When life feels out of control (like… now?) what are your go-to’s to stay sane, practice self-care or protect your mental health?
Mine involve going for a run, finding a silent place to journal and pray and going for coffee with friends.
These days, there’s no running on my sprained ankle, there’s no silence with my husband and kids nearby 24/7 and there’s no coffee dates with friends thanks to social distancing.
This is not fun. I miss my self-care toolkit.
Naturally I fell apart, took it out on my husband, cried, ate chocolate and felt sorry for myself. Then I asked God what I could change so tomorrow would be better.
He reminded me: I was new to running. I used to hate silence. Learning to go deep with friends is a fairly recent practice – and I say practice because I’m not that great at it yet. These things had become my toolkit for the past season post-burnout, but it wasn’t the tools that mattered. What I was missing was what is behind the tools. When I take away my methods, what’s the principle they’re based on? Go back to the beginning, I felt God prompting. I wanted to know what my core needs were in order to find new tools to stay sane in this out-of-control season of living.
I don’t know what tools you’re missing in these days of social distancing, but I know you’re affected. Whether you’re missing silence or connection, waiting for your gym to re-open or just want access to nature; whether you’re in fear as a front-line worker who has to go out or wishing you could go out but you’re confined to your home… self-care is for everyone and we can all find some sanity savers for this crazy season we’re in.
Here’s a few ways to care for yourself and your family when all your normals are falling apart.
Right-size your expectations.
Hey, we are all new at this. Even you’re a homeschooler, you’ve never homeschooled in social distancing protocols before. Even if you’re a work from home mama, you’ve never worked from home without the benefit of coffee shops, gyms, errand runs and a quiet house. Even if you’re a health care worker, you’ve never been one in the midst of a pandemic. We’re newbies. It’s okay to not get it right all the time. I love Emily P. Freeman’s podcast on this – everything has a beginning, and we’re all just beginners right now.
Don’t expect to get your normal workload done. Don’t expect to get parenting right every time. Don’t expect your home to look pristine, your meals to be perfect or your normal standards of excellence to apply. We’re all back in kindergarten, and sometimes showing up is the win.
Rhythms breathe life
It’s so tempting to throw structure to the wind when there’s nothing holding us to a schedule. After all, isn’t that what we love about weekends?
Yet throughout the Bible, we hear the reassuring heartbeat of rhythms of life. Days. Weeks. Months. Seasons. Years. Even your heart beats with a rhythm. The Bible starts with a rhythm of creation:
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good,and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. Genesis 1:3-5
Throughout the first chapter of the Bible we hear the repeated refrain: “And there was evening, and there was morning…” (Genesis 1:5,8,13,19,23,31)
Even God has a rhythm.
We need a rhythm.
If there is one thing that is saving my sanity right now, it’s finding a rhythm for this season of life. It doesn’t have to be an hourly schedule or even a to-do list, but having some structure to your day or some rhythm to live by matters. It doesn’t even have to stay the same (we’re on rhythm 4.0 so far…) but find a way to mark time.
- Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day. Maybe it’s a different time than your “normal” life, but keep some kind of sleeping routine. Our bodies love routine for sleep, and sleep is one of the most undervalued tools for mental health we have. Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, a favourite author on the topic of rest, has been talking about the power of sleep to reduce stress, improve mental health and boost your immune system – three things I think we can all use this week!
- Get dressed. Dress for the life you want, not the life you have. Save your pajamas for your day of rest, one day a week, not your every day. I love Jon Acuff’s take on the life-changing magic of pants.
- Create spaces: have a space for work/homeschooling, a place for living and a place for retreat or quiet times. If we all lived in mansions this would be easy, but for many of us it may just mean clearing the kitchen table in between meals and work time, lighting a candle and playing a relaxing sound track to indicate quiet times or rolling up the area rug for playtime.
- Have a Sabbath (or a weekend). When our schedules are off and rhythms are gone, we need to find new ways to mark time. Whether you practice this on Saturday, Sunday or another day of the week makes sense for your household, take one day to make special.
- This isn’t necessary, but I find I’m LOVING things that separate the days. Piano lessons via facetime is on Tuesdays. Online church is on Sundays. Saturdays we play together as a family. As this physical distancing looks like it will span more than a few days or weeks, I’m looking for something different to make each day special. Maybe Mondays we’ll do an art project, or Wednesdays will be Chinese lessons? I’m not sure yet, but I’m finding the lack of boundary lines in our days is something I miss in our rhythm.
Chances are your gym membership is on hold, your diet has gone out the window and your exercise routines are a joke. This isn’t a time to pursue excellence, but it is a time to care for our bodies the best we can.
- Get outside. Every day. For many, early mornings or late evenings are the wisest time to be outside, when less people are out and about.
- Move. Go for a walk, a run, a bike ride. Put on a youtube video and do yoga in your living room. It’s so easy to live a sedentary life right now, and we combat this with intentional movement.
