Over the last several months, our lives have changed in drastic ways. Whether you are on the front lines imaging COVID patients, a health care professional facing furlough, a manager having to cut jobs, a student struggling to complete program requirements or an educator scrambling to teach remotely, these changes can cause increased anxiety and stress. Studies show that while a career in health care can be very fulfilling and rewarding, even outside of a pandemic, health care professionals are often the worst in terms of taking care of themselves.
The first step to success when practicing self-care is to make a plan. All situations are different and each of our self-care plans will be different too. You may find you have extra time on your hands or your workload may have increased drastically. Either way, it is important to first acknowledge the turbulence, but attempt to stick with the normal. If you are faced with extra time, make a commitment to use the extra time for self-care. If you feel like you don’t have time, block out time on your schedule as a reminder and take advantage of any gaps in your day even if it is only a few minutes.
Here are a few self-care tips which may be beneficial in the midst of the pandemic.
1. Exercise – Get Outside!
Physical activity can help to reduce both stress and anxiety. Exercise also enables us to better cope with adverse situations. Morning exercise which includes natural light can help to control our natural body clock. Exercise during the day can break up sit time if your job requires you to be at a desk or computer for numerous hours a day. Taking a hike or a bike ride with friends or family will allow for fresh air, a daily dose of Vitamin D and quality time with those you care about.
2. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet to fuel your body
Properly nourishing your body with high quality protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates can improve both your energy level and your mood. Rather than diet, focus on balance. Many people find the 80/20 rule to help them maintain balance with healthy eating. This rule advises you to stick to a nutritious diet 80% of the time while allowing yourself to indulge 20% of the time.
3. Practice mindfulness & meditation
Whether you chose to practice a quick 2 – 3 minute pause or a 10 minute body scan, mindfulness can help to promote stronger focus, memory & problem solving skills. Studies show mindfulness can also help reduce stress and anxiety and cultivate joy. If you are new to mindfulness, start slow by checking out free mindfulness videos on YouTube. Apps for your phone can be helpful as your practice expands.
Our bodies need sleep in order to function. Studies show that 7 – 8 hours of sleep is the most beneficial when it comes to our health. Lack of sleep can affect both our mental & physical health. By keeping a consistent routine, getting up at the same time every day and setting a regular bed time, we can help our bodies to regulate sleep. Even if you no longer have set work hours, continue to set your alarm for the same time every morning, go to bed at the same time every night and set a nightly sleep routine which includes turning off your phone one hour before you go to bed for everything except emergencies.
5. Family/Friend time
Depending on your situation, you may be experiencing either an abundance of family/friend time or missing valuable time with the ones you love due to extended work hours. In either situation, it’s not the amount of time that matters, it is the quality of the time you spend with your loved ones. Quality time with family and friends can be focused on your health as well. Consider making meals together, playing games or going for a hike after dinner. These activities will allow for quality time while also focusing on your health.
6. Limit Social media/Screen time
Keeping up with the news is important as plans and regulations related to COVID-19 are changing by the minute. Watching the news and scrolling through your social media feed can also be overwhelming. Stick to a source you trust to provide the necessary information. Be cautious of information on social media if you are not sure of the source. Unplugging from or limiting social media and screen time can help us be more present while also improving productivity. The ideal amount of screen time for each person is hard to determine. The goal is to find the right balance between screen-based and non-screen activities.
It’s important to remember, life is a marathon, not a sprint. These uncertain times will pass. By making the most of uncertain times hopefully we can make our “new normal” a “better normal”.