Remember the office?
Remember when work meant dropping the kids off at the school gate and skipping gaily away to spend 8 glorious hours among other grown-ups, drinking fancy coffees and not once wiping anyone’s nose or tearing your hair out attempting GCSE algebra? Or even – let’s be honest – year 4 fronted adverbials.
OK, maybe that’s a rose-tinted-glasses trip down memory lane but all the same, things have definitely changed over the last year.
In 2019 a tiny 5% of women worked from home – fast forward to 2020 and that number skyrocketed to 47.5%. Interestingly, before the pandemic, more men than women worked from home, whereas now the balance has shifted. As working from home now often includes care of the household, children and pets, not to mention the fact that we’re worrying constantly about our own health and the health of our loved ones – it’s no wonder we’re feeling under pressure.
Self Care in a Pandemic
Like many, I began working from home during the pandemic, as did my partner. Our child stopped going to school – but did not stop requiring an education. I also started my own business because, clearly, I didn’t have enough to be getting on with…
Having struggled with my own anxiety over the years, having an actual global catastrophe on our hands brought it back with a vengeance. I also felt I was failing to ensure my daughter didn’t pick up on too much, hurriedly turning off the news when she entered a room, talking in hushed whispers with my partner. Adding home-schooling and home working to the mix meant I was feeling the strain.
How to take care of myself when taking care of everything else felt impossible?
Here are 5 self-care tips, learned the hard way, and tried and tested by me.
1. Putting You First – Making Time for Self Care
As a self-identified introvert, alone time is vital for me. It’s how I recharge my batteries and de-stress. If I don’t get regular alone time, my mental health, my mood and my general wellbeing starts to decline.
But getting that alone time in a tiny house with your family 24/7 can be tricky. Pretty early on I realised that I had to carve out that time for myself as a number one priority – not easy when we’re often taught never to put ourselves first.
But, like on an aeroplane (remember those?) when we’re told to put on our own oxygen mask before helping anyone else, if we’re not OK? We’re no good to anyone else either.
For me, this looks like rising early (I’m definitely a morning person, although it often doesn’t feel like that at 6am), drinking tea, writing, doing a bit of yoga, and generally clearing my head before the rest of the family gets up.
2. Setting Boundaries
Strong boundaries mean identifying what we need, stating that need, and not settling for anything less. Easier said than done, eh…
Whether our boundaries are external – around the behaviour we’ll accept from others – or internal – the behaviour we need from ourselves, they’re imperative to self-care.
Pretty early on I realised that listening to the news every day wasn’t serving me. I set a boundary for myself that I would no longer tune in for the daily update, and neither would I engage in conversations about it with others.
Boundaries around work are even more important when your boss is always only a Zoom call away. Block out time for a proper lunch break, and make it clear that you won’t be replying to emails in the evening.
3. Doing the Hard Stuff
Type “self-care” into a search engine and you’ll see beautiful pictures of candles around a bathtub, herbal tea and yoga on a tropical beach. And sometimes self-care does look like this, but all too often it’s about getting the foundation stuff done first – the boring but necessary things that make a real, tangible difference to your wellbeing.
Worrying about your finances? Rather than ignore the problem and hope it goes away, get the calculator and bank statements out and look the problem right in the eye. Potentially you’ll discover it’s not as bad as you feared, but even if it is, taking charge of the situation means you feel in control and means you can take steps to fix it.
It’s not as Insta-worthy as a bubble bath, but it might do 10 times as much for your mental health.
4. Care for Your Body
Fresh air, exercise, nutrition. If these don’t form the basis of a self-care routine, I don’t know what does.
By exercise and nutrition I am absolutely NOT advocating beating yourself up for those pounds you (I) gained during lockdown, or spending hours in front of Joe Wicks – unless you love that sort of thing, in which case you do you.
I’m talking gentle, loving care of your body, however it looks, whatever its size and shape. Just eaten an entire packet of cookies? Don’t skip your next meal “to make up for it”, prepare something nourishing but substantial for yourself instead.
If you used to go to the gym but haven’t in months, try regular gentle walks around your local park to get started. Take breaks from your screen to walk around, get some fresh air and make a snack to eat away from your laptop.
Focus on doing what’s good for your body, not punishing it for not looking how you think it should.
5. Go Easy on Yourself
Forget banana bread and learning Japanese during lockdown – what about those of us who barely find the time to change out of pyjamas every day?
Just getting up each morning, jumping from Zoom call to endless Zoom call, trying to look like a professional (at least from the waist up) and not going completely batty under the strain is hard enough without extra pressure to “make the most of it”.
Remember: we are living through a pandemic. It’s an overused phrase but it’s true, these are literally unprecedented times. So if you haven’t served anything other than frozen pizza for the last week, and you can’t remember the last time you wore a non-elasticated waistband – cut yourself some slack!
Take the day off school work to snuggle on the sofa with the kids and watch films all day (if you watch David Attenborough documentaries this 100% counts as education). Book some annual leave just because. Read a really trashy novel. Nap.
If you get to the end of the day and everyone is alive, fed and still pretty much speaking to one another, then it’s been a good day.
Lily Karenza is a freelance copywriter, working with small businesses, creatives and entrepreneurs. She lives in Nottingham UK, with her partner and daughter, a dog, a cat, three ferocious chickens and a slightly belligerent tortoise. She still doesn’t really know what a fronted adverbial is. You can find her at www.lkcopywriting.com