Some days its hard to remember that quarantine is temporary. Having all sense of normalcy stripped away is incredibly challenging. While working from home it is hard to remember the basics at times, which seems counter intuitive. If there is so much more time, and so much less to do- why does the weight of it all feel so heavy? Is it the impending sense of doom that arises every time I scroll my Facebook feed or watch the news? Is it the masks and gloves we see when we are forced to go out? Or the to-do list that has continuously grown because we are home, looking at everything we could do? The fear and uncertainty that seems to be building everywhere, definitely does not help. Is it the overwhelming empathy for those who have been laid off, business owners going under, and most importantly those who are not “Safe at home”, whether due to COVID19 or domestic violence during this time. Sometimes practicing positivity may not be enough to work through what we are experiencing. Sometimes we need to stop at take care of ourselves. I ensure my fundamental needs are met, and boundaries are created through a self care practice.
The term self care has become a popular part of our culture. Spa days, time at the salon, working out at the gym, getting a facial, doing your nails- all of these things have been considered self care. Yet, when you break down the definition of self care it really doesn’t seem to be made up of these luxuries. In fact, in modern medicine self care and preventive medicine can align very closely. Self care means taking an active role in protecting ones own well being, including mental and physical health. Self care can be used as a preventative measure during times of stress to avoid a flare in mental health or physical symptoms. It can also be used as a maintenance practice to preserve the current state of ones own mental or physical health.
There have been times in my life where I thought self care meant I needed to treat myself. So, I would indulge in retail therapy. This left me feeling better temporarily, but spending money outside of my budget left me feeling disappointed and discouraged in the long run.
Finding the right self care practice means finding a practice that will make you feel better not only in the short term, but long term as well. It is crucial that the self care practice you choose aligns with your goals and values. It should be a practice that should bring you closer to the life you want to live, and the person you want to be. Each decision we make either bring us closer to the life we want to live, or further away.
It took me a while to realize that I needed to start at the very basics of my self care, and not sporadically engage in indulgent behavior. One of the basics I needed my self care to consist of was taking my medication for my autoimmune disease consistently. This meant I needed to develop a reminder system to take my shot every 12 days, and a reminder system a week before my injection is due, so I could order it. Before this I was unintentionally waiting until my body told me I needed it again, which meant I was already experiencing symptoms that were disrupting my life.
I also used to consider a night out with friends self care, it was a social interaction, it was a desired activity, and it elevated stress. Yet, I needed to find balance and set parameters. Seeing friends was great, but spending too much money at happy hour or milking a hang over the next day brought me further from my goals and also left me feeling disappointed. I started to realize that the more boundaries I began to set to protect myself and take an active role in self care, the more some of the people in my life wanted to push back.
At first, the guilt from setting the boundary was strong enough that with a little push back, I would break it. However, after holding a place for that guilt and exploring it, I realized that I felt more violated than guilty. I also realized that just because I felt guilty did not mean that I was guilty. The realization that individuals pushing back to my boundaries was indeed a violation made me feel as though I had all the ground in the world to stand on to protect my boundary, and not let guilt dictate my decisions. I learned that saying “No” is a complete sentence, and that at the end of the day my health needs to come before all else. Putting yourself first can come with a price, but it is a price we must pay sometimes to live a healthy life. Not everyone will support this journey, and sometimes we must let go, detach, and flow.
The self care started out slow, at first it was indulgent behavior to escape my unbalanced life. I was working far too many hours at a job that did not respect any of my boundaries. I was exhausted, over extended and depleted. So, on my days off I would marathon sleep, over eat, over spend, shower for 45 minutes and self indulge to make up for how deeply I was neglecting my needs. Going back to work was emotionally and physically exhausting.
Eventually, I began to recognize how dysregulated I felt when I wasn’t getting enough sleep or able to do some important things that leave me feeling fulfilled and rejuvenated. I realized that I was trying to patch a leak with a band-aid, and I needed to make myself a priority. I wanted to get out of the place where self care was a last resort used to restore some sanity, so I can continue neglecting myself for my employer and responsibilities as a parent.
I did not know much at the time, but I did know what left me feeling dysregulated. So, I started there. I started with the things I knew created vulnerabilities to my physical and emotional health, and I began to list them. Eventually, I realized that for me self care had a lot less to do with luxuries and more to do with time management, sleep management, medication management, nutrition management, physical movement, hygiene and boundaries. At the very core I needed to take a shower no matter how sick I felt, I needed to take medications as directed, have a healthy sleep schedule, and meals that were rich in nutrients that I ate regularly, some type of physical activity, and protective boundaries to create a space for these things. Without this solid foundation, my physical and mental health crumbled in the past.
So, I set out to create a regular practice that implemented these changes in my life. For me, self care isn’t an expensive gym membership, although maybe one day it will be. For now, self care is at the basics, especially during this time. It is of the utmost importance that now, more than ever we take care of ourselves and protect ourselves.
I began to make sleep a self care priority and set boundaries around it, this act alone brought so much balance to my life. This meant taking an active role in protecting my sleep schedule, which included setting boundaries with my employer. This was not an easy task, but I stood my ground and asserted my needs. I no longer allowed myself to be pushed into shifts that put me into a 60-90 hour work week, like I did previously, or that involved staying up all night. Setting this boundary opened up space for me to address other things that left my physical and mental health vulnerable.
With the extra time and a consistent schedule for the first time in close to a year, I was able to implement more self care into my life. This time, as preventative measure rather than a crisis response. I had already successfully implemented consistent medication management and sleep schedule, and practiced setting boundaries with my employer. Eventually, my self care fundamentals became habits interwoven into my everyday life.
We live in a society that fully supports us neglecting ourselves. We are pushed through schooling and our careers with little to no work life balance, as a result the United States is one of the most overweight and overmedicated nations in the world. We are in a perpetual state of busy, leaving little or no time to take care of ourselves, after everything else is accounted for. We need to change the way we think about self care. It should not be an act to complete after your to do list is finished, if you still have energy.
Self care needs to be a priority. It needs to be a foundation that is protected with strong boundaries. Meaning, we allow ourselves the space to fulfill the commitments we have made to ourselves.
Now that I have implemented fundamental self care into my regular routine to the point of making them habits, I have set different self care goals. I consider these the fun ones, I make it a point to get outside and walk daily, I write everyday and paint every week. Now that my self care is more than a crisis response I am able to dedicate time to the things that set my soul on fire.