Self-Care in the time of COVID

I’m the first person I know with COVID! I really don’t recommend that you get it, if you can possibly avoid it.

I don‘t know if I’ve had the Delta or Omicron variant. Whichever it was, it was NOT mild. It’s taken more than three weeks but I’ve now officially been released from isolation.  I still have lingering symptoms, so I really hope I’m not heading towards long COVID!

I’ve actually had chronic fatigue twice in my life, so I’m pulling out all stops with my self-care to support my full recovery from COVID.

My previous experience of chronic fatigue taught me a great deal about self-care. Did I manage to put it all into practice while I was ill with COVID? No, absolutely not. But it’s ok not to be perfect at self-care. Just do your best, whatever that is.

Most importantly, when you’re sick, give yourself permission just to be sick!

In all the time I’ve spent lying on my COVID sick bed/couch these past few weeks, I’ve had plenty of time to think about self-care.  I’ve reflected on eight essential self-care practices that will form my personal self-care plan for 2022. I plan to put myself first so I can have the energy I need to keep doing the work I love and have an impact that really matters. 

Some people might object that putting yourself first, and taking time to care for yourself, is selfish. Self-care is not selfish. It’s essential. Selfishness is about taking from others, whereas self-care is about replenishing your own resources.

The analogy of putting on your own air mask in an emergency before helping others really holds true. Unless you take care of yourself, you’re really not much use to any-one else, and you certainly won’t be changing the world.

Essential self-care practices

Here are the eight essential self-care practices that I’ve learnt and practiced over the years. I hope these practices will be helpful for readers too.

1. Set boundaries

It helps to set boundaries that support your self-care and stick to them. Be clear with yourself and others about what you can and can’t do. This means saying no when you need to, and feeling ok about saying no. 

Importantly, setting boundaries means being honest with yourself about the energy you have available and using that energy wisely. This is called pacing. Only you know the real state of your physical and emotional energy. If you pace yourself, you will avoid the rollercoaster of doing too much, taking a huge dive into collapse, and having to get yourself back up again. By bringing awareness to the pace of your activities, you can use your energy in an even and measured way.

This also applies to the practical things you need to do to meet your basic needs. Instead of avoiding mundane tasks like doing the dishes, pace yourself so you can actually get them done. Creating a sense of peace and order in your home environment is a great way to care for yourself.

2. Embrace healthy habits

Embracing healthy habits is the most basic level of self-care.

People usually know what healthy habits look like (eating well, getting exercise, managing your alcohol intake, and getting plenty of sleep). But putting these healthy habits into practice can be surprisingly difficult. 

The change process is paradoxical–change happens when you become what you are, not when you try to become what you are not. For me, exercise is more likely to become a regular habit if I go for walks in the bush, rather than sweating it out at the gym. I need to embrace this part of who I am to make any real progress with exercise.

Find out how to succeed when you embrace healthy habits by reading my article on how change happens.

You can have a big impact on your health by taking small steps. Making one small change every-day soon adds up to significant change, and healthy habits, if you just keep going. 

3. Let yourself off the hook

Letting yourself off the hook is all about not giving yourself a hard time, and forgiving yourself when you’re not perfect. This is self-compassion. 

Kristin Neff is the self-compassion guru who says self-compassion involves both self-awareness and self-kindness. Self-awareness is about knowing yourself, what works for you and the things that will be supportive for your self-care. It’s also about knowing what is not helpful when it comes to caring for yourself.

What this looks like will be different for different people. For some, self-care could mean a hard physical workout, while for others it’s about relaxing on the couch with Netflix.

Whatever this looks like for you, be kind to yourself. Self-kindness is about recognising and accepting your feelings – whatever they are. It’s inevitable that you will experience negative emotions, especially if you’re ill.  Take heart and remember – your emotions are normal. And being imperfect is part of what it means to be human.

4. Find your joy

Try to do more of the things that inspire you and give you joy. This will put you in a positive frame of mind which is so important to counteract the negative emotions we can experience when we are sick, or under any significant life stress.

