As the pandemic continues for a second year, some countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, have partially eased their restrictions in a bid to give the local economy and citizen morale a boost.
Other countries, however, such as Australia and Singapore, are reinstating local lockdowns or retightening restrictions amid rising numbers of new COVID-19 cases caused by emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2.
There is no doubt that, around the world, people are feeling the impact of having to negotiate life in an ongoing pandemic as SARS-CoV-2 infection numbers keep on waxing and waning.
Right now, investing in self-care is perhaps more important than ever, both for individual well-being and for the sake of our social health.
So what can you do to make sure you look after yourself and prioritize your own wellness at this confusing time? Read on for an overview of MNT’s top tips and advice gleaned from peer-reviewed studies and experts in their field over the years.
Business neurolinguistic programming practitioner and mental health trainer Tania Diggory, founder and director of Calmer, and environmental psychologist and well-being consultant Lee Chambers, founder of Essentialise, also weigh in.
Although restrictions have eased in some countries, many people continue to work from home in a bid to stay safe and keep others safe or because a work-from-home setting allows them to accommodate care duties for family members.
While such arrangements may allow for more flexibility in scheduling both work- and home-related duties into one’s day, they also mean that the boundaries between work time and private time become blurred.
It could also result in a phenomenon dubbed “revenge bedtime procrastination,” in which a person delays their bedtime even when they are very tired so that they get a chance to enjoy some private leisure time.
That is why it is vital to set clear boundaries, experts say. If possible, people should designate a specific room or space within a room for work only.
This can help separate the “office” area from the rest of a person’s home within their own mind. Thus, at the end of the workday, simply stepping out of that designated workspace can help a person “switch off” their “work mode.”
Scheduling in strict breaks for meals and recharge time can also help offset stress and help a person maintain a general sense of well-being.
Additionally, setting aside a few minutes at the start and at the end of the workday to do something different — such as going for a run or a walk — might help simulate a work commute, thus clearly separating “work time” and “home time.”
According to Tania Diggory, one way to prioritize self-care in these uncertain times is to set the intention to do things that we enjoy at the start of every day.
“Self-care comes in many forms, not just in the things we do and make time for — such as reading, cooking, meditation, or exercise, to name a few — but it’s also about mindset,” Diggory told MNT.
“How we start our days can have a meaningful impact on how we feel, so you could start each day with an intention you set for yourself, asking the question: ‘Where can I prioritize time for self-care today?'”
– Tania Diggory
Some researchers have also suggested that we dress in work-specific outfits to get in the right mindset for work. This is a concept known as “enclothed cognition,” in which we use our clothes as a tool to put us in the right mindset for the experience we want to have — in this case, to help us feel ready for work.
As cases of COVID-19 keep fluctuating in countries around the world, it makes sense to want to stay informed about the local and global situation, which restrictions are in place, and what to do to maintain good health.
However, being constantly connected to our devices and being bombarded with news — particularly bad or uncertain news — can have serious effects on our mental health, relationships, and aspects of our physical well-being.
Some ways to avoid this news and screen time overload include consciously rationing the amount of news that you read in a day, as well as taking breaks from checking social media.
Focusing on what you, as an individual, can do can also help offset the sense of anxiety created by the news cycle. That is because, as
Seeking out the positive news stories in what may otherwise seem like a stressful news cycle and taking time savoring those can also help
As many studies have shown, time and again, good, restful sleep is crucial in maintaining both physical and mental health. Adults generally benefit from at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep, without which they are likely to experience fatigue, mood swings, and reduced focus, among other effects.
“With an increasingly dynamic world, and many of us spending periods of time in high arousal states, such as anxiety and excitement, emotional balance and cognitive flexibility play a role in ensuring we feel functionally optimistic about the future and handle uncertainty and instability we are likely to face,” Lee Chambers told MNT.
Sleep, he said, is key to achieving that state of balance, so it is important to take all the steps we can to ensure that we can rest adequately.
“Sleep is a vital part of the emotional balance reality, and I feel for many of us, it should be our non-negotiable self-care habit to focus on optimizing our sleep quantity and quality. This involves ensuring our sleep environment is optimal for us, from temperature to bedding, darkness to relaxed design. Also considering our actions in the evening, from blue light, to what we consume both physically and mentally.”
– Lee Chambers
Some ways of making sure that you can fall asleep more easily include establishing a sleep routine that involves going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, avoiding screen time before bed, practicing mindfulness or meditation just before bed, and making sure the room is at the right temperature.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends a bedroom temperature of 60–67°F (16–19ºC).
“Other things I feel are beneficial [for well-being] are remembering things we have enjoyed from [before] the pandemic and not stopping doing them as we start to be able to access rituals that are opening up,” Chambers advised readers from countries where pandemic restrictions are beginning to ease.
He also mentioned that journaling could help improve our state of mental and emotional well-being.
“Journaling is a really powerful way to reflect and plan and can be helpful in processing our thoughts and inner chatter,” he said.
In fact, research has shown that expressive writing — in which we narrate events and describe how they have affected us — can help us manage and process negative emotions.
Chambers also suggested that “[g]etting out into nature is a perfect way to find some serenity and reduce our state of arousal in a positive way, as well as moving our bodies and eating mindfully.”
Chambers emphasized that we should acknowledge our limits and nourish social connections as much as possible. More than anything, though:
“Going at our own pace is important, and having support, people we trust, and those we can talk to close is vital in understanding the shared human experience we are all navigating. [Sharing] concerns while feeling safe enough to explore the reality is a form of self-care in itself, which promotes the kindness and compassion for self and others, which is so powerful in finding harmony in a world that is ever-changing.”
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