Self-care from pandemic times to the best of times

Posted on June 10, 2020 at 6:00 am

By Melissa Rhoades

As counterintuitive as it may sound, self-care during a pandemic is basically the same as self-care at any other time.

A saying sometimes attributed to Dolly Parton—but actually dating back to at least 1859—sums up the situation nicely:

“We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.”

Perhaps the hardest part of experiencing any type of change, whether positive or negative, is that each of us can only do so much to control our situations. Most of the time, all we can control is our own thoughts and actions.

This may feel like a small thing, but it’s actually huge. It’s empowering to realize that each of us has control over our responses to situations—even COVID-19. And when we take control of our own response, we simultaneously lighten the load for those who live and work with us.

Regardless of whether you’re a front-line essential employee, work-from-home warrior, entrepreneur reopening for business, person persevering through unemployment, someone grieving the loss of a loved one, or someone otherwise affected by the novel coronavirus, self-care is something you can do to adjust your sails for a relatively smoother ride—both now and once communities have fully reopened.

Best yet, self-care can take place anywhere. It’s part of the things you do at work, home, and everywhere in between. It can include activities that take 30 seconds or 30 years.

But what exactly is self-care? Perhaps it’s best to first clarify what self-care is not.

Self-care is not a substitution for care from medical professionals. If you are ill or in crisis, please seek help from medical professionals and/or crisis resources.

Now for a positive definition. According to Merriam-Webster, healthcare in general consists of “efforts made to maintain or restore physical, mental, or emotional well-being…” and self-care is defined specifically as these efforts “provided by oneself often without the consultation of a medical professional.”

Astronaut Anne McClain expands on this definition in An Astronaut’s Tips for Living in Space – Or Anywhere. She explains self-care as “keeping track of how healthy you are on psychological and physical levels … [including] hygiene, managing your time and your stuff, getting sleep, and maintaining your mood.”

McClain lists self-care as one of five key skills needed to “create a healthy culture for living and working remotely in small groups.” This points out that self-care affects more than just the self. It actually has a relational component.

You don’t have to be headed to the International Space Station to find something useful in McClain’s “Astronaut’s Tips.” It’s a great resource for anyone living in close quarters, whether you live with family, loved ones, or friends.

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh also discusses the social aspect of self-care, including this quote from his book How to Love:

“If we take good care of ourselves, we help everyone.

We stop being a source of suffering to the world,

and we become a reservoir of joy and freshness.”

Of course, no one lives in a state of perpetual joy and freshness. But when we take good care of ourselves, not only do we feel better, we also make it easier for others to live and work with us.

It’s a win-win situation.

Generally speaking, when people talk about self-care, they’re referring to intentional choices that help maintain a healthy life. This can include cooking and eating healthful meals, maintaining a fitness regimen, drawing doodles, taking bubble baths, practicing deep breathing, scheduling fun time with family and friends, or even exploring the importance of dancing like an idiot.

Part of the beauty of self-care is that it comes with infinite variation. That’s the “self” part of the equation. You get to decide what works for you.

If you would like to explore books on self-care, all you need is a library card and an internet connection to browse over 300 digital titles in OverDrive, including eBooks and audiobooks for everyone—from parents to athletes to witches. For even more options, see our curated Reclaim Your Chill reading list on OverDrive.

Self-care topics and activities range from yoga, meditation, and acupressure to cooking, decluttering, and simply learning to relax. Additional titles can be found in our hoopla collection of digital self-care books.

Back in mid-May I took a straw poll of Facebook friends, asking “What’s something you’re doing to maintain self-care (physical &/or mental) during the pandemic?” Twenty-seven respondents listed over 42 activities they’ve participated in during lockdowns in their communities. Answers included crocheting, playing video games, learning how to play musical instruments, waxing one’s own eyebrows, and eating “our third Costco-sized tub of sour cream.”

The most frequently-mentioned activity in the poll was walking/hiking, followed by gardening, exercise/fitness, and writing, respectively. Tied for fifth place were meditation and reading.

Of course, this data is merely anecdotal. My friends represent only a tiny slice of the country’s demographic, and an even tinier sliver of the world’s. Nevertheless, their answers suggest the healthful power of nature and physical movement as well as the restorative power of tapping into one’s creativity.

While exploring methods of self-care, keep in mind that balance is key. It’s normal to have to negotiate, for example, between the physical need to limit fatty foods with the psychological satisfaction of eating a Costco-sized tub of sour cream. The goal is to find your personal alchemy, a combination of discipline and indulgence that works for you.

Part of this balance consists of making time for self-care amid busy schedules. As McClain and Hanh point out, self-care can be viewed as a relational responsibility, not just an optional activity to consider on rare occasions when things slow down. That’s why time management is a key aspect of self-care too.

Luckily, small restorative gestures can fit into even the tiniest slivers of time. For example, if you’re feeling stressed, relief can come from something as simple as taking 30 seconds between tasks to close your eyes, breathe deep, and focus on each rejuvenating breath as your lungs slowly rise and fall.

Here’s a challenge for us all: Let’s continue to develop and practice self-care routines. That way, the next time the winds change, we’ll be even more adept at adjusting our sails.

Since all life consists of change, this ability to adjust remains useful whether we’re experiencing pandemic times or the best of times.

How have you been adjusting your sails during the pandemic? Feel free to share something you do to maintain self-care in the comments.

OverDrive booklist Reclaim Your Chill
Melissa Rhoades

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