• Practicing self-care during the pandemic

    I haven’t wanted to write about COVID-19, because it seems like that’s all anyone is talking about, but this pandemic has shown me the value of self-care, and I want to share what’s helping me get through this stressful time.

    First, I talk to a counselor. I started seeing her when I was working in a high stress job, worried about our twin sons with special needs, and concerned about my own mental health. I had talked with counselors in the past when I had problems, but I always stopped when things got better. This time, I decided to stay with it. Instead of having to find a new therapist the next time I was in crisis, I’d maintain a relationship with a counselor who knew me, and think of it as self-care.

    I’ve gotten through a lot with my counselor’s support, from problems at work to challenges with parenting, and made positive changes to improve my health. I quit smoking finally, after a decades-long struggle with cigarettes. I started walking, and I bought a bicycle. I gave up alcohol, which hadn’t been a problem in the past but, following the 2016 election, I could see becoming one. With a nudge from my doctor and a discount offer from my health insurance plan, I joined Weight Watchers and I started to lose weight. Toward the end of last year I saw that I needed to make another change, and I quit working full-time.

    Stories about COVID-19 began to fill the news in February, and the kids’ school closed in March. I felt fortunate to be retired, and free to focus on my family. We’re also fortunate that my husband has continued working, and can do his job from home. I’m thankful now for the self-care habits I’ve developed because I see how by maintaining them, I can maintain my health and my spirits.

    These days I listen to less news, and more music. I always listened to public radio during my daily commute to and from work, but there have been times when I needed to take a break. When the pandemic took over the news, a break was in order. I stay up to date, but I know if I don’t ration my news intake I could listen to COVID coverage all day and that would heighten my anxiety. Instead, I listen to audio books while I’m doing housework, and music when I’m driving, especially music I’m not familiar with. I never listened to much jazz before, and I’ve discovered I like to listen to jazz when I’m driving.

    These days I cook more from scratch, with fresh ingredients, and less from packages. I’m trying new recipes and focusing on maintaining my weight and my family’s health with good nutrition. Now that I’m not rushed and tired from working all day, I enjoy making a meal for the family.

    Sometimes these days, I dress up, even if I don’t have anywhere to go. After I few months I realized I wasn’t wearing most of my clothes, because I was either staying home, or going for a walk or bike ride. The only public places I frequent are the grocery store, post office, and gas station. But it seems a shame to keep things that make me feel good to wear tucked away in drawers. So now I wear jewelry every day, even if it’s just earrings that go with my tee shirt and yoga pants. And occasionally I’ll wear a dress for a Zoom meeting, or a trip to the store.

    These days I schedule time to get out of the house. I wish we had better words to describe the social and travel restrictions in effect in our communities to mitigate spread of the virus, because the ones most commonly used make it sound like we have less freedom than we do. Shutdown, lockdown, stay-at-home order, quarantine… None of these terms fit the situation. I don’t have to stay home all the time. Leaving the house is not only allowed, it’s necessary for my well-being.

    Going for a walk reminds me there’s a world outside my house, and it’s safe to move around in it, to breath the fresh air and watch the clouds. It’s good to see the birds and the squirrels, to notice life going on as it always has. It helps to see other people out too, to notice most are wearing masks, and saying hello and smiling with their eyes. If I listen too much to the news I feel anxious about going out, but if I stay inside too long I feel depressed. I’m thankful for my walking habit because now, if I’m feeling down, I put on my sneakers and go for a walk, and I know it will help me feel better.

    Life has changed in many ways, but the world didn’t grind to a halt because of COVID-19, and getting outside reminds me of that. Riding my bike through the park and seeing people — sitting in the shade with a book, jogging with a dog, or pushing a baby stroller — helps me feel connected with others who are getting the same enjoyment I am from being in nature. Seeing people in small groups — a few friends on folding lawn chairs with six feet of distance between them, or a family setting up with their gear to go fishing in the lake — reminds me that the pandemic doesn’t have to mean an end to recreation. We can go on outings with our families. We can get together with friends, if we do it outside, and wear face masks.

    I’ve tried to get my sons to join me on my walks, without much luck. My counselor tells me all her clients who have teenagers have the same problem. It’s hard to get them away from their electronic devices, and get them outdoors. I’ll keep trying, though, and in the meantime I’ll keep doing it for myself.

      • Carolyn Wyler

      • August 22, 2020 at 10:26 am
      • Reply

      All great ideas to keep sane during this real difficult time. Now with the California fires and not being able to go outside (which is a huge stress reliever for me), I have to find other ways to cope. I like the “dressing up, cooking, listening to music and taking a break from the news ideas, especially since it’s not safe to go outside due to the smoke.

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