At the end of March, I started working for a major health care organization in their Homeless Services Bureau. I am helping respond to the impact of COVID-19 on Boston’s unhoused population. I wanted to share my thoughts on self-care during this difficult time.
So what is my self-care routine?
To be blunt, my self-care routine is lacking most days. If I remember to eat and drink water, I feel accomplished. I am also being careful to follow guidelines regarding hand-washing, face-covering, and social distancing, to protect not only me but those around me. However, making space for my feelings and implementing self-care strategies when I remember helps me get through the week.
Recognizing what I am feeling.
I feel anxious going to work every day because I do not know how the pandemic or my role may change. I receive a lot of calls from people working in hospitals and shelters on the front lines, and I absorb their stress and emotions through the phone, on top of my own. It is also stressful to decide how to prioritize my time. This pandemic is truly a life or death situation, and I feel the weight of that with every decision I make. It is even hard to make the decision to step away to eat or use the restroom.
I am also anxious during every interaction I have with coworkers. Are they standing too close? Is my mask tight enough? I am scared that someone I work with, or even I, may be an asymptomatic carrier. In a time where I feel the need for social connection more than ever, it is really difficult to distance myself and even feel unsafe around other people.
Recognizing my privilege.
It is also important for me to recognize the privilege I hold. I receive time off in the evenings and on the weekends, unlike many of my coworkers who are on-call 24/7. I have a caring partner who makes me meals. I have food to eat and shelter at night. I have access to supplies to keep me safe such as masks and hand sanitizer.
It is hard during this time not to feel guilty about these privileges. Instead, I try to practice gratitude and share what I have as I am able. One organization I am proud to support is Free From, a survivor- led organization supporting survivors of domestic violence with small grants during this particularly dangerous time.
My list of coping strategies.
Here is a list of coping strategies that I find useful in times of high anxiety of stress. I encourage you to make a list of actions you can take every day that are comforting or calming to you in some way. Regulating our nervous systems is incredibly important during this crisis. Irene Morning, a somatic coach I follow on Instagram, is a great person to follow to learn more about regulating your nervous system during this pandemic.
1. Writing. This is a highly accessible coping tool that only requires a pen and some paper. I prefer to write notes in a journal, however, if I find myself extremely stressed in the middle of a work day, I take my phone into the breakroom for 10 minutes and write some thoughts out in my notes app.
When I write down my thoughts and feelings in one place, it makes them feel more manageable. I often try to reframe my anxious thoughts into more helpful and affirming statements. Visit this article to learn more about reframing.
2. Practicing grounding techniques. Grounding, or paying attention to the five senses, helps keep me mindful during stressful times. It especially helps me through moments when I am panicked or overwhelmed. Visit this article to learn more about grounding.
Here are some examples of grounding practices I try to incorporate into my daily routine. Sight: Keeping my workspace clean, decorating my desk with my favorite photographs, sitting outside for a few minutes each day. Touch: Holding a smooth rose quartz stone, putting on cozy clothing at the end of the day. Smell: Making coffee in the morning and putting on my favorite amber perfume.
3. Going outside. A change of scenery can help refresh and center me, especially since I am sitting in an office all day with no window nearby. I have been making an effort to go sit outside in my car for 20 minutes every day at lunch time. This way, I am in my own personal space, away from other people, but I can roll down my windows and take in some fresh air and sunlight. Try to find a safe option such as a low traffic area, and make sure to wear a mask. Going for a drive is another option.
4. Doing an activity I enjoy. It is our right as human beings to experience joy. It is especially important during a time that can feel so hopeless to make space for even a tiny bit of enjoyment or pleasure. For me, I find joy in taking photographs. I recognize that photography is not the most accessible creative practice. You may choose to cook, draw, or do another creative activity instead.
In conclusion, please be gentle with yourself during this time, whether you are an essential employee or not. I recommend making a list, on paper or in your phone, of a few things that help ground or calm you during times of stress. Share in the comments if you feel comfortable.