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How to Focus on Self-Care During a Pandemic

By Cherilyn Cecchini, MD

In this article:

We are living in unprecedented times, and many of us are experiencing higher levels of stress due to the unknowns surrounding the current pandemic. Most of us have had to modify our lifestyles and regular routines in order to abide by stay-at-home orders that have been put into effect. Recreational activities that may have served as outlets for stress relief are no longer available, making it necessary to be more creative when it comes to managing stressors. 

Many of us are spending long periods of time in one location and for those of us living in urban environments, these locations can be extremely small. Even in small spaces, it is important to create a peaceful and relaxing environment in order to help foster a sense of calm and help relieve stress. 

Here are some ways to focus on self-care during this time.

‌‌‌‌Focus on Self-Care By Setting a Schedule

Maintaining a schedule or set routine often helps to combat stress. If you’re able to create one while in quarantine, even if it differs from your usual one, it can start to help you feel in control. 

For example, if you used to shower in the morning before going to work, continue to practice this. Get dressed in what you would otherwise wear for your workday despite no longer traveling to the office. How you dress impacts self-esteem and splurging on a new outfit every so often is a nice treat that can help boost your general mood. 

Integrate mealtimes as you normally would in order to continue a sense of structure (more on healthy eating below). Build in time for exercise when you otherwise normally would, even if the exercise you’re engaging in looks different than it used to (keep reading for more)!

‌‌‌‌Move Your Body to De-Stress

Exercise is another important tool that many people find useful when looking to de-stress. Utilizing this self-care tool has become more difficult since many athletic centers, gyms and parks remain closed, but you can find other ways to get moving. If you can safely walk or run outside, consider building this into your new routine. Rollerblading or roller-skating is another fun way to get outside and stay active. Biking indoors on a stationary bike or outdoors is another option to consider. 

You can participate in many of these activities alone or with your family members, too! Family play time, dance parties, or any game that requires activity counts as exercise. You can even integrate jumping jacks or push-ups into moments of play or screen time during commercial breaks. 

Yoga is another great option that does not require a lot of space and instructional videos are available online that allow you to work out at home with little room and often no extra equipment. If you do have equipment (free weights, resistance bands, etc.), you may be able to find exercise videos that incorporate these into the workouts that you perform at home. If you are working from home, standing up and simply stretching is a great way to increase circulation throughout your body and help you avoid aches and pains from stiff muscles.

‌‌‌‌Nourish Your Body with Nutritious Meals and Snacks

Maintaining proper nutrition is another important way to combat stress. Since most of us are cooking at home now, it’s a great time to learn simple ways to adopt healthy meals. Healthy eating helps build a strong immune system that fights off illnesses and recovers faster than a weakened immune system.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers various recommendations and tips about how to adopt healthy eating habits. Briefly, it is recommended to avoid sodium when you’re able to, eat high amounts of fiber, avoid trans fats while eating healthy fats in moderation and include a variety of colors on your plate at every meal (this means eating lots of fruits and vegetables). 

‌‌‌‌Pampering Yourself is Not Selfish

It is important to also try to set aside some time for you to do activities that do not require a lot of mental energy and that you still enjoy. For instance, if you love documentaries, carve some time out for yourself to be able to watch one. If you miss going to the spa or the manicurist, recreate this environment at home the best you can. 

Take time to pamper yourself, even if it is only for a few minutes every day or week. Set aside 15-20 minutes to use a fruit-infused face mask that doubles as a scrub. Take a few minutes to lie down with an eye mask, like this one by The Vintage Cosmetic Company, which is filled with beads for hot or cold use to help soothe tired eyes. Give your nails some love, and if you’re missing gel manicures and pedicures, look into gel nail strips for both nails and toenails by Vika Nailjam. Soak in the bathtub with relaxing lavender bath bombs or light fragrant candles to create a calming atmosphere.

‌‌‌‌Make Time for Connection

Be sure that you stay connected with others. Thankfully, this is less challenging than it used to be given the technology that we are privileged to have. Many online applications make it easy to connect with loved ones from afar. Keep in mind, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that for the first 18 months, children have no screen time other than Facetime or Skype with family members. Check in with your family members and friends to see how they’re doing and talk to people you trust about how you are feeling and coping. 

Humor is another great tool that can help relieve stress and laughter is important when it comes to releasing hormones, such as endorphins, which help you feel good. Find a funny video or television program and share it with your friends and family for a good laugh! 

Information and knowledge help to decrease fears and anxiety around unknowns. Sharing accurate information can help others feel less stressed and help you feel more in control about the situation. The CDC offers guidance and resources that are reliable where you can learn more about the pandemic and recent changes or recommendations.

‌‌‌‌More Ways to Incorporate Self-Care into Your Routine 

  • Find your zen: Try creating a “Zen corner” with a few pillows where you can take short breaks during the day and practice deep breathing. There are many online programs available that are free to use and can help you engage in deep breathing for as short as 30 seconds per day. A “calm corner” for children and adolescents can also be soothing and allow young ones to take breaks in a protected, serene space that encourages de-stressing. Anxiety for children and for teens can be especially high and it is important to remember that anxiety sometimes manifests as irritability.
  • Avoid news overload: Taking time away from watching the news periodically is another great way to care for yourself. While it is important to stay educated and knowledgeable about the developing situation, it can be upsetting and overwhelming to hear anxiety-provoking news stories repeatedly throughout the day. For kids and younger teens, it may be helpful to ban the news completely, since many stories are difficult for them to understand and may lead to higher levels of stress. Engage in social media mindfully, as you would with traditional media. Be sure to only use it intentionally and take time to disconnect from it as often as you need to.
  • Get enough sleep: Sleep is another incredibly useful tool that helps decrease stress and anxiety. Be sure to work on implementing healthy sleep hygiene habits for yourself and for your family members. For instance, try to go to sleep at the same time each night and wake up at the same time every morning, including on the weekends. Create a relaxing sleep environment that is dark and quiet and at a comfortable temperature. Avoid screen time, caffeine, large meals, and alcohol before going to sleep.
  • Write it all down: Journaling is another useful way to relieve stress that requires no prior experience–you can simply sit down and write whatever comes to mind (electronically or on paper) or provide yourself with prompts and respond to them in writing. This can be done for as few as five minutes, but longer time can be spent on this and it is a nice way to clear your mind. If you’re able to do it, sitting outside while journaling also allows you to soak up some vitamin D (while wearing sunscreen, of course).
  • Make time for healthy distractions: Reading a book or a novel is another way to ease your mind and provide a distraction away from stress or anxieties you may be experiencing. Crossword puzzles or puzzles in general are other stimulating activities that help occupy your mind. These activities are often also available virtually. Listening to music is another great tool that can help you feel more relaxed. Music can help people cope with emotional or physical needs and can lift self-esteem. Find your favorite songs and create a playlist that you can easily find and listen to during moments of high anxiety or stress.

‌‌‌‌Put Your Own Mask on First

Most importantly, check in with yourself and make sure you’re taking care of and addressing your needs before taking on the needs of others. You don’t want to deplete yourself of resources or wear yourself out during these stressful times. Give yourself permission to have feelings—the full range of them—without feeling guilty. Allow yourself to feel pain, sadness, frustration, or any degree of unhappiness or sorrow that you need to feel. These emotions are appropriate and giving yourself permission to feel them helps you to move on from them rather than carry them with you and have them weigh you down (even subconsciously). 

Many resources and providers have a long list of suggestions when it comes to de-stressing and self-care, but most importantly, find what works best for you. It may not look the same every day or even every hour. Experiment with different approaches and tools and rely on these in moments of stress to help you remain calm and in control. 

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