During these challenging and unknown times, it can be difficult to focus on our own mental health and self-care when our very survival is at the forefront of most of our minds. However, it is important to remember that self-compassion and care is of the utmost importance more now than ever before. Increased levels of stress affect our immune system and overall well-being, which is just another reason to stay sane as best as possible! Many of us are on the front lines, working days and nights to keep humanity safe. And while others of us are at home also assisting in those efforts, there are many opportunities for self-care, self-discovery, and learning.
We all respond to stress differently and in fact, our brains are individually wired with how we react to challenging situations and trauma triggering us to either “fight” or “flight”. This evolutionary survival response, and the survival tactics that come with each, lead to upsurges in the three main stress hormones: adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine. An excess of any stress hormone is not good for the body for persistent or extended periods of time and some tend to deal with stress by fighting and others by fleeing a challenge.
These two responses evolved from a time when our ancestors faced imminent and life threatening situations such as a lion on the plains of the Sahara or an invasion of an enemy tribe. They had to choose whether to stay and battle it out, or run for their lives. Nowadays we don’t typically have to worry about a lion eating us or an impending tribe attack. However, the instincts that we were gifted long ago have since developed and adapted to modern times and relevant stressors that are now considered to be challenging like news of illness, a dog barking, or an argument with a friend.
Those two common reactions of fight or flight still remain psychologically, and so when chased by a dog down the street, one might decide to stop and ward the dog off with a stick or to run for his or her life. Similarly, facing the threat of a deadly virus and depending on your role and capability, you might choose to embrace reality and take all precautionary measures to keep yourself safe by aiding in the efforts to get rid of the virus (or fight). While others, on the contrary, might choose to escape the issue by fleeing, perhaps shutting down, and avoiding the outside world altogether (flight).
Deal with Stress:
Understanding your evolutionary tendencies towards stress and the way that you deal with challenges can help you to solutionize when it comes to ridding yourself of stress and anxiety. So, if you are feeling particularly stressed or anxious about the current situation, think about what best helps you to relax. Is it a nice, steamy, bubble bath? A good book on the couch with dessert? Yoga and meditation? Whatever it is, make sure to factor in time each day to exclusively care for yourself and focus on de-stressing.
Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert might shape how you deal with having to stay home, away from others, and in your own space. As an introvert, you might be totally fine with the current restrictions and even happy to have some alone time away from social pressures and big crowds. If this is the case, then enjoy your time!
As an extrovert, you might find the current circumstances a tad bit challenging, especially if you are away from family and feeling isolated. Whichever camp you find yourself in, remember that stress is a physiological response, and so that means that we can use physiological tools to rid ourselves of it! Excellent stress reducing tools include: mindfulness meditation, yoga, exercise, walks, engaging in nature (gardening, hikes [in safe and distance approved areas of course]) and more.
Take it one step further, and go beyond simply dealing with stress to taking this time to enhance yourself and your well being. No matter your personality type, there is a way to take care of yourself. Whether it be through adventure, social interaction, or spending time with family, there are ways to adapt how you coped or spent quality time before the current situation to now. Essentially, the goal is to lower stress levels and increase well being; so it might not mean that you need to take a last minute flight to Spain in order to feel happy or relieved. There are other very simple, easy and affordable ways to engage in and enhance self care from home.
Some of us might gravitate towards binge watching Netflix on the couch all night, waking up in the late hours of the noon feeling groggy and out of sorts. It is okay to embrace whichever relaxation methods work for you; just be wary of creating bad habits and remember that self care includes health in forms of eating well, sleeping adequately, and engaging in stimulating and varied activities. (In other words, everything in moderation!)
As a social butterfly, perhaps you are used to getting drinks with the girls every Saturday night. Quarantinis can also be a thing! Utilize our fabulous technology to gather all the gals on Zoom or Google Hangouts, dress in your finest PJs, and have some samosas on the couch. As a couple, this is an excellent time to focus on your relationship and quality time together. For some, there might be challenges that come with being together 24/7. But there is a wide array of opportunities to remind yourselves of what is important; your health, well-being and relationship. Test out some different in-home date nights, like homemade pizza and movie night. Or order some scented candles and massage oils online and go for a spa night.
As an adventurer, perhaps you miss the freedom of being on the go and the ability to travel whenever and wherever you please. Maybe try to use this time to find adventure in the more simple aspects of life that surround you each and every day, in your backyard, your walks around the block, the unread books on your shelf, or that online class you’ve always wanted to sign up for. As a mom or a caretaker, now might be the craziest time you’ve ever experienced! Perhaps you are overjoyed about spending all day with the little ones, or it could be that you are pulling out your hair waiting for nap time. Whatever the case may be, make sure that you take some time for yourself, to focus on yourself, and to tend to your needs. From five extra minutes in the shower to watching your favorite show for an hour in the evening; do your best to work with your circumstances and those around you to make sure that you get some “me time”.
We are facing a time where we have been so abruptly forced to focus on ourselves, those closest and nearest to us, and the minute details of everyday life. It is crucial that we stay safe and healthy physically. But it is important that we pay attention to what is going on inside ourselves as well, on a mental, psychological and emotional level. For a few hours to even a few minutes each day, please make sure to show yourself some love.