How can we practice self-care in isolation? How do we ensure our community is cared for in a time of uncertainty?
“Some experts believe that practising compassion, both toward ourselves and others, can be a powerful antidote to the stressors of modern life. Engaging our sense of compassion involves responding to pain, suffering, and stress with kindness and understanding.”Source: https://www.cumberlandheights.org/blogs/is-compassion-the-antidote-to-chronic-anxiety/
Feeling connected in a time of social-distancing
Humans are naturally social creatures. For this reason, as time-out is a common penalty for a child, so is solitary confinement to the already-incarcerated. What could be worse than being alone—particularly alone with your own thoughts?
Although we thrive on community and contribution, our health—physical and mental—is usually an individual responsibility. We take care of our own health, and that of our dependents, but we may not often think of the collective health of a community. The major threats to our health and wellbeing are more prominently chronic conditions, rather than infectious diseases. Let alone a pandemic. This is a new world.
In the current situation—the COVID-19 pandemic—the approach we are being encouraged to take is to self-isolate and quarantine. Not only is this a precaution for the individual, but it’s also for the good of the community. We must prevent exposure to those susceptible (e.g. immunocompromised, elderly) and control an uncontrollable spread/outbreak that stresses the health system.
Our individualistic approach to health and wellness needs to now be a community approach.
What can we do?
We humans also like to DO things. We like to take action. To “harden up and get on with it.” But about when the best action is to do nothing? To stay home? You’re grounded. Go to your room!
This presents a new set of challenges. Some may enjoy being at home with their family, loved ones, or housemates. Others may feel overwhelmed by noise, and chatter, and lack of personal space.
Where some may thrive in isolation (e.g. introverts) others may feel lonely, unsupported, scared, or despondent.
The sudden change in environment can be jarring. Especially for those who have been forced to isolate and are not able to work or go about their usual activities.
Foggy thoughts, hopeless rumination, and an endless loop of catastrophising can cause agitation and chronic stress. Rising tension, panic, fear, stress, and loneliness can all have a detrimental on our health, and therefore our collective community. We need to help those around us.
Anxiety and fear need to be channelled into compassion and care.
Taking care of others
Checking in with someone who is isolated—physically and emotionally—may mean a lot to them. Call, video chat, message or text those in your life who may be struggling. Not everyone asks for help when they need it, so let’s be proactive.
- Be the first to initiate conversation with your loved ones and acquaintances
- Set up group chats to create a network of support
- If you are already going to the shops, buy groceries/essentials for your neighbours
- Don’t over-buy or hoard essential items
- Support local businesses who are feeling the pinch
- Consider the financial implications for others based on your actions. If you are in a position to do so, continue to pay for services if it may affect the recipient’s livelihood, and if you can do so without putting yourself out of pocket
- Don’t over-react. Realise that everyone is feeling some kind of stress and may not be behaving the way they normally would
- Be the first to practice patience and kindness
Taking care of yourself
Just as we know how to take care of our physical health— good nutrition, exercise, water, rest—so must we take care of our mental health. Here are some ways to practice self-care in isolation or quarantine.
Let’s begin right from the centre of it all. Identify what emotions you are feeling. Are you driven by panic? Overcome with worry? Withdrawing with fear and uncertainty? Recognising your overriding emotion is the first step to regaining a sense of control.
Whether you find yourself with less to do (e.g. not working) or more to do (e.g. taking care of the household while trying to work from home), it’s time to practice single-tasking. If you haven’t heard, multi-tasking is so 1990s.
While many people are looking for lists of the best Netflix shows to binge on (no I’m not going to link to them), what if you actually turned the TV off and did something else? When the world is already sending you a barrage of data, information, and opinions, why oversaturate your brain with even more input? At some point, your subconscious mind is sure to get confused between reality and fiction. Instead, try getting in touch with your senses.
Some exercises to practise self-care in isolation:
- Be still and observe
- Do breathing exercises
- Practise yoga or other types of fitness/mobility online
- Pay attention to the mechanics of your body
- Eat mindfully and actually taste your food
- Cook beautiful meals: smell, taste, look, listen, feel
- Read, write, make, craft. Everyone is creative!
- Learn a new skill
- Listen to others’ stories and ideas (in person, phone, video chat)
- Play! Puzzles, chess, board games, solitaire, hide-and-seek
- Go for a walk if you’re able to leave the house: smell, look, listen, feel
- When worry gets the better of you, refocus your attention to your surroundings.
- Declutter your space. BUT… A word from the wise: do it one drawer/cupboard/shelf at a time otherwise it can be a very daunting task.
“Try this perspective shift. Instead of seeing “social distancing” and travel bans as panic, try seeing them as acts of mass cooperation intended to protect the collective whole. This plan is not about individuals going into hiding. It’s a global deep breath… an agreement between humans around the planet to be still. Be still, in hopes that the biggest wave can pass without engulfing too many of the vulnerable amongst us.”Dr. Lindsay Jernigan
Meditation is the practice of training your attention. In uncertain times, meditation is more important than ever. Here is a guided meditation for times of pandemic by Tara Brach: “Calling on Your Awakened Heart” (23:44 min.). Listen below, or access the Tara Brach podcast from one these links: iTunes | Android | Stitcher | Overcast | Podbean | Pandora | Spotify | RSS
If you’re missing a sense of touch and hugs, do this short self-care practice. It’s also helpful to ground your energy if you’re feeling overwhelmed and “up in your head”.
Let’s all take pragmatic steps to ensure not only the health and wellness of ourselves but of the community as a whole. Channel panic into preparedness. Fear into care. Anxiety into compassion.
By practising self-care in isolation and compassion for the community, we will get through this together.