Life is busy and stressful. The pandemic has exponentially increased the stresses we are facing. People who take on the responsibility of caring for children, elderly, sick or disabled people, and those who have careers in care-giving professions like health care tend to give more than they take in on the best of days.
We have all seen the unimaginable stress, fear, feelings of helplessness, and loss endured by the health care professionals working directly with patients suffering with Covid-19. We watched parents try to adapt to changing job and school structures, not knowing how to juggle having kids home, figuring out a new way of learning and not knowing what would happen next. We saw teachers go above and beyond, many having to learn new skills, juggle their own kids’ schedules, and working almost twice as much as they had to under normal circumstances, doing their best to figure out a way to get through to their students. And then there were all the support workers - counselors and therapists of various types - who people lean on for assistance when times get tough and physical and mental demands are greater.
When someone is drawn to a healing or caregiving role, they tend to be generous with their time and resources by nature. Many thrive on being of service in this way. But often it can lead to burnout, fatigue, anxiety, and health issues. This past year and a half has been unthinkably difficult for everyone in a myriad of ways. If you can relate to feeling worn thin, frazzled, tired, stressed, numbed out, these tips might be for you.
Sleep is the best way to regenerate your body, calm your mind, and soothe your nervous system. It sounds too simple and too obvious, but there’s a reason sleep is mentioned in pretty much every self-care article you might read. It works. So for real - plan to go to bed at a time that will allow you 7-8 hours of sleep, turn off the blue light device an hour before that time, and stick to the routine the best you can. And if you’re having a hard time sleeping, seek out some advice or help from a doctor or holistic practitioner, add some pre-bed meditation into your routine, and just do your best to rest. Even if you don’t sleep the whole time, that structured rest is still going to help your energy level.
An athlete wouldn’t dream of performing full-throttle without an appropriate warm up and cool down session. They know they function optimally with less risk of injury when they prepare their body for an event and take the time to wind down after one. If you’re running your life full-throttle, be generous enough with yourself to give your body and mind that same kind of respect.
When you wake up, keep that door closed for an extra 10-20 minutes. Create a soothing routine that might include some morning yoga or walking, meditation, a quiet cup of coffee, or some breathing. When you hop in the shower, luxuriate in it. Feel the warm water and relax instead of plotting your day out and mentally checking off your to-do items. Slow down just a little as you brush your teeth and get changed. Practice deliberate present action as you get yourself ready for your day.
And after you get home from a hard day or tuck those kids into bed, allow yourself to wind down. You’ve already turned off that device, so take part of that last hour before bed to give your body and soul what it craves. You may like some soft music, or that uplifting podcast, or maybe you meditate or do some gentle stretching. Perhaps you love to read, so pick up that fiction book and get swept away.
Like sleep, exercise is consistently recommended as one of the gold-standard ways to reduce stress and take care of your mind and body. Some bodies need vigorous movement, and others need slow and gentle movement. Even if it’s for ten to twenty minutes, try to work some type of movement into your self-care regimen. Hopefully you can take that yoga class or long walk or run. But on days where your schedule is too tight, or when you may need that extra sleep, try to stretch here and there throughout your day, or try shaking your whole body out, or dancing for ten minutes.
Take a couple of breaths to feel your body and drop into the present moment. Then listen inside for what may need a little focused attention. A quick Cat/Cow series with a Downward Dog or two can do wonders. Reaching the arms overhead and stretching out side to side or doing a seated twist gives you a little boost in the middle of that Zoom call or between patients. Even ten good old-fashioned jumping jacks can get the blood moving. You’ll be amazed at how different you will feel when you remember your body.
Since we are talking about movement, forward bends are especially helpful when you just feel fried or drained. I’m not talking about a maximal hamstring stretch, but rather something akin to Child’s Pose or a standing or seated forward bend. Gentle forward bends, by their nature, are restorative and regenerative. They bring your energy and focus inward. They help you to exhale. So if you need a quick reset and you have to push your body just a little further before your day ends, try folding over for five or six breaths.
I know - you’re busy. You may be juggling so many plates that the idea of taking a break seems laughable. But hear me out. Studies show that your brain functions more optimally when you take time to recalibrate and rest. Those breaks in your day can be small and simple. Just take 30 seconds to mentally pause. Breathe deeply, try one of those movement practices, peek out the window at the birds or step outside for a minute and feel the sun.
Airplane scripts remind us to put own oxygen mask on before assisting others. Take this advice to heart. If you’re someone who consistently says, “yes” when asked for help, this suggestion is for you. If you’re already feeling frazzled and you get that knot in your stomach when someone asks for your help or wants to have a play-date, love yourself enough to be honest. Tell that person that you don’t have the capacity and be brave enough to say “no”. Learn to prioritize your precious energy and know that if you do, you’ll be much more able to show up in service.