While each of us has a unique relationship to the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has affected our lives, a likely common denominator is that we have all been asked to make significant changes. For some, these changes may have been somewhat welcome: maybe you always wondered what it would be like to work from home and get space from bothersome work relationships, or maybe it has given you a much-needed opportunity to spend more time with your family or partner. For others, who relied on daily small talk with their barista for a sense of community or who cherished their office space as a way to focus, staying home may be a more difficult task. Others still may be adjusting to new realizations about their own vulnerability and that of their loved ones, or mourning those that they have lost due to the pandemic.
Perhaps you are finding yourself embodying several or all of these perspectives. Maybe the anticipation of staying home feels very different from the reality, and you have been surprised with your own reactions and ability to cope. How can we be kind to our shifting needs and desires as we navigate the experience of physically distancing ourselves from our communities and mourning the myriad losses we are facing?
Here are a few places we can look to see how our needs are evolving and how we can be compassionate with this process:
Planning: What do your weeks usually look like? Do you commit to things in advance, or do you prefer to be more spontaneous? For those whose calendars are normally filled to the brim, the next few weeks may have more blank spaces than you’re accustomed to, which may bring up painful or uncomfortable feelings. For those who are generally more spur-of-the-moment, you may find that your schedule is quickly filling with video calls and workout classes, and this too may feel overwhelming. You also may find that while it once felt exciting and comforting to have a full calendar, you are now craving more free time and opportunities to process your feelings. Try to notice how you feel when you are making plans or looking at the openings in your schedule, and see if you can welcome any shifts that may have occurred in your relationship with planning ahead.
Movement: Moving our bodies allows us time to connect with ourselves, and for many of us physical activities are no longer built into our weekly routines. Your body may be missing the walk that you would usually get during your commute to work, or your weekly workout class that is no longer accessible. While movement may still feel essential to your physical and mental wellbeing, you may notice that your body is craving more restful movements at this time. Alternatively, you might find that you want to engage in more cardio than you normally would. Think about how you can access movement in ways that feel comfortable for your body. As much as you can, tune into what your body is telling you it needs, and aim to be compassionate with what you find.
Reflection: In light of recent changes to your daily life, how can you remain attuned to what feels nourishing to you and how this may be shifting? What happens when your favorite hobby is no longer accessible, or you realize that being at home has made space for new ways to find joy? If you already keep a daily diary or gratitude journal, consider using part of your entries to reflect on daily sources of emotional nourishment, what it was like to engage in these activities, and how you felt afterwards. If you prefer to use your phone, apps like Perspective can be a quick way to check in on how much time you spend on activities that bring you fulfillment, and how this affects your mood over time.
Ashley Barad, LMSW, is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in incorporating self-care into your life, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.