It’s fair to say that 2020 hasn’t turned out the way anyone expected it to. We’ve been living through an unprecedented event that no one was really prepared for, and it has resulted in a huge impact on our mental health and wellbeing.
As we move into Lockdown 2.0 in England, we have an opportunity to readdress the things that did and did not work for us during the original lockdown. We can take a small amount of comfort in knowing that this is not unfamiliar territory any longer, and that we can be in charge of how we react to and manage the upcoming stresses that will most likely follow.
My personal experience during the first lockdown was a rollercoaster of feelings, and it took me out of my comfort zone many times. However, I used my training as a Health Coach to help myself navigate through and to develop some simple (yet effective) coping strategies to keep myself feeling like me!
Everyone is experiencing different versions lockdown stress, and no two people have had the same experiences, as there are multiple factors at work! Some of us may have lost our jobs, some may be furloughed, and some people may still have to work (either from home, or in a high-risk environment). Others are dealing with loneliness, or are feeling overwhelmed by the sudden proximity and lack of escape from a full household. Introverts are learning that maybe they’re not as ok as they thought they would be without human contact, and extroverts are starving for that connection with others. The list goes on and on, and is very complex!
So, to include everyone I’m going to talk about self-care that is suitable for everyone, no matter what their circumstances are.
‘Self-Care’ is a bit of a buzzword right now, and sometimes it can feel like our concerns and worries are being trivialised when someone mentions implementing some self-care. However, I love talking about it and helping people to create self-care routines, as it is really just a personalised routine created specifically for you, to meet your wellbeing needs. And who wouldn’t benefit from that?!
When I talk about Self-care, I like to keep it simple to start with, and look at 4 areas. These areas are: Sensory Self-care, Intellectual Self-care, Physical Self-care, and Emotional Self-care.
Here is an introduction to each area, along with are some ideas and suggestions for things that can be used when building a Self-care routine:
The things that would fall into this category would be anything that ignites or awakens your senses! We all know how a familiar smell can make us feel happy or comforted, how music soothes us or energises us, how walking in nature revives us (fun fact, there are shapes made in nature called Fractals, that have been shown to reduce our stress levels when we see them. These repeating patterns can be found in the trees and in clouds, and in flowers and the waves of the sea). The taste of that first coffee in the morning can set your mood for the day, and the feeling of snuggling up into fresh bed sheets at night makes you feel comforted and safe.
So, when I want to help someone add sensory self-care into their routine, I like to suggest that they make a list of the things for each of the 5 senses that make them feel happy and relaxed.
Here is what this would look like for me:
Taste: I love Kombucha, and each time I drink it I’m transported back to happy memories of visiting family in America.
Smell: I will wear my favourite perfume to lift my mood, or I’ll use a personalised blend of essential oils in my oil burner.
Touch: A hot bath is one of my favourite feelings, as the touch of the hot water on my skin makes me feel calm and comforted, like a full body hug!
Sound: There is nothing in the world that makes me happier than hearing my cats purring.
Sight: I’m a big tree lover, so walking in the park and looking at the trees makes me feel reconnected to the world around me, and often inspires creative thoughts.
This is such a simple but effective way to integrate comfort into your day, and by adding things like this regularly to your routine you can start to feel that you have things to look forward to that bring you little pieces of daily happiness.
This one is quite a deep and overlapping area, so I like to first try to figure out what it means to the individual. For example, when I think of my intellectual self-care, I like to focus on the things that keep me feeling curious and excited about life. I love reading, so I will choose books that have sparked my interest (I like to make lists of fiction, non-fiction and personal growth books, and work my way through one off each list). I also love to learn, but as I’m interested in lots of things I let myself be flexible and free in what I choose to take up, so that there is no pressure to achieve anything for anyone else other than myself. I also give myself permission to quit things regularly! Some of the things I played with during the first lockdown were: learning Swedish on the Duolingo App, playing the Ukulele (rather badly), making a cardboard spaceship and a tank for our cats to play in, taking up art again, pressing wild flowers and learning about the moon cycles.
I’d like to point out that I also spent at least as much time doing the following: comfort eating more often than normal, crying at things that would normally not make me cry, forcing myself to get dressed and go for a walk, learning that what I did for a job did not validate my existence (which lead to re-learning to like parts of myself that I had forgotten about). This is also intellectual self-care. It is important to be aware of all your feelings, and to be ok with them.
Defining the meaning of intellectual or mental self-care is the first step in integrating this practice into your routine. One you’ve defined its personal meaning, you can then start brainstorming things that you want to add into your life, and things the things you want to remove.
When we think of Physical Self-care the first thoughts are often exercise. This is great, as it’s important to be physically active and to take up activities that you enjoy and that get you moving regularly. There are so many wonderful options for exercising at home right now, and if you are lucky enough to live close to nature there is always the outdoors to explore!
However, I like to remind people about other forms of physical self-care that are equally important. Mainly sleep. Having a good evening routine that improves and supports you sleep is vital to good health. Rest is a huge part of looking after our physical health, but it is often forgotten about.
Creating a regular bedtime routine is a great way to do some physical self-care. Some of the things you can try are:
Turn off your screens 90 minutes before bed (I like to unwind by having a hot shower or bath and then reading my book in bed before falling asleep)
Keep your bedroom cool and keep the room clutter free.
Go to bed at the same time each night.
Sleep in loose, comfortable clothing
Turn your mobile phone to aeroplane mode.
Stop your caffeine intake after 2pm.
Invest in blackout curtains, or an eye mask for sleeping in.
Try a herbal tea before bed, such as chamomile, or try adding some drops of lavender essential oil to your pillow before you go to sleep.
Sometimes Emotional and Intellectual Self-care can cross into each other, so don’t worry if you classify things differently – flexibility is the key to lower stress levels!
I think of Emotional self-care as the things that I am consuming that then impact on my emotional wellbeing. A great example of this right now is social media and the news. If you find that you are losing chunks of your day to mindless scrolling, or if you are struggling with your self-worth and are comparing yourself to others on social media, or if you are having feelings of anxiety from an over consumption of the news, the best thing you can do is step back and have a break from them. This can be hard to do, especially if you are afraid of missing out (which is understandable when we are struggling to feel a connection to others right now), but it’s worth doing for your own wellbeing. Cold turkey might not be necessary, so you could instead look at cutting back on the time you spend on these things. This is done by setting some boundaries (which is a good thing to look at implementing in other areas of your life too) and it can look something like ‘I will only listen to the news once today’, or ‘I won’t stay on Social media sites for longer that 30 minutes a day’.
I also put comfort food and alcohol consumption into this category, as often these things are used as coping strategies for underlying emotional concerns. I would always suggest taking a step back and checking in with yourself before you consume these things, asking yourself if there is another reason you want them, and to then think about the feelings that come up when you do have them. This would also be a great time to work with a Health Coach to have some to support with this.
Another important part of Emotional Self-care is building gratitude and compassion. Feeling grateful for what we have, having empathy and compassion for other living beings and performing random acts of kindness for both strangers and loved ones is a wonderful way to feel connected to others and to feel good about who you are.
When I’m supporting clients with building on their emotional self-care, I ask them to list 3 things that they are grateful for each day. This can be done first thing in the morning, or when you are feeling overwhelmed, or before you go to sleep at night. Focusing on what you have helps you to appreciate the little things.
Vicky Aistrop, Health Coach.
November 10, 2020