Self-care can be defined as the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being, in particular during periods of stress. As we navigate the time of coronavirus, many of us are experiencing an unprecedented amount of anxiety, overwhelm and unpredictability. Neither our partners, our parents, our doctors nor any experts on TV know for certain the scope and severity of this pandemic.
If you have been diligent about self-care practices and positive habits that support you in managing your day with calm, focused energy, then you have a much better chance of putting your best foot forward now. However, if you have been in a daily, weekly or monthly habit of skipping the practices and activities that make you feel grounded and at peace, the ones that build your energy and feed your soul, then this is going to sting.
When we are running on a low or empty tank and we get hit with something as stressful as coronavirus, we can quickly come unglued. It’s hard to hold it together when we lack a foundation of self-care and resilience.
It may sound hopeless, but it is absolutely not. Even those on their A-game are being challenged like never before. I hope you can see this time as a call to action, this is an opportunity to turn around the I’ll-get-to-that-when-I-have-more-time train we all have been riding at one time or another. Necessity is the mother of invention and sometimes the circumstances in our life have to hit hard for us to get the wake-up call. So here it is.
Let’s finally, once and for all, prioritize our well-being. Let’s put ourselves at the top of the list and forever accept that we cannot pour from an empty cup. Let’s stop putting off those simple practices that make us feel strong, powerful and connected to our best selves. Not because we now have all this extra time and money on our hands - which most of us do not - but because it is essential. Let’s get going, get working and get what we can control under control so we can be steady and grounded in ourselves. This, and only this, is how we can be a light and resource for others.
Self-care will always be a radical concept. Committing to live in a way that values our own well-being and peace over the many other enticing options that come our way daily happens for one reason: We get sick and tired of being sick and tired. We decide to step off the hamster wheel, take a breath and face our life, our family, our friends, our boss and our calendar and say, “THIS, this right here (pointing at yourself), this is important!”
The opposite of self-care is burnout - and burnout is real. It can show up as health issues that are challenging to manage. Chronic pain, fatigue, insomnia, hormonal imbalances, auto-immune conditions, the list goes on. If you have something like this, you know it is easily exacerbated when you bump your health to the bottom of the list. We can all recall times we had to burn the candle at both ends, when the go-go-go did not let up for weeks, months, sometimes years on end. Many of us come out of this with health concerns we can no longer ignore. If you are in this camp, struggling with difficult to manage symptoms, anxiety, low energy, whatever burnout looks like for you, then you know that prioritizing self-care practices at this stage in the game will, absolutely will, have an impact on how you feel.
Self-care seems very simple on the surface. Just take care of yourself already! But it is never that easy. Self-care is tricky for two reasons. One, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. What I choose to do to fill my cup and nourish my soul will be different from what you do. Self-care is nuanced and what may work for you at one phase in your life may not make sense in the next. It takes some digging. We need to be open to trying different practices and routines and then consciously note their effect on our health and our lives. Secondly, and perhaps most frustrating for some of us is the fact that self-care requires a certain level of consistency to truly be a game (life) changer. This is not a one and done deal. It doesn’t mean you have to do the same routine day in and day out, but you do have to return to prioritizing your well-being regularly. My meditation teacher once described daily meditation as making deposits into a bank account you don’t collect dividends from for years. Self-care is similar. Often you will feel an immediate effect, but what you can really bank on is that there is a cumulative sense of well-being when taking care of yourself is a way of life rather than the occasional one-off.
If this sounds overwhelming, I invite you to see this not as a demand on your time, but instead an opportunity to playfully explore what feels good. Throw it all into the mix and see what sticks. Try on an evening gratitude practice where a few times a week you write about something that surprised you during the day that you appreciated. Invest in some gorgeous tarot cards and take five minutes in the morning to pull a daily card to give you insight and direction. Learn a few breathwork techniques that are proven to elicit your relaxation response and help you navigate stressful triggers. Commit to walking in nature or spending time in a park once a week and try forest bathing where you mindfully take it all in. Go out of your way to connect with a friend, knowing that even just a heartfelt text can lift your mood.
Need more direction? Take one weekend morning, light a candle, grab a journal, ask yourself these questions and then jot down what comes your way.
What would make my body feel strong, supple and energized?
What would make my mind feel centered, calm and able to respond skillfully to what comes my way?
What can I do to feel aligned with something bigger? When do I feel connected and at home in the world?
These are your cues, this is your direction. Take it, run with it, enjoy it and know that a life where you feel strong, connected and at ease is a radical life worth fighting for.
Emily Olson, E-RYT, PTA is a health educator, yoga therapist & teacher and Physical Therapist Assistant. In 2016, she opened Ripple Wellness with her husband, Jeff. A multi-disciplinary natural health clinic, Ripple offers acupuncture, massage, naturopathic medicine, nutrition and yoga with a unique commitment to community outreach and education. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @ripplewellness
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