10 Quick Strategies to Take Care of Yourself
Having a self-care plan is an essential part of being in the helping profession. You help less people when you are not feeling well yourself. Self-care is most successful if you first take time to practically reflect on your needs, what self-care plan will work for you, and how to overcome obstacles that will get in the way of your self-care. We know self-care is hard. Self-care does not have to be something time-consuming or something you feel guilty about not doing. Instead it can be a simple, brief activity that becomes a manageable part of your routine. There is no judgement if you don’t happen to get to your self-care activity one day. Just try again the next day and be kind to yourself and your expectations of yourself.
Consider the following ABCs when you make your self-care plan1, 2:
A: Awareness of your own limits, time, resources, and emotions. Be aware of signs that you might not be taking care of yourself. Schedule a regular time to check in with your body and emotions regularly (e.g., every time you use the restroom or wash your hands). You may be in a position where you have to make or implement difficult decisions and may witness scenarios that may be challenging to process. Pausing to acknowledge and identify some of the feelings getting stirred up by what you are seeing and hearing may help you process the intensity of the situation. Use an emotional vocabulary beyond mad-sad-glad to acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic has created never-anticipated scenarios and try to be more aware of moments of humanity, collaboration, or individual strength. In being aware of your own limits, consider what you can say no to and what resources or people support you. Have you been connecting with those resources?
B: Balance personal and professional activities. Set aside time for yourself away from electronics
C: Connect to your inner self, others, pets, and potentially something larger (e.g., spiritual, religious, nature, or the night sky on a walk or outside your window). This may include understanding some people close to you may not be the best at re-energizing you and it is time to identify additional supportive individuals in your life (e.g., colleagues or a counselor).Most importantly, reconnect with the reasons why you chose this work and your intentions for the day. Focusing on meaning during a crisis can make it possible to bear immense amounts of adversity with determination and optimism. Disrupt negative thoughts by focusing on your role during this difficult time.
Try using one of the 10 ideas below to help you take care of yourself. Try different strategies until you find out which one(s) work best for you as not all strategies work for everyone. To help you identify which works for you best, rate how you feel before the activity on a 1 to 10 scale (10 = most stressed) and see if your self-rating reduces after the activity.
Repeat a mantra or phrase that meets your needs. It can be short, “Breathe” or long: “I've done the best I can for what I could control and do based on the information and time I had today. I am proud of myself for getting through today.” See this list for more mantras made just for providers and volunteers like you. Create visual reminders with a word or your mantra
(e.g., add a note that says your mantra/word to your work badge,
computer screen, clipboard, car wheel or your phone case).
Take 3 simple, slow breaths. You can try 4-7-8 breathing where you
breathe in 4 seconds from your diaphragm, hold for 7 seconds and slowly
breathe out for 8 seconds. While you’re breathing, you can count in your head to distract yourself from overwhelming thoughts, check in with each part of your body, or tell yourself a helpful mantra (e.g., inhale “I am doing what I can” and exhale “with limited and depleting resources").
Listen to guided meditations like this 1-minute recording for breathing or this 3-minute recording to remind you to let go and relax before eating. Longer guided meditations and other types of recording specifically selected for this population that are in Spanish and English
are listed here. Applications you can download for your cell phone, including
free ones that are in Spanish and English (e.g., InsightTimer and PTSDCoach)
are listed here. For USA based providers, we recommend HeadSpace as it is
currently free for US providers/teachers/anyone unemployed, backed by
evidence, short, and something you can also recommend your patients to try
out as it is available in English, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese.
Create a work-to-home transition routine. Without such transitions, the stress
and worries from work will linger with you. This is especially important if you
are working from home. The transition can be as simple as changing rooms, a quick walk around the block, or a 1 meditation or grounding exercise. Repeating a mantra like the following can also help, such as: “Taking time to take care of me now in my home helps me better take care of others tomorrow at work.” You can also reflect at the end of your workday on “What can I put down for today so that I am not carrying it for the rest of this day?”
Have some routine. The importance of having a routine, even a short or weekly one, during stressful times like now cannot be emphasized enough. Routines provide a sense of security and a time to check in on your needs. Brushing your teeth, playing with a pet, preparing a meal, eating, and reading the news or social media can all be routines and times where you can build in time for connecting to yourself by reflecting on your needs or connecting with others. For example, while eating or looking at your phone at the end of your shift or when you wake up, you can send a message to a friend or a colleague. The message can be to vent or share a joke/image to laugh and brighten each other’s day. Sharing your experiences can help you process what you are experiencing.
Take breaks from your computer. Being on telehealth calls all day can be incredibly draining and cause headaches/eyestrain. Use applications like this one: https://hovancik.net/stretchly/ to help you remember to take quick 10 seconds breaks stretching or looking away from the computer to reduce the strain on your body and mind. Also, try not to work where you sleep as it can disrupt how restful your sleep is. Additional tips available here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/19/smarter-living/work-at-home-tips-advice.html
Soothing touch. Focusing on the soothing sensation of touching something that can bring great comfort. For example, you can put lotion on mindfully, enjoy the cool sensation of water, put your hand on your heart or belly, or carry a soft pebble or shell in your pocket. You can remind yourself to associate peace with every time you touch this part or object.
Distract yourself with your 5 senses. Sometimes our thoughts are so
overwhelming or fast that turning our attention inwards is unhelpful.
In these moments, ground yourself by focusing your attention outwards.
Use the 5-4-3-2-1 strategy to describe 5 things you see, 4 you feel, 3 you
hear, 2 you smell, and 1 you taste.
Participate in a hobby that restores your energy, such as working out, listening to favorite songs, drawing, completing puzzles, knitting, playing an instrument, reading, cook/bake, craft, or gardening (even its watering a small succulent). Hobbies don’t have to be time consuming. For example, you can do a brief 5 or 7-minute workout or yoga to get your endorphins up and stress out of your body.
For more ideas, see this self-care wheel to make one specific for yourself. For more Covid-19 stress reducing resources in English, visit www.virusanxiety.com. If you find these approaches are insufficient for you, you are not alone. Try talking to someone. If you are an RHA provider/volunteer, you can contact Lauren Deimling Johns for free services in Spanish or English by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or a WhatsApp text to +41 78 977 9119 and Dr. Deimling Johns will respond within 48 hours. If you need more immediate help call 1-800-273-8255 or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org to live chat with someone.
1 Gusman & Swales, National Center for PTSD