Self-Care for Stressful Times

Date: August 12th, 2020

Carol Partonen

It’s been quite a year, hasn’t it? A global pandemic. Political upheaval. Civil revolution. The murder hornets that surely are due back any day now (see the principle of Chekhov’s gun.) All that on top of all of our individual concerns: our families, children, and friends; our employment, food, and shelter; our mental health, physical health, and emotional health. It’s A LOT.

I do not know a single person who is not struggling significantly right now. Each person has their own kaleidoscope of challenges, but that does not make the burden or the stress of bearing it all any less real for each individual circumstance.

As each person has their own set of difficulties, so too do we each need our own set of self-care practices to fit with where we are right now and the specific challenges we are facing. It’s cute (but not necessarily helpful) to say “go take a long, hot bath” to someone with kids and a full-time virtual job.

Self-care, to be sustainable, has to be realistic. It has to fit your time, your circumstances, your energy level.

The point of self-care is to literally care for Your Self. If you are not caring for Your Self, Your Self will be unable to keep caring for everything else. You will burn out, run out of batteries.

The burn out may show up as overwhelming fatigue, it may show up as a feeling of emptiness, or it may show up as medical problems that force you to stop cold. You cannot run indefinitely without replenishing yourself. It is practically a cliché at this point, but the quote remains ever true:

"You cannot serve from an empty vessel." - Eleanor Brownn

I can’t tell you what your self-care should look like. But I would like to share some of the practices that have been most essential to me in these unprecedented times, in hopes of providing some seeds you can use to root your own:

Mental Health Care

I found this checklist, originated by Lindsay Braman, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor Associate in Washington state, floating around Facebook in the early stages of quarantine. As someone with an anxiety disorder, having something as clear and simple as a checklist to help walk days back from boundaryless timeless voids into small, manageable tasks and chunks of time was a lifesaver.

Isolation Well-being Daily To-Do List

When I used a checklist,it felt like being able to find footholds in sand. Did I complete all the tasks every single day? HA! No, not even close. Some days I managed two. Other days, I got close to checking the whole thing off, but admittedly I have not yet managed to perfectly check the whole thing off in a day.

But perfection was never the goal. It was simply about having a guide, something to hold onto when so many of the traditional markers of my days were falling away. At times, I would adjust this list, adapt it to the patterns showing up at that time. I would encourage a similar approach to anyone using this method—what do you need on your daily list?

Maximizing Individual Moments

My sister has four children in her home right now. Read that again. Four children. In her home. At all times. As you might imagine, there are not a lot of “spare moments” for self-care. Chaos reigns and self-care can very easily make the bottom of every list.

Yet even with all the challenges she is facing, my sister finds a few moments of solace: once the children go to bed. She gives herself a few moments each night, once everyone is asleep, just to sit in the quiet.

All of us have these moments. Often, it is less about finding moments and more about recognizing the ones that are already there. There have been periods in quarantine where I have struggled to turn off, feeling like there is always something I should be doing.

One of my go-to reset buttons is taking a 5-minute shower. Trying to really focus on the warm water on my skin, or on letting the heat help me stretch the constantly tensed muscles in my neck and shoulders. I know folks who sit outside for a few minutes, who meditate, who have a go-to calming song, who cook even just a small snack.

Initially, I felt silly, “wasting time” by taking a hot shower when there were “more important” or “more useful” things I could be doing. But taking that momentary pause to stop focusing on my mental to-do list and my worries and my frustrations—that moment could change the course of my entire day. And changing a few of my days started changing entire weeks. All from an accumulation of tiny moments spent on myself and nothing else.

Limiting Social Media & News

As I said, there have been times in quarantine where I felt I needed to be “on” at all times. One of the big ways that appeared for me was thinking I needed to be watching the news and social media ALL. THE. TIME.

I have to be a responsible citizen, right? I need to “know what was going on in the world.” Yes, okay. But the interesting thing about that is that you can keep up to date with what’s going on in the world if you check the news once or twice a day. Did you know that? I did not. And eventually, my mental health punched me in the face to let me know about it.

An increasingly large part of my self-care throughout quarantine and the revolutions of this year has involved learning the difference between keeping informed and marinating. At this point, I have timers (literally egg timers) set around news and social media.

I check the news, every day, but I set a limit, so I cannot spend too much time soaking, bathing, wallowing in not only the horrors of the news, but also the collective emotions released on social media in reaction to everything we are experiencing.

It’s important to stay present, and important to stay involved, but you cannot drown yourself in anxiety and pain and expect to still be functional in your day-to-day life.

Anti-Racism Daily

If there is a theme to my ideas about self-care, it is this: small and often. Small care tasks, small moments of pause, small actions, done often, bring about sustainable practices and therefore bring about change.

Anti-Racism Daily, a daily newsletter from entrepreneur, author, and speaker Nicole Cardoza, is the epitome of this small and often principle, applied to anti-racism. Every day brings an article educating on one specific facet of systemic racism, along with bulleted key takeaways and numbered action items sent directly to my inbox.

Blacks Lives Still Matter, even as discussion has grown quieter on news and social media, and this breadcrumb approach to taking specific actions against systemic racism has proven invaluable for me, preventing against overwhelm and subsequent drop-off. I believe that a majority of people taking small (or large, if you can manage it!) actions daily will lead to systemic change. And there is no resource I would recommend more readily for facilitating those necessary daily actions.

Plants, a.k.a Joy

Sustainable self-care = small and often. That’s the formula, right? So, here’s a thing about me: I love plants. Taking care of them has become a cornerstone of my self-care. Why? Plants bring me joy.

For other folks, joy appears in different forms. Music. Baking. Painting. Video games. Astrology. Making homemade pasta. Taking incredible photos of your pet hedgehog. For whatever brings you joy in your life, a key part of self-care is to make sure that thing has a presence in your life. Even if it is just in small moments. Just a little dose, each day, to remember why life is worth living. Again, this is one of those practices that might feel superfluous, like you are taking time away from “more important” things, but I assure you that is not the case.

One of the illusions about being quarantined is that it is just a “pause” in “normal life.” The hard truth to bear about it is—this is still life. What was “normal” before the pandemic may not be sustainable now or soon into the future or possibly ever again.

It is unfair to Your Self to wait, to put off joy until you can get it in exactly the same ways you used to. Some joys may need to be adapted for life at home. Some joys may need to be resurrected from when they were put aside for more practical matters. But in whatever manner you can, find a way to incorporate just a little bit of something that brings you joy into your daily life. Self-care is not just about the body or the brain—it is also about the spirit.

These are scary, distressing, sometimes heartbreaking times. The more you can create small pockets of space, of rest, of calm, of joy, of care for yourself and replenishment of your energy, the more resilient you will become. The more resilient we become, the better we can all care for our individual worlds, and ultimately our shared one.

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About the Author

Carol Partonen, Accounting Associate, provides critical day-to-day administrative and accounting support critical to Healthy Teen Network infrastructure.

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