by Dr. Laura Jones
During challenging times, self-care often slips to the bottom of the To-Do list. The past year has been filled with curveballs and challenges that have been a source of chronic stress. For many, the day’s task list includes new responsibilities and has become much longer than prior to the pandemic. The words we hear often as patients describe how they are lately include “overwhelmed”, “exhausted”, and “all-done”. As a community, we have lost our resiliency to stress. Many of us find ourselves more reactive; things that would not have rattled us before are leaving us tired, frustrated, and worn out.
When we become worn, we have less energy and motivation to take care of ourselves. The self-care routine becomes neglected and as a result, we see a dwindling of physical, mental, and emotional health. Many of you have shared with us your tendency to self-reproach for the things you know you should be doing but are not due to lack of commitment and consistency. You are not alone.
The pandemic has been long, and even though the end is in site, many are struggling to find the energy to take charge of their health again. There has been more stress, less sleep, more weight gain, less exercise, more tasks, less patience, more sugar, less vegetables, more sadness, less joy. Identifying what needs to change and planning to address the weak spots slowly and consistently is a solid game plan.
I often ask patients, “What are your health goals at this point in time?” or “What would you like to focus on over the next few months?” or “What would you like to accomplish before the end of the season?”. These are good questions to ask yourself as they allow you to identify what is important to you and what you would like to improve upon.
As you identify the weak spots in your self-care routine, it is important to start to make changes slowly. You may have a goal of meditating for 20 minutes daily, but maybe start with finding time for 60 seconds of deep breathing once or twice per day. You may want to gain back enough physical fitness to run a 5k, but let’s start with walking around the block 4 days per week. You may want to find time for knitting again but start with a scarf, rather than a blanket. You may want to lose 30 pounds – let’s start by being consistent with 3-4 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, rather than a 4-week cleanse. Slow and consistent changes are the secret to success – choose changes that are challenging but do-able so that you can stick with them.
I challenge you all, if you have not already, write down three simple ways you could start to take better care of yourself. I do this each month, at the beginning of the month and write my choices in my daily planner so I see them every day. Small changes that allow you more rest, a few quiet moments a day, more exercise, healthier nutrition – you will start to see an improvement in your resilience to stress again. You will likely find more moments of joy again, more patience and maybe even come out on the other end of this pandemic not only wiser, but healthier than you went into it. It cannot hurt to try!