Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Thoughts on caring for your whole self in a global pandemic

Dear ones, 

I do not write to you as someone who has this pandemic quarantine thing mastered. We are surviving not thriving over here, and I am riding the wave along with everyone else. However, I love studying caring for people in crisis and am professionally working in mental health as a counselor as well. I have been thinking about y’all and wanted to offer some self-care thoughts to hopefully buoy you in this time.

The main thing I’d like to encourage you with in this strange unprecedented season is, it’s ok to not be ok. Also, it's ok to be ok. Also, it’s ok to be both.

In order to stay well in times of ongoing crisis it’s important to intentionally care for all the parts that make us human:

Body- Basic needs or body care is the foundation for other types of care. In times of crisis, it is more important to be sure you are are eating nourishing meals (along with foods that bring you joy-both/and), drinking lots of water, getting adequate sleep, staying active/exercising, and getting outside in the sunshine. Be particularly attuned to your body’s needs; if it’s tired, rest it, if it is stiff, get out for a run, if it is anxious, deep breathe. Yoga and mindfulness practices are particularly helpful with anxiety management. When you get emotionally dysregulated, which will likely happen more than usual in quarantine, practice awareness of where in your body you are feeling emotions like sadness or anxiety or anger. Once you have identified where it is located, focus on relaxing that area of the body and deep breathing until you feel calm again. For example, if there is trigger, like your child spills milk all over the floor and you have a Zoom call to be on, notice your heart beating faster and your shoulders tightening up and take a moment to attend to the body and calm the autonomic nervous system through breathing before you react or move on. Your body houses everything else, so be extra kind and attentive to it. *Deep breathing is magic. 

Mind- Be aware of your cognitions in times of crisis. If they are catastrophic or irrational, notice that without judgment, and replace those thoughts with what is rational. For example,“If I get Covid19, then my whole family will get it,” could be disputed with “If I get this, I will quarantine in my room, and it is likely no one else will get it”. Living in the present each day will help with the “what if” future thoughts. Instead “what if”, switch the mental channel to “what is true now”, and land there. Also notice negative self cognitions and replace them with self-compassion, “Both me and my spouse should be able to work full time, be teachers to all our children, and keep up the household”, and replace that with “It is impossible to do all these roles well without help or relief, which is why we usually have childcare in place. I will be kind to myself and others when we fail, prioritize what is most important to us, and recognize that this is costing all of us.” When we fail, we can both be kind to ourselves and make a repair when needed. Being kind to ourselves doesn't mean we are no longer responsible for our choices, we can pay the consequence and be compassionate (ex. pay a fine for a speeding ticket, and not go to self-contempt for speeding). Additionally, be intentionally grateful each day, if you’re able (if you’re not, that’s ok, there is a valid reason for that). Go around the table at dinner each night or keep a gratitude journal on your own. Studies show that integrating gratitude, self-compassion, and creativity or play, help combat depression. *Mindfulness is magic. 

Heart- How do you feel? It can be a challenging question for many. Give yourself space to name and express everything you’re feeling. All emotions are allowed for everyone. If you’re enjoying all the family time, be thankful and joyful for that *without guilt that you should be sad like people who have endured more loss. If you’re sad because you’ve lost your job, grieve that loss *without guilt that you should be enjoying time with your family (hear that shame voice?). If you are both grieving losses and enjoying a slower pace, then hold both. You are allowed to feel multiple and conflicting emotions. Don’t engage in comparative suffering, which means, minimizing your loss in comparison to someone else's (ex. I can’t feel sad about not having my dance recital because other people are suffering with the death of a loved one). There is enough room for everyone to have the space they need to grieve the losses that feel big to them. Also, a friendly reminder that kid’s worlds are a lot smaller than adults. They don’t have the perspective and experiences we have to refer to as adults. For them, not being able to perform in their play or go to their prom is a really big loss, even though maybe in a parent’s much bigger perspective, that may be a silly thing to grieve. I would encourage you to not judge anyones losses or sadness, everyone has the right to their own experiences and perspective of the world. We can be kind by allowing our family members, neighbors, and friends to carry different emotions than us, and we can be empathic and nonjudgmental. When we engage with grief first, it gives people the freedom they need to then enter into hope or gratitude. Demanding thankfulness from someone before empathizing with them will more likely lead to anger at feeling missed and not the hoped for response of thankfulness. *Empathy is magic, and there is enough to go around.

Social- We are social beings who need and thrive in connection. Part of feeling more human in a time of mandatory isolation will mean getting creative about connection. Call a friend or do a zoom call every day. Write a letter or text a single neighbor. Getting out of your head and engaging with other humans will do you and others good. *Connection is magic.

Spirit- Whether we know it or not, all our parts are spiritual in the sense that we are made in image of God and reflect him in all these ways. We are reminded now of what is always true but often hidden, that we are creatures in a created world. In times where all the earth is exposed and vulnerable, it is only natural to be more aware of one who is greater. If you believe in God, engage with Him, even in your anger or confusion. He cares, He sees, and is good and sovereign over all. Look for His hand at work in the world and for meaning in the chaos. For those who do not believe in God, that’s ok, I encourage you to wonder or even try on prayer or explore the possibility of a higher power and purpose than our vulnerable human state.

**Jesus is not magic.
He lived a real life, shed real blood on the cross on Friday, and rose again on Sunday in order to make all things new. He sits enthroned even now. 

God’s kindness is the reserve for all other kindnesses and His free mercy is on offer to all all all through Jesus Christ.

“The hard work of life is not dealing with your pain but allowing yourself to experience comfort and kindness.” -Dan Allender

It is surprising to me how resistant people are to self-care or recieving kindness, myself included. What is it like for you to consider? What are your barriers? Are you judging your resistance to self-kindness even now? How are shame, fear, or guilt workin for ya? Please be kind to yourself, you have never walked though a pandemic before. Let yourself laugh, and let yourself cry. Do something that brings you joy everyday, a walk in the sunshine, making homemade bread, a bubble bath, do this because you matter and your well-being matters and receiving kindness and care from yourself, others, and God will enable you to give it out and walk out of this quarantine even more whole than you could have imagined.

Love y’all
Virtual xo

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