Self Care Corner: Adjusting to the New Normal
By Sara Mahoney, SC RTAL
Back in October, I mulled over the idea of writing an op-ed for the Self Care Corner of the Prevention Connection. I quickly decided that it was a terrible idea and no one wanted to read what I had to say about proper nutrition, exercise, sleep habits, or what to do when you ask your child 487 times to pick up their rooms but yet you are still stepping on legos every night when you turn off their bedside lamp. There were more qualified writers out there with better advice on more engaging topics. So, as lead on the newsletter, I found a great article about how self care isn’t selfish and added some great little tidbits.
Fast forward nine months and everyone including myself is four months into Covid-19 and life is heavy and uncertain and everyone keeps saying this is the “new normal,” and that we should settle-in and realize our lives and worlds may look a lot different for awhile. Fantastic, right??
Last week, I had a breakdown. Yes, I understand that is very vulnerable of me to say, but it’s also very authentic and honest. Everything just caught up to me and I found myself feeling claustrophobic and uncertain and overwhelmed. And in that moment, I remember thinking, “I can’t be the only one feeling this way, right?”
I had tried so hard from when this all started in March to keep up on my “recipe” for emotional and mental health. I knew that I needed to take care of myself so I could continue to take care of my family and responsibilities. But, last Monday, I finally reached my “breaking point.” I suffer from anxiety and when left uncared for, can lead to bouts of depression. I have a fantastic doctor and therapist who have worked with me to find the “sweet spot” involving treatment and a healthy lifestyle. For me personally, I find that I have to eat a low sugar diet, as unstable insulin and cortisol levels often lead to anxiousness and mood instability. I have to exercise because endorphins are great for anxiety and depression and I feel so much better mentally and emotionally when I do so. I see my therapists twice a month, more or less if needed, and also have to schedule alone time to recharge my introvert batteries. Sometimes I need more or less of one or the other, but for me, this is my “recipe.”
Guess what? I was doing all of those things last week, and I still had a breakdown. Now, when I say breakdown, I mean that I was upset, irritated, and very anxious. I felt overwhelmed and uncertain. A lack of control. It didn’t help that my son came down with the stomach flu right in the middle of a video conference call with our team. Then, later that day, an orthopedic surgeon told me I wasn’t going to be able to run my half marathon in September and probably never would be able to because of an old injury that is causing bone deterioration in my foot. I was devastated and anxious and coming down with the stomach flu. (Thanks, Jack) It was all too much and after some sick leave, many tears, a long walk, and a few debriefing conversations, I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “what can I control?”
There’s not a lot any of us can control right now when it comes to this “new normal,” but I will have to say, it was helpful to put into perspective what I can control. I can control how kind I am to myself and others. I can make sure I am taking the time to rest my body and mind and work through all of my emotions and make sure I am honoring them. I can continue to fulfill my responsibilities and take breaks when needed. I can be grateful for what I have. I can continue to eat healthy and still engage in modified exercise. I can continue seeing my therapist. I can call a friend and vent my emotions. Lastly, I can remember that I am human, I am not perfect, and I will have hard days.
We are all human right now with responsibilities, families and communities to care for, and bad days are going to happen. Many of us have faced quarantine, feelings of isolation, sickness, uncertainty, and fear. Maybe the “new normal” doesn’t just mean wearing masks, social distancing, plexiglass, and canceled plans. Maybe it means in these new times, we are all human and we are normal.
It is normal to be upset that your son’s graduation was canceled. It is normal to be heartbroken that you couldn’t have a funeral for your grandmother. It’s normal to be unsure if you want to send your kids back to school or keep them at home. It is normal to be frustrated that you can’t make any future plans right now and you had to cancel your summer vacation. It is normal to be disappointed if you spent months planning your wedding only to have to postpone it and lose your deposits. It’s normal if you are unsure how to have a conversation with your kids about why we are required to wear masks. It’s okay if you feel massive amounts of guilt over the amount of screentime your kids are getting because you can’t go anywhere and you have made all the slime you can make. You are not alone. You are human. This is the new normal.
I know I am not alone. I know that because most people I connect with tell me they are struggling and frustrated and just trying to do the best they can, yet acknowledging they are not their best selves right now. My friends and neighbors tell me it’s hard to work at home with their spouses also working from home and they find themselves getting short tempered with their kids.
So what can we do? For me, I need to show myself and others grace. Be kind to yourself and others. If I am not my best self right now, then the waitress at the local restaurant probably isn’t feeling her best self and neither is the grocery store clerk or the UPS delivery guy. Show them grace. Realize they probably are just as frustrated and scared and unsure as you are but have to follow the new mandates and safety precautions. Take deep breaths and go on a walk when you start to feel anxious or overwhelmed. Make a list of the things that are worrying or angering you and then ask yourself which ones you have control over and focus on them.
Take care of yourself so you can take care of your families, your communities, and your responsibilities. Find your recipe for self-care. Spend more time in the outdoors exploring or in your kitchen learning a new recipe. Don’t forget to keep making memories. Laugh. Send someone some happy mail. And when you have a bad day or a few bad days, know how to reach out for help and remember you are human and that’s normal.