A Guide to Keep Caring
Over the past six months, I've gone through periods of being sad, angry, scared, overwhelmed and everything in between. In the face of all of this unknown and necessary upheaval, I have also found myself, at times, waning in my ability to care. It's like I'm too tired, too anxious, and too busy just trying to manage all of it to give any more care away. I even still forget to water the plants sometimes, even though I'm home all day long.
But this is our civic duty right now: we need to keep being able to care.
There is confusion, frustration and concern about how to provide authentic, sustainable self-care daily when our lives have been turned upside down. Here are some suggestions that I hope will help lower compassion fatigue levels. And maybe even lift your compassion satisfaction levels. If there is one hopeful thing about our situation, it’s that some of us, without the commute, without the kid's extra curricular activities, and without the ability to socialize in person, can now make space within this time to prioritize ourselves. It isn’t selfish or self-centered to keep yourself safe, grounded, and cared-for. Your life matters. What you do with your life is impactful.
In 1976, Dr. Bill Hettler, co-founder of the National Wellness Institute in the United States, developed a model of wellness. He included six forms: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, occupational and social (environmental wellness was added later).
Right now, this dimension is at the top of the list. In order to be able to strengthen our immune systems for colder seasons, we must be in the best possible physical shape. Getting there includes eating well, restful sleep, and exercise that both balances the body and helps to move stagnation (feeling "stuck" not only sets us up for frustration and impatience, it is also the precursor for bodily pain). Given the directives we are following, these three behaviors present real challenges.
As far as good nutrition, it helps to loosely plan meals each day, include as many greens and vegetables as possible, cut the calorie intake, and use restraint when reaching for the pleasure of choice. Difficult, but doable. Physical exercise has been a challenge for many, especially those who frequent group exercise classes and are used to the group dynamic. The answer is adaptability. We know what we can’t do, but are we aware of what we can do? I’m a walker and continue to walk regularly. I leave my phone at home and keep my ears free of chatter and music. To me, time away from any input or conversation is just as imperative as the walk itself. Of course, yoga, Pilates, and salt baths are the ways that I choose to strengthen and release tension from my body as well. I recommend doing your physical practices where you can without a screen - use this time to hone your ability to listen to your body and mind where possible. When it's necessary, join a virtual class. Restful sleep can only be accomplished when we are as stress-free as possible.
Stress levels are sky high, for good reason. No one knows how this crisis will play out in the future. The best suggestion: limit watching TV, news, reading newspapers and following social media sites. This doesn’t mean burying our heads in the sand. It means limiting our exposure. This isn’t a war against the media; a great documentary or series can give a little mental space, and limited, necessary engagement with reputable, cited, and clear news sources (i.e. not Facebook) is an adult responsibility to which we all must commit.
This is a stand for self-care.
When you are feeling overwhelmed, honor it. When you are feeling frustrated, honor it. When you are feeling sad, honor it. Be still with it or move with it, it doesn't matter, but be with it. The only way out is through.
We have been given the gift of technology. Use it. As social animals, we can isolate for only so long. We need interaction with friends, family and others in our lives. Sit on your porch or your stoop with your morning tea and interact with your neighbors on their morning dog walk. A friendly hello goes a long way these days. Invite a friend over to sit in the garden and marvel at the beautiful changing seasons. Write letters or postcards to the people you love and let them know how you're doing, or how that plant-propagation project is going, or about the spider who moved in that you named Larry. On the flip side, be patient and honest with yourself when you don't want to answer your phone right away or take time writing back.
Spirituality is the life we live inside ourselves. Learning how to be more forgiving, grateful and compassionate to yourself during this time. Practice being kinder and less judgmental of the ways we are all coping. Try to take time looking inward for the answers you seek rather than outward. It's ok, even maybe preferable, if the answer is usually "I don't know".
Read. Write. Journal. Work puzzles. Play board games (Rummikub, Backgammon, and Catan are all favorites). Take on online course. Do internet research on a subject you’ve always found fascinating but never had time to pursue. Organize all of those photos and recipes. Get out that guitar and dabble. Learn a new song on the piano and open the windows for the neighbors to hear (note: I haven't been soliciting reviews for my clunking through a new Chopin piece). Learning anything teaches you to how you best learn everything. You know I love a learning opportunity.
Is this a good time to rethink/reconsider your job? Of course. It’s always a good time to think about how you spend your time. It's true that how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. Are we spending our lives in ways that promote wellness and happiness for ourselves and our loved ones? There is now time to research options and check on educational offerings. If you are working from home missing the office, your work, and your high levels of productivity, chances are you are a good match. Are there ways you can better your opportunities at work? Are there helpful books to offer some new ideas on how to increase productivity once everyone is back on the job? Is there some way we can organize or develop new ways of doing things so when we return to work we can hit the ground running? Think broadly and creatively.
Look around your environment inside and out. Are there things you can do to make your surroundings more pleasant, safer, and more environmentally sound? Declutter and remove items that no longer serve. Go paperless whenever possible. Remove old magazines and articles you’ll never get around to reading. Feed the birds. Create spaces where you can sit and watch nature unfold. When the weather is nice, choose to eat meals outdoors.
We are all experiencing new territory in our lives. If your energy is low, that’s understandable. Take things a little slower. Rest. Nap even more (group snuggle naps with partners, pets and/or kids are ideal). It is imperative that we work now to sustain our energies for the time when we will need to rebuild. Believe me, that time will come.
And don’t forget, you are not alone. We are all in this together.
Be well. Be free.