Add self-care to your COVID-19 defenses
By Karen Kyliuk
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Monday, July 20, 2020
What are you doing to take care of yourself during the pandemic? COVID-19 has profoundly disrupted our lives, affecting the way we work, learn, play and connect with others. Quarantine fatigue has set in, leaving many feeling isolated and alone, while producing a range of strong emotions such as loss, grief, anxiety, anger and fear.
Although these emotions are an understandable and normal response to the pandemic, there is, thankfully, an evidence-informed way we can nurture a sense of calm and balance while countering the psychosocial effects of COVID-19. It is commonly known as self-care.
Simply put, self-care is the practice of taking an active role in protecting your mental, physical and emotional well-being , particularly in times of stress.
Taking daily steps to care for ourselves (and our families and loved ones) helps us adjust to life during the pandemic and builds mental resiliency. In fact, many health promotion specialists suggest that we need to prioritize taking care of ourselves and view self-care as a basic need, not a luxury. For example, in his book Just One Thing, Canada's "Man in Motion" Rick Hansen cites research showing that doing one thing each day tied to self-care can significantly benefit our overall health and well-being.
It is important to note that self-care is not all about bubble baths and spa time. In practical application, self-care means taking time for yourself to do something that restores your energy rather than depleting it. Identifying some options might be as simple as generating a list of things that you enjoy doing that you could incorporate into your routine. Think about what you enjoyed in the past, before COVID-19, that you would be able to do again with some modifications.
Another suggestion is to try out a variety of new self-care activities. When we learn something different our brain creates new neural pathways which are a great way to change our thinking and to have positive distractions from daily stressors. Consider adding new experiences and wellness moments into your day to bolster your stress-busting toolkit.
Next, commit to participating in at least one self-care activity each day (or engaging in several brief moments throughout your day) to rejuvenate and prioritize your well-being. Schedule the time in your calendar if you need to. For example, insert your daily 15, 20 or 30 minute walk into your schedule each morning after your breakfast or coffee break. Writing down your goals will provide added incentive to stay motivated as you track your progress.
Having a self-care plan that is simple, doable and realistic is key. To keep yourself accountable, share your plan with a loved one for added support.
Remember, even if your self-care activities don't look the same as they may have before COVID-19, there are many activities that can be modified to suit our current restrictions while you reap their health benefits. To get you started, here are 12 simple tips from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's Mental Health Promotion Team to explore and build your own COVID-19 wellness plan:
- Go for a walk and notice the trees. Listen to the birds and breathe in the fresh air.
- Engage in an activity or hobby at home that you enjoy (read, listen to music, or create art, for example).
- Use the internet as a tool to learn about something new or interesting.
- Eat healthfully and stay hydrated (try to reduce or avoid alcohol or substance use).
- Take breaks, go for a bike ride, do yoga in your backyard or try some online exercises.
- Cultivate your spirituality (prayer, meditation, reflection) for strength and comfort.
- Practice kindness and reach out to others who are alone such as grandparents or neighbours.
- Reflect on your strengths and how you have coped through difficult times in the past.
- Try to maintain a sense of hopefulness and notice the positive elements throughout your day.
- Stay connected to others (friends and family) in person where it is safe and possible and using technology where it is not.
- Share your feelings with people you trust and support each other.
- To calm yourself, use grounding techniques such as deep breathing throughout your day.
A wealth of mental health resources can also be found online at sharedhealthmb.ca, including a handy self-care pocket card at sharedhealthmb.ca/files/self-care-during-covid-19-pocket-card.pdf.
Lastly, it is important to work hard to stay in the moment - especially when things start to feel out of control. How are you feeling right here, right now? Listen to your body as well. If you're feeling sluggish, check-in – you may need to get moving, or give yourself a 20 minute nap - it could be a change of scenery that gets you going again if you move outside for a bit. This personal awareness, combined with brief and intentional practice of self- care strategies, is an effective way to refuel and refresh yourself.
Self-care is protective, restorative and, most importantly, can help us stay healthy and well despite the pressures the pandemic presents. So take a moment to breathe and to remind yourself that things will not always be this way. By practicing self-care today, and incorporating it into your "new normal" going forward, you will further build on your ability to cope with whatever life throws your way.
Karen Kyliuk, BSW, RSW, is the Resource & Education Facilitator for WRHA Mental Health. This column was published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Monday, July 20, 2020.