? Are you reading “junk” to escape reality?
Filling Your Cup
Sleep and deep rest is one way we recharge. As our daily routines were disrupted, so was our sleep cycle. There are many contributors to the sleep issues people were having including worrying and feeling anxious, staying up late, excessive alcohol intake, and over-exposure to screens to name a few. Truly restful sleep is essential to our well-being. We are more prone to heart attacks when we don’t get enough sleep. Without sleep our thinking becomes disturbed and on the extreme end we can become psychotic from sleep deprivation.
Observe your sleep patterns. Are you sleeping too little or too much to feel energized and ready to face your day? What behaviors are you engaging in that might be contributing to sleep issues?
Spiritual care is another component of recharging and is just as important for our well-being as mental and physical care. Julia Cameron calls it “filling the well.” I’ve also heard it called “tending the garden.” Either way, this refers to attending to your inner world, because you cannot pour from an empty cup.
Everyone’s spiritual path looks different. You might include yoga, meditation, time in nature, journaling, reading spiritual texts, or any number of spiritual practices to tend to your inner self.
While this is more challenging in the middle of a global pandemic it’s an important component of self-care. After all, by nature, we are social animals. Because we are staying at home we might feel that we don’t have much to talk about, that not much is new in our day to day lives. Many of us are feeling anxious or depressed and those are not the easiest topics to discuss. We don’t want to be a drag, or risk seeming weak. So we avoid reaching out and connecting to others.
This is how we begin the cycle of social avoidance. Ironically, social avoidance leads to more social avoidance. The more we successfully avoid something, the more we build up barriers to engaging in it. If you notice that you are closing down socially, you may want to schedule times to connect with others, even if you don’t feel like it.
On the other end of the spectrum, some people are finding it difficult to get alone time because they and their family members are at home most of the time. Too much together time can feel draining, especially for introverts. Be mindful of setting aside time to be by yourself.
Are you connecting regularly with friends and loved ones? What would you like to change? While face to face contact is not advisable, think outside the box. Perhaps write letters to one another, or read a book to each other online and discuss it.
Creativity and Play
Many people balk at this suggestion and think “No, I’m not creative. I’m not talented.” Creativity doesn’t have to be what we usually think of as the arts. You might find creativity by gardening, baking, or playing with Legos.
Let go of your preconceived notions about creativity. The point here is to play. Find something fun and let yourself be free. Kids are just naturally creative because they haven’t incorporated all of the social expectations of what art and play should look like.
If you believe you are not creative and aren’t sure how to work creativity into your life, I highly recommend the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s full of insights and suggestions that can help you make creativity much more accessible!
“When I refer to “creative living,” I am speaking more broadly. I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” -from Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert
An often overlooked piece of the puzzle is our human drive for mastery.
During the early days of the pandemic many of us focused on survival and comfort which makes sense during a short-term crisis. However, this is not a short-term crisis. Currently, there is no end in sight.
Mastery is a basic human drive. We want to learn, and grow. It’s easy to talk ourselves out of it for short-term gratification, but when we do that, we rob ourselves of the rewards that come from mastering something new.
Make some space in your life to learn something new or develop a new skill. You don’t have to learn a new language (though you could). Pick up a new hobby or expand on something you already know. Apply yourself to something. Work at it. Even making a little progress in this area can give you a mental and emotional boost.
Giving back to others is foundational to our well-being. We benefit when we live beyond ourselves, and contribute to the greater good. It reminds us that we are a part of the whole.
How are you contributing? There are too many ways to name. Maybe you help your elderly neighbor with grocery shopping or call someone that you know is alone to see how they’re doing. It might mean donating money or working for a cause that you believe in. Maybe you share your talents by playing music, teaching, or inspiring others.
Put it all together
I encourage you to include all of these elements in your self-care plan.
As we more routinely engage in self-care, we are forming habits. Aside from helping us cope during the pandemic we’ll have those supportive habits that will benefit us going forward.
We can grow during this pandemic. We can emerge from this challenge even better. And if we set these habits during a bumpy time, imagine how well we’ll do when things aren’t as crazy!
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