Let’s face it, we’re all tired of this pandemic and sheltering in place. Everyone talks about the “new normal” and what that looks like, but given that we’re seeing infection numbers rise across the country, we’re still in the thick of it for the forseeable future, and that’s depressing and overwhelming for many including me (ironic since I work from home anyhow).
So I decided to put together a list of self-care measures you can take when it all gets to be too much. Some things are super simple and some take some motivation, but all will in one form or another give you some respite from the anxiety of these uncertain times. Don’t underestimate the power of small actions – they can be just as effective as large, radical changes.
Be good to yourself. Be gentle on yourself. We are living in unprecedented times.
1) Soak your feet in an Epsom salts bath
My favorite and both the husbot and I do it together while watching TV. It’s super simple. We bought cheap washing up tubs (the ones that sit in a kitchen sink, you can also buy a mega-cheapy plastic cat litter box – just make sure your feet will fit in them!) and a bag of Epsom salts from Costco. You can also buy Epsom salts online at Amazon or at any pharmacy. You don’t need to be fancy or buy an expensive brand. Epsom salts is pretty much Epsom salts.
Follow the directions on the package for foot soaking, but essentially it’s 1 cup of Epsom salts to one tub of water filled halfway with hot water. We boil our water in an electric kettle and add it to the salts in the tub and then wait for it to cool down before sticking our feet in. If you’re soaking your feet while watching Netflix like we do, I highly recommend putting a towel down under the tub to soak up any sloshing or spills. And for the girls, I also use this time to give myself a pedicure. I wouldn’t make time for it otherwise, and the nice thing about soaking your feet means that you can’t get up and wander around. It makes you sit and relax.
You can soak solo or with a partner. And you can read, meditate, watch TV, play on your phone, or just sit and enjoy the soak. It’s funny how calming a foot soak is. We take our feet for granted, but they are fundamental to how we function. It’s good for us to show them some love every once and a while and this is a super easy and cheap option for everyone stuck at home.
2) Take a 30 minute power nap
This should be a mandatory requirement – no wonder Europeans take siestas in the afternoon. Even science has shown that a short nap in the middle of the day can make a difference to your well-being from enhancing your memory to improving your work performance. Now more than ever when people are stuck at home, naps are a good way to check out and reset. I’m notoriously bad at taking naps because I’m incapable of sitting still (many of the things on this list are quite challenging for me), but the husbot can make it work. I would encourage anyone to give it a go, no more than 10-30 minutes and before 3pm so you’ll still get a good’s night sleep.
And as always, you can Google a million and one articles about power naps.
I’m terrible and I mean TERRIBLE at this one. I’m that girl in your yoga class doing my shopping list in my head when it comes to the last 10 minutes of class. I have such a hard time with being still and focused . . . that whole body mind awareness? Yeah, not so much. Still, it’s something that I’m working toward because I know that it can bring much needed change to my life as hokey as it may sound. Meditation is like power napping or breathing methods – they are ways for you to regulate not just your thoughts but your body’s response to stress and anxiety (I’ll talk more about body reaction when discussing breathing next).
I’ve tried and have had some success with the Headspace app. I also find podcasting at night before going to bed also works – weird, I know, but pick a really boring podcast with a monotonous low pitched voice and you may be surprised, too. If those don’t work for you, there are tons of other apps out there to try and some people may do their own out loud visualizations. I talk to myself enough as it is so no need to encourage that habit, but whatever it takes to get your mind disconnected from the world is no bad thing.
4) Learn to breathe
It seems so simple. We do it day in and day out, 365 days a year for our entire lives, but most people don’t know how to breathe. What do I mean by this? People have a tendency to take shallow breaths, which in turn means they aren’t filling their lungs with enough air, which in turn means they are also not utilizing their diaphragms. Less air intake means less oxygen that gets carried around in your blood stream to help with healthy organ function. It also means your heart has to work harder to pump that vital oxygen around your body.
So what does good breathing look like? It means slow and low – take your time breathing in and aim for your belly button. This means you’re expanding your lungs, you’re giving your intercostal muscles and diaphragm a work out, but more importantly, you’re sucking up all that delightful stuff called O2, which gives your cells what they need in part to function.
But wait, there’s more: good breathing also helps to alleviate stress and anxiety because of the effect it has on your biology.
Deep breathing resets your brain, as well as, doing such things as slowing your heart rate and decreasing your body temperature. It’s the opposite of what you experience when your body goes into “fight or flight” mode – shallow breathing, oxygen diverted to the muscles in your arms and legs, your heartbeat accelerating as you prep to either fight or flee a predator. Ironically, when you’re under extreme stress or are highly anxious, your body can’t tell the difference between an imaginary threat and a real one, as is often the case. Deep breaths counter this. Next time you’re feel a bit tense or overwhelmed, take 5 minutes and focus on taking the longest, deepest breaths you can. I reckon you’ll feel a lot better afterwards.
5) Buy a house plant
Some people cringe at the idea of buying a house plant because they immediately think they are going to kill it, but hear me out, there is gratification in nurturing something and watching it thrive. It’s the same as vegetable gardening – an immense pleasure in doing the work, looking after it, and watching it grow into something edible or in this case, beautiful.
And don’t just water your plant and go about your day. Spend some time with it, make it a playlist, and I swear I’m not crazy, talk to it. Studies have shown that plants do respond to outside stimulus. For real. And if I still haven’t convinced you, then let me say this – there is something comforting about taking care of something else beside yourself. A little anecdotal side note to illustrate the point: I bawled my eyes out when my first tamagotchi finally died. A piece of not very clever code with some wires and a teeny pixelated screen, but still, I wept like someone had killed my cat.
We humans need to be connected and it’s okay to be connected to a house plant. And as an added bonus, they clear carbon dioxide out of the air, making the air quality of your house better. So go to your local nursery or big box store, I’m sure there will a plant with your name on it.