February 22, 2022

Optimizing Self-care for you: Self-care during the pandemic

Self-care, self-monitoring, self-help, self-love – while the terminology may change, it is important to understand the general concept of taking care of ourselves. The pandemic has changed the way we live, at the very least for the foreseeable future. We face increased isolation, the inability to partake in hobbies, and the increased propagation of fear on the news and social media. Even if we somehow find the time to step away from extended virtual shifts at work, what is there to do? How do we find new innovative ways to adapt to this vastly different landscape? A simple but effective solution is by stepping up our self-care routines. Let us take the first steps to facing this predicament by exploring the concept of self-care, what it means, and how we can effectively partake in it during a global pandemic.

Ostensibly simple, yet unclear in its precise definition, the idea of self-care can be somewhat difficult to grasp. Without a clear understanding of what self-care means as well as how it works, we are effectively “shooting in the dark”. A careful perusal of the research literature on self-care will provide you with over 100 distinct definitions of the term. A quick Google search would provide you with additional ways to conceptualize this construct. So where do we start? Among the vast majority of definitions of self-care, there tends to be at least one of the following two elements emphasized: the first is caring for oneself when you are not functioning optimally. The second is partaking in pleasurable activities in a proactive, protective manner. In this second case, the goal is to help ward off illness or prevent poor functioning. Focusing on these two pillars of self-care provides us with a solid foundation for developing an effective self-care plan during the pandemic.

You likely are already engaging in a self-care routine. Unless intentional effort as well as a clear strategy have been put into place, it is probably not yielding the results you want. Or maybe the pandemic ruined your perfect routine. Either way, the words “effort” and “strategy” can be off-putting. Thankfully, there are a number of ways to integrate effort and strategy into your self-care routine. For example, everyday activities such as listening to music or simple at-home exercise can be effective forms of self-care when done correctly. This is not to say there is an incorrect way to listen to music, it is more to say there are more effective ways to do so for the purposes of self-care. Let us take these two common activities and see how we can develop effective self-care plans around them.

Many people listen to music while doing simple tasks, when they are feeling down, or simply want a “boost” in mood or energy. People may go for a run “whenever they are able to”. In these instances, self-care is being controlled by the current mood of the individual as opposed to influencing it. How can we avoid this common misstep? It is actually rather straightforward – by introducing a little bit of structure and consistency. Active music listening combined with a mindfulness element is one way to elevate this activity into an effective form of self-care. This entails consciously attending to music (as opposed to passively listening to it while engaging in other tasks). This technique has been demonstrated to promote relaxation and improved mood. As little as 20 minutes of music listening with mindful breathing can reasonably be done daily at a fixed time (e.g., upon waking) to help set the tone for the day.
When it comes to exercise as self-care, it is easy to overcomplicate it. Realistic physical goals that are pragmatic and can be continued over time are ideal. For example, one physical exercise per day may be a good start for many people (e.g., going for a run, doing a set of push-ups, or a set of sit-ups). Switching between the exercise every few days is another way to make it more appealing. Remember, exercise for self-care purposes is different from that of exercise for a fitness class. That is not to say a fitness class can’t be your self-care, but it likely would not be everyday. This flexibility to do quick indoor weightless activities eliminates some of the potential reasons for not exercising. Set a specific time that will generally work but be flexible with yourself. When it comes to exercise as self-care, a key element is accountability. A novel way to address this that is pandemic specific involves the use of social media: form a group chat! Find several committed friends who are open to sending each other daily messages indicating the successful completion of their daily exercise. An optional inclusion is a weekly half-hour social call. This setup is allows for physical and relational self-care needs to be addressed all in one plan.

A final COVID friendly inclusion to your self-care routine involves employing mindfulness to enhance your engagement with the environment. Pick your favourite chore – for me, this task would be washing the dishes – and do it mindfully! There are many free videos available to help you with this. Ideally, this task can be done daily around the same time. There is specific research evidence supporting the effectiveness of dishwashing as a self-care activity, however, doing almost any activity in a mindful manner can increase both the cognitive and emotional benefits. In my life, a clean, clear kitchen allows my wife and I to get breakfast together much more quickly for our 21-month-old son. A fed child is often a happy child, and a happy child usually permits parents to have a smooth morning routine!

If you do any general reading on self-care, it will likely implore you to engage in self-care to help you better show up for others. I would contend that showing up for ourselves during this climate demands greater attention. Your self-care plan should be flexible. It should be enforced with discipline, but also with compassion – compassion for yourself. Think of these suggestions as guidelines, not hard and fast rules. One takeaway is that each activity has a designated time, but with some allowance for deviation. For me mindful music time is in the morning, exercise is in the evening before dinner, and mindful dishes just before bed. The activities are spaced throughout the day, are not incredibly time consuming, and are conducive to my lifestyle. Ultimately, your self-care plan should be optimized for your lifestyle. It should facilitate your goals and most importantly, it should both maintain and enhance your well-being. Does this all seem overwhelming? Therapy can be an effective means to help personalize your self-care plan for you. Click here to book an appointment with one of our Mental Health professionals today!