The spread of the novel coronavirus in our area has disrupted life to some degree for all of us, and to a significant degree for some of us. In addition to hygienic prevention—e.g. proper and frequent handwashing and sanitation of public and private spaces—social distancing has emerged as an essential part of the long-term public health plan for large-scale prevention and treatment of COVID-19. For those still unfamiliar,
Social distancing is a public health practice that aims to prevent sick people from coming in close contact with healthy people in order to reduce opportunities for disease transmission. It can include large-scale measures like canceling group events or closing public spaces, as well as individual decisions such as avoiding crowds. (hub.jhu.edu, 2020)
Social distancing, while undoubtedly the right choice in terms of protecting the health of ourselves and our community, can be a disappointing, deflating and defeating reality at times. Many long-awaited events and vacations have been cancelled, curtailed, or postponed indefinitely; regular settings for prosocial interaction and community bonding have closed or gone online; self-care routines, and routines in general, have been disrupted—creating uncertainty and exacerbating tension in households, couples, and families. These conditions—combined with fear and practical concerns about the disease itself, not to mention its economic and financial impact—seem entirely opposed to life and relationship satisfaction.
But deferring satisfaction until COVID-19 is no longer a threat is no way to proceed, either. In fact, I insist the opposite: if you are being responsible about social distancing and taking one (or a few) for public health and the greater good, you deserve to feel good about yourself and your life right now. How do we accomplish that? Robust self-care and self-love: social distancing edition.
NOTE: I recommend starting with options in category one, then moving down the list if feeling calm or satisfied is still far off. And in every category, remember to C.H.E.E.E.R.U.P.!
1. Feels Hard Now, but Feels Good Later
Creativity: Tackle an artistic project that expresses something particularly painful about your present or your past; take time to complete incomplete projects
Hygiene: Empty any drawer, cabinet, or closet in your home, organize the contents, and separate out items to donate; deep clean low-traffic spaces in your home that do not get frequent attention
Enrichment: Read a technical manual or textbook related to your profession or another area of intellectual interest
Exercise: Virtually anything—exercise is this category’s darling. Safe options include run/jog/power-walk in large, open-air spaces; tune into exercise classes online; invest in comprehensive home-workout regimens; practice simple body-weight exercises like push-ups
Eating: Plan meals for the week; replace caffeine, alcohol, or sugary drinks with water; eat more high-nutrient foods, e.g. fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, grains, etc.
Rest: Go to bed an hour earlier; cease screen time an hour before going to bed
Upkeep: Eliminate distractions and spend some time (starting in increments of 10 minutes) sorting mail, completing forms, paying bills, working on your resume, preparing tax documents, responding to stubborn emails, or any other paperwork-comprising personal administration
Prosocial Engagement: Initiate a meaningful, personal conversation with someone you live with about a topic you have been avoiding; make a phone call to someone in your life whom you care about but do not communicate with often (be prepared with two interesting thoughts or updates to share, and two inviting questions to ask)
2. Feels Good Now, and Feels Good Later
Creativity: Tackle an artistic project that expresses something particularly triumphant about your present or your past; create a series of small, low stakes pieces that allow you to practice unfamiliar and interesting techniques
Hygiene: Take a shower; invest time in relaxing hair, skin, or nail care rituals that have a lasting effect (moisturizing skin is part of illness prevention as well); Clean any surface in the high-traffic areas of your home
Enrichment: Listen to an audiobook or educational podcast; have someone you live with read aloud to you from a novel or nonfiction book on a topic of mutual interest, or read to them
Exercise: Enjoy a long, slow stretch—first thing in the morning, before bed, after a workout, or almost any other time (for some, all types of exercise falls into this category… Good for you all!)
Eating: Experiment with new recipes, and perfect a few before regular socializing is expected again; Go through your refrigerator, freezer, and kitchen cabinets and identify some items you have not used in a while, and find a creative way to incorporate them into your cooking
Rest: Give yourself permission to be still during daytime hours (feel free to incorporate prayer, meditation, or sensory deprivation as desired)
Upkeep: Identify a significant, multi-step administrative task or school/work project that has gone undone for a long period and break it down into three or more smaller tasks, then do one of the smaller tasks
Prosocial Engagement: Write a long letter to someone important in your life, and send it via email or snail mail; if you live with an intimate partner, increase nonsexual physical affection, exchange massage, or try sensate focus exercises
3. Feels Good Now, Don’t Overdo It
Creativity: Invest more time than usual—time you might otherwise spend in social settings—creating something self-satisfying, however unnecessary or mediocre; tune into your streaming service of choice and enjoy someone else’s creativity for a while
Hygiene: Treat yourself to a particularly aromatic hand soap, body wash, or shampoo; take a bubble bath
Enrichment: Listen, watch, or read about some subject you are entirely unfamiliar, and allow yourself to a) enjoy the experience of imperfect, unregimented learning, or b) fall down a Wikipedia hole trying to understand it perfectly—whichever seems more decadent to you
Exercise: Take long, languid walks in open-air spaces; do essential errands on foot; give yourself permission to have an unplanned rest week from more intensive workout regimens
Eating: Enjoy a decadent dessert; Enjoy investing extra time making and decorating a decadent dessert; Spend twice as long eating meals as you normally would; order grocery delivery
Rest: Give yourself permission to do any necessary task slowly; take short naps during the day, especially before or after periods of intense mental or physical effort
Upkeep: Do any of the options from category 1 or 2, but reward yourself intermittently with an episode of a favorite old TV show, or watch while you are working provided the work is mindless enough
Prosocial Engagement: Use texting and social media to facilitate frequent, low-stakes interactions with friends and family (or even strangers, in safe contexts); when you are out of the house, use smiling, waving, door holding, and kind salutations with strangers and acquaintances to feel more connected even while maintaining responsible distance; Give yourself permission to unplug from social interactions entirely and spend time with yourself (introverts, you know who you are)
This is a long list, and as a therapist I love being able to offer lots of good options, but do not feel pressure to do all of these. Start with one or two a day, or block of 10 minutes at a time, and see what fits in your life and what works well for you. Therapy can still be part of your self-care as well, due in large part to our recently expanded teletherapy options; call or email to learn more!
Janine Joly-DeMars, MS, LCMFT, provides individual, couple, and family therapy in our downtown Bethesda office, and virtually to those located in the state of Maryland. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation with Janine.