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COVID-19, Mental Health

Getting Creative with Self-Care During COVID-19

Getting creative with self-care during covid-19
Author
Ashleigh Golden, PsyD

Dr. Ashleigh Golden is a licensed psychologist and an expert in cognitive-behavioral treatments for anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and sleep disorders. Dr. Golden completed a 2-year sub-specialized postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for OCD and Anxiety-Related Disorders at the Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute. Dr. Golden has supervised teams of clinicians across the country in intensive outpatient and partial hospital settings. She has a special interest for working with people who are ambivalent about accessing or participating in evidence-based therapy.

Why is self-care so important right now?


The CDC recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major effect on our lives. Many of us are worried about our own and our loved ones’ health, our financial security, the political situation, and social inequity. Public health measures like social distancing are crucial for minimizing the spread of COVID-19, but can trigger feelings of stress, anxiety, isolation, and loneliness.  

During times of uncertainty, it’s normal to experience overwhelming emotions, like fear, anxiety, anger, and sadness, acknowledges the Mayo Clinic — which can in turn set off feelings of helplessness, discouragement, and a lack of control. In uncertain times, it’s vital to take care of yourself and your mental health, so you can best take care of yourself and your loved ones.

You might have already tried out some helpful self-care tips, like the ones recommended by the International OCD Foundation:

  • Being gentle with yourself and those around you
  • Keeping calm through mindfulness meditation
  • Monitoring social media consumption and limiting your COVID-19 coverage intake to trust sources and a specific daily time period
  • Setting routines for you and your loved ones to encourage consistency, especially around daily activities (schoolwork, chores, exercise, sleep, and fun/relaxing activities)
  • Reaching out to your social support network through technology like Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts
  • Focusing on controlling what you can, and letting go of the rest
  • Recognizing your thoughts and feelings
  • Creating new healthy habits, like walking outside

If you’ve been practicing some of these tried-and-true tips for the past several months, you might be feeling like it’s time to shake things up a bit.

Here are a couple creative approaches to making sure your self-care is front and center during COVID-19.

Checking in — with yourself and your feelings


In hectic times like these, we may avoid recognizing the loss of the way things were before COVID-19. We may neglect to process or vent our grief or sadness about various losses, like getting together with friends and family, going to the gym, or gathering in our place of worship. Harvard Health recommends taking time to check in with yourself, listening to what your mind and body need. Tune into your emotions. Checking in with yourself can help you honor any sense of loss while staying centered amidst the flurry of news and guidelines.

Grief, but also gratitude


While it’s essential to acknowledge your grief, it’s best not to rehearse the daily loss of life and routine that you were so familiar with, notes Harvard Health. Instead, recognize the good in your life — your family, friends, health, food, shelter, a sunny day — by practicing gratitude. You can also take a moment to notice your gratitude for what other people are doing to help you and your community. Gratitude practice might look different for everyone. You might keep a gratitude journal or say grace with your family before dinner. Whichever you choose, this practice can help you flip your frame from negative to positive.

Building a self-care toolkit


The International OCD Foundation notes that many successful self-care techniques have a sensory aspect to them (sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing), although this might look different for each person. It can be helpful to identify at least one strategy for each of your five senses:

  • Touch: Feeling a soft blanket or stuffed animal
  • Taste: Having a favorite drink or food
  • Sight: Looking at a photo of a loved one or from a nice vacation
  • Hearing: Making and listening to your favorite songs
  • Smell: Lighting and taking in an essential oil diffuser or scented candle

You can also draw on more than one sense per strategy; for example, coloring in a coloring book would engage both touch and sight, and putting on a scented lotion would engage both smell and touch.

Zooming past Zoom fatigue


Connecting with other people is a vital part of being human. We depend on other people to help us cope with stressors, which helps us maintain our mental health. Physical distancing can make it challenging to get our social needs met. Many of us have creatively turned to video platforms like Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, and Google Hangouts to connect with our loved ones.

But many of us are also feeling burnt out on socializing in this way. If plain old video conversations no longer hold the same allure for you, Harvard Health suggests adding some spice through a Zoom or FaceTime dinner. Invite family, friends, or colleagues and sit down for a meal together (for extra bonding, you could prep the meal together too.)

For working parents, Harvard Health recommends freeing up time by asking extended family members (aunts, uncles, grandparents) to teach your kids a weekly lesson online. 

The Mayo Clinic offers external strategies for maintaining social connection, which you can think of as innovative ways to communicate risk-free through your five senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, sound):

  • Use tech (beyond Zoom or Facetime chats) to stay in touch with loved ones, such as making voice calls instead of sending texts. You could also consider a multiplayer app game or a platform that lets you and your loved ones watch movies together.
  • Rather than just watching TV, play board games, do puzzles, or collaborate on an indoor project with the people you live with.
  • Cook a family meal or dessert recipe that reminds you of loved ones you can’t visit right now, and then call them to tell them about it.
  • Process your thoughts and feelings by writing in a journal, which can also serve as a record for future generations,

In addition to external strategies, the Mayo Clinic suggests some internal strategies for maintaining connection. These techniques will help you foster a shared sense of meaning to connect you to your community through your shared values and experiences:

  • Observe that you are participating in a common act of humanity by social distancing. This can make you feel more connected to the people around you.
  • Spend a moment on what protecting your community means to you. What value does this embody for you, and how does it make you feel? Experience the feeling in your mind and body of living out your community values.
  • Notice that you do not live in isolation, even if you are living alone. Your choices influence the lives of people in your community, which influence the lives of people in nearby communities, and so on.
  • Think of loved ones whom you are keeping safe by social distancing, and how you are in turn keeping people they know safe.

Beyond the occasional Zoom call,the Mayo Clinic suggests regular, scheduled check-ins rather than impromptu calls to give you something to look forward to. Blood drives and making donations of time, supplies, and money to local charities can also help you feel more connected. The International OCD Foundation also recommends picking up items for a high-risk neighbor if you happen to be going on a trip to the grocery store (while following hygiene and social distancing guidelines, of course.) Helping other people can go a long way toward helping yourself.

Don’t forget about using social media in a positive, active way to boost your feelings of social connection. Yale University suggests creating a podcast, blog, or Instagram post about your experience. The International OCD Foundation reminds us to share funny YouTube videos and hopeful messages with loved ones. Spreading positivity to others in our social network can make someone else’s day — and their reaction can make you feel good, too.

This too shall pass


In times of great uncertainty, it’s easy for our thoughts to focus on the worst possible outcome. We might worry that social distancing measures may go on forever, and this can feel frightening. The International OCD Foundation reminds us to tell ourselves that this is a new — but temporary — normal. The pandemic will come to an end, even if we don’t have a concrete end date yet. We will eventually go back to our normal lives at some point, even if we don’t know exactly when — and in the meantime, we can do our best to take care of ourselves and each other.