- Eat well. Cook meals, real ones. Eat vegetables. Try something new. Don’t just turn to comfort food – get whatever nutrients are available.
When this first started, we were all either panicking at the idea of limited social interaction or assuming other than phone calls, we were isolated. Instead, people are getting creative on how to connect.
I played board games online with my family who live a 5 hour drive away last night. My kids are talking with their cousins daily, when they used to talk monthly. I’ve seen moms having morning coffee in empty parking lots from the trunks of their vans, a safe distance apart but still together, and we’ve been making hand-made cards and writing letters to relatives we rarely see.
This isn’t a time for social isolation, it’s just a time of physical distancing. We can still connect, so do.
For some of you, this is easy and natural. Yes, you’re having to get creative with how but it’s not problem for you to think of who and when. For others, this does not come naturally.
For those of you that need baby steps (like I do), here’s a practice that’s helped me get out of my own world:
- Brainstorm 20 people you could reach out to, whether you’re close friends, casual acquaintances or family members. Aim for the 20 mark, even though most of us can’t come up with that many people we’d normally reach out to! It makes you go beyond your normal circles which is a good thing in brainstorming stages!
- Every day, contact 1 person. Your goal isn’t an hour long conversation, though that might happen. Your goal is to let them know you’re thinking of them and arrange a future time to connect. These days I’m arranging times to meet online for virtual games nights or when to call so we can have a better chance of uninterrupted phone time. If you’re not up for this every day, choose 1 day a week to call or email 3-5 people to arrange a future connection. There is something beautiful at looking at your schedule and seeing planned connections in the days ahead. You may never make it through your list, and that’s okay. When I started this practice, it took 3 weeks and reaching out to about 15 people before I found “my” tribe – women who would reciprocate by reaching out to me as well, and with whom I’ve found a rhythm of connection. You don’t need 20 close friends – just a few with regular connections is perfect. That list is just so, when you hear your voice saying “I have no one,” you have a physical reminder of people you can reach out to.
For us parents, we need to make sure we’re intentional with connecting with our kids, too. Honestly, we’re probably all a little sick of each other right now, but the fear and anxiety is real for them too. Take time to put down your phone, turn off the TV, let go of your to-do list and connect with your kids. Read a book. Go for a walk. Play. They need reassurance of your presence, your attention and your love now more than ever.
Practice radical grace
Friends, we are not at our best right now. Stress, anxiety and pressure is bringing out all the imperfections in our character. Give grace – radical grace. Give grace to your husband when he’s in your way. Give grace to your kids when they’re driving you crazy. Give grace to yourself when you’re not handling things in ways you’re proud of. Give grace when your standards of excellence need to be put aside. Be full of grace.
Look for beauty
We don’t have to look beyond our own noses to see issues and problems. The media is fearful, social media is crazy right now and it’s hard to see anything but a world spinning out of control.
Look for the helpers.
Look for the beauty.
Enjoy the sunlight on your face. Notice the birds singing. Appreciate the helpers – such creative helpers! From photographers donating time doing porch photos, to firemen doing birthday drive-bys, to tow trucks being diverted to deliver groceries, there are beautiful and good things happening in our world. Notice these stories. Share these stories.
Our family is doing a #onegoodthing challenge, where every day we find some bright point to celebrate and I am cherishing the answers. While I’m chafing at lack of personal space, my daughters are blossoming in the time, freedom and attention they’re getting these days. I want to hold that sacred.
I also want to be the helper. Like everyone, there’s limitations to what I can wisely offer, but I can do something. I can speak words of hope. There are still volunteer needs at my church. I have a list of people who need human connection I try to reach out to. So many important organizations need our financial donations right now. I don’t just want to see the beauty, I want to contribute to it.
This is now, more than ever, a time of prayer. We are told to “pray and not give up” – let’s do that! Don’t forget to praise God, and remind yourself WHO HE IS by praying the names of God. Bring our requests to him: for ourselves, our loved ones, the vulnerable and hurting, the poor and hungry, the sick and worn. Pray for our leaders, scientists and front-line workers. Bring it all to God!
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should alwayspray and not give up. (Luke 18:1)
One little thing
The most important lesson I learned coming out of burnout was to take everything one step at a time. I couldn’t handle the thought of next week, but I could handle the next 10 minutes. I couldn’t stomach the idea of going for a run, but I could walk to the end of my street.
As it turns out, this is a psychological coping tool called “chunking.” It means you don’t need to know how you’ll survive the crisis, you just need to take things in small chunks. What’s manageable for you? The next 5 minutes? Start there. How will you handle the next 5 minutes? Maybe thinking an hour at a time is where you’re at. Maybe it’s a day, maybe it’s a week. The point is, you don’t have to have it all figured out. Just take things one step at a time. Progress is progress, whether it’s at a snail’s pace or with momentum. Don’t worry about what’ll happen next month – start with today.
Because friend? This is not forever. This is a season. It too will end.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens (Ecclesiastes 3:1)