Practicing Self-Care During COVID Should Be A Marathon, Not A Sprint
“Taking a tiered approach to self-care may feel more genuine than just jumping straight into the social-media version of self-care.”
When the pandemic blues get you down, taking time for self-care can help keep you afloat. But if all you're doing to be good to yourself is the occasional meditation or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. rewatch, you might want to make sure you've got a more sustainable plan. Self-care is about your long-term mental health. You've got to think of it more as a marathon than a sprint. Jumping into a bubble bath when you're at the end of your rope might help calm you down in the moment, but mental health experts say that you should reduce stress with self-care practices that emphasize proactive burnout prevention instead of post-panic damage control.
Self-Care During COVID & BLM
"COVID created some unique challenges that shaped how we view important aspects of life, such as health and relationships," says psychotherapist Diamond Webster, L.M.F.T. "We went from being able to compartmentalize our various roles in society to those roles suddenly clashing and attempting to blend into a new reality. The need to reassess our self-care necessities formed as a result." A lot of this reassessment revolves around navigating digital spaces and asserting virtual boundaries.
"Being present and monitoring the amount of information we take in is extremely important at this time," Webster says. "Some quarantine specific self-care necessities would be daily or weekly engagement in: grounding exercises, breathing exercises, creating a 'sensory list' of items that bring your senses comfort, limiting the amount of media you expose yourself to, and deciding the times of day you will expose yourself to such media." Figuring out what you need in your new daily routine can be a challenge, but Webster says it's OK to start small.
Especially as anti-racist protests continue and quarantine drags on, mental and physical burnout are daily risks. But if your self-care routine isn't comprehensive, you might be relaxed right now but super stressed in the long-run. Navigating your boundaries around racist violence can help stave off that long-term damage. Combating burnout in the midst of uprisings against structural racism can be tough, but monitoring the ways that media coverage and conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement impacts your mental health is a must when you're creating a comprehensive self-care plan.
Practice Daily Self-Care Basics
If you're feeling overwhelmed and you're not sure how to even begin taking good care of yourself, you can ease into it a little at a time. "Taking a tiered approach to self-care may feel more genuine than just jumping straight into the social-media version of self-care," says Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, L.C.S.W.
Ertel tells Bustle that you need baseline rituals like keeping your room clean and setting boundaries before social media-style self-care (think bubble baths and hot cocoa) can be effective. Why? Think about it this way — if your kitchen's a mess and you've got no boundaries with that text-me-back-immediately frenemy, you're not going to enjoy that bath much anyway.
"Start with practical activities like prioritizing your physical health and hygiene," Ertel says. Integrate everyday essentials like taking your prescribed meds, hydrating, and sleeping enough, she recommends. These basics can help make life's daily stressors easier to deal with.
Use Multiple Forms Of Self-Care
Once you've gotten the knack for everyday necessities like eating food and brushing your teeth, make sure you're thinking about other forms of self-care, too — like social self-care, which means getting enough time with your friends and avoiding toxic relationships, or intellectual self-care, AKA curling up with that astrophysics podcast you've been meaning to listen to.
What might this mean for your quarantine life? Prioritize spiritual self-care with refreshing practices like meditation and spending time in nature if you can do so safely. And as your career and personal life collide while you work from home, professional self-care is especially important. "Practicing self-care while at work or school includes saying 'no' to obligations that compromise mental wellness and impair the quality of work, saying 'yes' to projects that carry personal interest or emotional reward, taking needed mental breaks, taking classes that will develop skillsets, and keeping a healthy work-life balance," says psychotherapist Lillyana Morales, L.M.H.C. That might mean drawing the line at four Zoom calls per work day.
Setting Boundaries For Long-Term Self-Care
Even when you're working from home, long-term self-care strategies are all about setting healthy boundaries. Sometimes, these boundaries are with yourself, whether it's about home organization or financial self-care. "Practical activities such as organizing your inbox, setting a budget, and reorganizing areas within your home are forms of self-care because they, too, have the capability of reducing your stress, increasing your well-being, and increasing your energy," Webster says.
These everyday strategies might not feel like much fun, but they help prevent you from feeling like you have the energy for nothing but watching Thor: Ragnarok for the eighteenth time. Ertel says that once you've got your daily routines and boundaries in place, then your love of the Avengers and Tessa Thompson can boost your resilience rather than retroactively trying to put out emotional fires.
And yes, you can still set boundaries during the pandemic. "With quarantine, social lives can look very different," Morales says. "Be mindful in noticing if you’re getting 'screentime burnout' when you’re using any of virtual means of socializing and honor when you need to disengage. Give yourself permission to tell people that you’re only up for a 10 or 20 minute Zoom call instead of an hour."
Asserting what you need (and what you don't) can improve your overall wellness even more than TV marathons. A combination of boundaries and bubble baths can elevate your self-care game to boss levels of loving yourself.
Ashley Ertel, L.C.S.W., Talkspace therapist
Diamond Webster, L.M.F.T., psychotherapist
Lillyana Morales, L.M.H.C., MA in Mental Health Counseling, psychotherapist