Here are my best self care strategies during the pandemic that you can easily integrate in your daily routine!
As life slowly returns to normal I’ve found myself taking stock of the changes I made during quarantine. I don’t think I made any of these changes as a direct influence of being trapped in my house, but in retrospect, they certainly helped me hold onto my sanity just a little bit more firmly.
It might be easy now that businesses begin to open and people return to the office to just let the good habits we’ve built slip. Or maybe for some of us isolation brought with it a slew of bad habits like not showering as often as we used to or shaving … not cutting our hair … cutting our hair and regretting it … laying in bed all day instead of exercising … bored eating – OKAY, okay, we get it. We’re all either coming out on the other side of this as a #fitspo lifestyle icon or a greasy sad potato who considers day drinking part of their daily routine now.
Here’s a list of all the strategies for self care that I have put into action during the first half of the year that make me feel a little happier, healthier, and overall less like a potato person. If you’ve been feeling like it’s time to get your life together here are a few small things you can do to get started.
Build an Exercise Routine
This is number one because it is the HARDEST thing on the list by far. Not only do you have to make the time for exercise, but you actually have to DO the exercise. And let’s be honest, it kind of sucks. That was my attitude towards exercise for the longest time – but it doesn’t have to be that way! Why did I hate exercise so much? Well, one, because I was a little baby and spent so much time complaining about how I didn’t like it that I convinced myself it was torture. So step one is to cut the drama, it’s not that bad. And two, I was trying to force myself to do workouts that I just didn’t enjoy! This may be a foreign concept to some, as it was to me at first, but exercise can be FUN.
Remember when you were a kid and spent hours being active, running around like an idiot, climbing trees, riding bikes, and trying to learn to do a backflip without breaking your neck? Those were pretty fun times, right? And it was all exercise! The things we did as kids would be what those hipsters at the gym call “plyometrics” and “calisthenics”. I could go on an entire rant about how YouTube fitness videos have poisoned you against HIIT and pretty much all other forms of working out but that feels like a separate article. The point here is, our bodies are meant to move, it’s good to get your heart rate pumping, workouts can be fun, and it’s up to you to find joy in it again!
So you don’t like the gym, but maybe you like swimming and could join a pool? Or maybe you played hockey as a kid and there’s an ice skating rink nearby. How about horseback riding or intramural sports? There are so many options beyond burpees in your living room, so explore them! Exercising is one thing that you can do every day that will always make you feel more accomplished, no matter what else you get done. The more accomplished we feel, the higher our self esteem rises – and if we look better in the process, even better.
Take Care of Your Skin
I never imagined how calming it would be to have a lengthy skin care routine until I actually made time for one. Now it’s like a form of meditation for me. This is a great follow up to your workout. All you have to do is allow for a little extra time post-workout and pre-shower to pamper your face – or if you’re feeling generous, your whole body! After my morning workout I like to set up my bathroom sanctuary complete with calming tunes. Feel free to add in some candles or incense. Really set the mood here.
My favorite new thing I’ve added to my skincare routine is facial massage. You can find lots of great videos on YouTube that target different areas like under eye circles or a tight jaw. Focus on giving yourself a little massage and you’ll quickly notice that your thoughts are calm, you feel relaxed, and you’re completely ready to start your day fresh. No matter what your skincare looks like – essential oils, exfoliating scrubs, brightening masks, this step will improve your overall well being and appearance. Just don’t forget to shower, being clean can do wonders for your clarity and productivity throughout the day.
Clean up Your Diet
Yes, pizza and pasta is fun to eat and fun to say. But if you’ve fallen into a cooking slump during quarantine and these have become your go-to for lunch, dinner, and sometimes “cold leftovers breakfast” it might be time to start cleaning up your diet. You’ve heard it before, your body is a temple, blah, blah (you roll your eyes as you eat another bagel bite), but while cliche, this is true. I would argue that one of the ultimate tips for self care is to feed your body well. What does this mean? It means find balance. Don’t crash diet, don’t count calories, don’t treat food like the enemy or use it as an emotional outlet.
Food is neither good nor bad, it’s just there to bring us nutrition, value, and happiness. We don’t have to eat perfectly all the time to be healthy – in fact, telling yourself that you can’t have things (unless you’re genuinely allergic or intolerant) is an unhealthy habit that just makes you want “bad” foods more. Try to incorporate more whole foods, healthy fats, grains and proteins with each meal. Food that doesn’t come from a box actually tastes so much better and if you cooked it yourself, guess what, there’s that sense of accomplishment again! Taking care of your body by nourishing it with healthy foods seems like a simple thing, but it’s so fulfilling.
Don’t know how to cook? You’ve probably got a lot more time on your hands right now, so it’s the perfect time to learn. A healthy habit and a life skill? Sounds like a pretty good deal. I recommend Pinterest for finding some foodspiration.