Neuroscience research affirms the importance of happiness for our mental health and wellbeing. Happy experiences help wire the brain for resilience and counteract the brain’s natural negativity bias.

The things that give you inspiration and joy, and that are supportive of your self-care, are quite individual. It’s what inspires and supports you that matters – not what other people think would be good for you.

So ask yourself – what is it that truly gives you joy? If you don’t have enough energy for the things that give you joy, just start with small steps toward your inspiration, and pace yourself.

5. Connect with other people 

We are social beings so connecting with others is an essential part of self-care.  This holds true for all personality types – including introverts.

The opposite of connection, social isolation, will seriously undermine your efforts to have good mental and physical health and wellbeing.

Social connection can be challenging if you live alone or you’re isolating due to COVID. But even if it’s just talking to some-one on the phone, reach out and connect with some-one every day.

Connect with the people in your life who are kind, supportive, and uplifting and prioritise activities that nurture your relationships with these people. You could walk with a good friend instead of walking alone.

Self-care might also mean deciding not to spend time with people and relationships that no longer serve you. Avoid people who drain your energy. Relationships should uplift and support you, not drag you down.

6. Affirm yourself

Another way to practice self-care is affirming yourself, which involves speaking to yourself in kind and accepting ways.

Pay attention to the voice in your head. What is it saying? Negative self-talk only entrenches the brain’s natural negativity bias, while positive self-talk counteracts this bias and builds confidence and positive self-esteem.

You can try daily affirmations – chanting a positive phrase like a mantra – to affirm how you want to feel about yourself or how you want to show up in the world. But affirmations probably won’t work if they’re just putting a positive veneer on an otherwise negative mindset.

It takes awareness and kindness to face up to the stream of negative self-talk that is often habitually present in your mind. But when you tackle the negative self-talk, you are free to choose to cultivate more positive self-talk that supports you in your self-care. 

7. Reflect and meditate

It’s not unusual to avoid meditation. Just like healthy habits, many people know how good meditation is for them, yet many of us avoid doing it. Myself included!

It might help to re-define what mediation is for you. Meditation could be a reflective practice, sitting quietly and turning your mind to a positive experience that supports your wellbeing. Or it could be walking outdoors, enjoying the sensations of the sun on your face, and noticing what emerges in your experience.

Meditation is really about learning to be with your experience – whatever that is. So if you’re exhausted, disappointed, miserable, or happy, just notice that, and stay with the experience.

One formal practice, mindfulness meditation, can be as simple as following your breath.  Every time you notice your mind is elsewhere, that is a moment of awareness in which you can choose to come back to the breath.

With just 10 minutes of daily reflection or meditation practice – ideally in the morning before your mind fills with distraction – you will reap great benefits for your wellbeing.

8. Enjoy being outdoors

Nature heals and restores so there’s no doubt that being outdoors is a great way to care for yourself.  For some people, enjoying the outdoors is a spiritual self-care practice that nurtures your soul.

Even if you can’t walk very far because you’re in isolation or unwell, sit or walk gently in the garden, or just take in the outdoors from your front step or balcony.

Ideally get your bare feet on the ground. This is a grounding practice that will help you feel relaxed and calm, and normalise your blood pressure. Soak up some sunshine. Vitamin D will help improve your mood and boost your energy, and give you stronger bones. Breathe in the fresh air. This will energise and invigorate your body and mind, and give you a greater sense of happiness.

Do you need help with self-care?

If you or the people you work with are struggling with the impact of COVID on your physical or mental health, there are practical ways to build resilience and to practice self-care.

Resilience begins with understanding how we are fundamentally wired for resilience. We can all become more resilient – it’s a skill you can learn. It just takes practice.

I’ve developed a program aimed at transforming resilience. Self-care is at the heart of the program. Contact me to find out more.

Maria Brett
The Growing Edge

Maria Brett is a former CEO and a Psychotherapist who has been a practitioner of mindfulness for more than 25 years. Maria’s Transforming Resilience Program helps participants make deep and lasting change by learning what resilience really is, and how to put it into practice to improve their mental health and wellbeing.

© Maria Brett, 2021