On the flip side, give yourself the freedom to eat foods once in a while that may not bring you nutritional value, but simply make you feel good or are part of a new experience. There is value in those things, too.
Fix Your Sleep
When I was a teenager all the way through college I had horrible sleeping habits. I felt energized at night which kept me awake watching TV or being sucked down a YouTube tunnel until I fell asleep. Sometimes I wouldn’t go to bed until the sun came up. Thankfully, I fixed this habit way before COVID-19 came around, but even in college I was staying up too late and spending too much time in front of a blue light before bed. As someone who struggles with insomnia and sleep paralysis I made it my mission to permanently shift my sleeping habits during quarantine.
You’ve probably heard about the evils of blue light and seen some of your friends buying protective goggles to wear in front of the computer, but it’s talked about for a reason. Blue light interferes with our bodies’ natural circadian rhythm and makes it more difficult to fall asleep when we stare at our screens before bed. If you want to learn more about sleep and our bodies’ natural cycle check out Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.
The gist of this tip is to approach sleep like it’s an important part of your day – because it is. Sleep affects how we feel, how we look, and how we function, so you best try to make the most of it. I like to give myself 2 hours of screen-free time before bed, and usually try to be under the covers by 10 or 11 PM. Some of my favorite screen free pre-bed pastimes are taking an evening walk, having a bath, reading a book, journaling, meditating, stretching, or listening to a podcast or music. All of these things will tell your body it’s time to start winding down and you’ll find yourself naturally nodding off rather than trying to force sleep to come.
And when it comes to setting the alarm? I aim for 8-9 hours of sleep, based on how tired I am and when I actually got to bed, but the amount of sleep needed varies for everyone. Waking up naturally is ideal, I leave my shades open and let the sunshine and that one super annoying bird outside my window wake me up in the morning whenever possible. Nowadays I find myself beating my alarm to the punch, although I still struggle with disrupted sleep and paralysis every now and then, I find myself far more energized during the day than I used to be.
This self care tip is easy. Literally just go outside, at least once a day. Feel the warmth of the sunshine and the sound of lawnmowers on the breeze. Wear sunscreen for prolonged lengths of time, I say as I recover from a horrific attempt at tanning that my pale complexion utterly rejected, but go outside.
Basically everyone in the USA is Vitamin D deficient, and with just 15 minutes a day in the sunshine you can do your part to correct that! Vitamin D is known to improve your mood, boost your immune system and strengthen your bones. Unlike a lot of other vitamins, we synthesize Vitamin D in our own bodies through our skin’s contact with the sun’s beautiful UV radiation. Getting D through foods or capsules just isn’t as effective as a short jaunt in the great outdoors. Just make sure to show some skin, the sun likes that sort of thing.
Not to mention the fact that several studies have shown that just being in nature can improve our mental health and well being. Trees make us happy, but who didn’t already know that?
Make Time for Yourself
It’s really easy to get caught up in being “busy”. But slow down and ask yourself: Are you actually busy, or are you creating work for yourself? If you find yourself saying “yes” to everything that is asked of you, or worse, offering to help everyone with everything before they’ve even asked, you’re probably trying to do way too much.
If you genuinely want to be involved with something, great! But if you often say “yes” and then find yourself regretting or resenting it, it’s time to start saying “no” and spending your time on yourself instead. You don’t have to be a part of every group chat or livestream. You don’t have to watch that really long Jason Statham heist movie that you swear you’ve seen before just because the rest of the family is (sorry fam – and Jason – it’s a pass for me).
Spend that time doing what you want. Reignite your passion for needlework or dust off that book you always meant to read. Play the mandolin – my go to – paint a picture, brush your cat for an hour straight. I don’t care what you do, as long as you enjoy yourself! Invest your time doing the things you love, you won’t regret it.
Learn Something New
Try to spend a little time everyday learning something, anything really. I’ve spent my quarantine time learning about business and finance, exercise physiology and dietetics, and improving my miscellaneous skills like music and sewing. Learning useful skills will not only be helpful post-pandemic, but will also help you plan your next move if you’ve been stagnating or left jobless due to COVID-19.
It can be scary to think about the future in these uncertain times, but planning and learning new skills is one way to gain back control and feel more prepared to take on whatever new challenges we’ll be faced with. Other handy skills you can pick up are learning a language, gardening, coding, or photography. Check out Udemy for an entire list of free courses currently offered, or check out Clever Girl Finance for free financial resources and classes.
And those are my best tips for self care during the pandemic!
Remember that your happiness and mental health is most important. Taking the time to properly care for, nourish, and heal your body will help keep the crushing anxiety, boredom, and mild panic at bay. Plus when all this is finally over, you’ll enter the post-pandemic world looking and feeling your best. What habits (good or bad) have you picked up this year?