The Importance of Self-Care During a Global Pandemic

woman enjoying tea at home
Written by LD Brooks
Edited by Caitlin Feehan

Each of us has different needs and limits when it comes to maintaining our mental and physical wellbeing, and these can vary from day to day. Think of your limits, or capacities, as a cup that can be emptied or filled—in order to practice true self-care, you need to acknowledge and accept the size of your cup, then balance the things in your day that withdraw from and replenish it.

Many of the things that empty and fill our metaphorical cups are personal, and it may take some time to figure out what those things are for you. For example, some people feel replenished by spending time alone, while others feel replenished by getting out and socializing. That said, there are some experiences that are more universal in the way they affect us, like how having a sense of purpose and feeling loved and cared for are replenishing, while feeling rejected, alone, and isolated are depleting.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many stressors that empty our cups: worry, fear, uncertainty, disruption of routine, having to learn new processes and technologies, balancing too many responsibilities at once, and more. Plus, now that our usual routines are disrupted, many of the conscious or unconscious cup-filling activities that we had built into our daily lives have been removed, like alone time, spending time with friends and family, going to the gym, going out to eat or get drinks, taking a yoga class, attending concerts and events, going shopping, going on vacation, and everything else that gave us a sense of normalcy.

With more stressors and fewer supports, it’s no surprise that many of us are feeling that our cups are unbalanced, and re-balancing them will take a conscious effort. We need to examine our new normal and figure out what’s missing: what cup-filling activities do we need to build back in, and how will they look different than before?

Step 1: Identify What Energizes You

If you’re unsure of what your cup-filling activities are, don’t stress, because you are not alone. Take some time to think about how you spent your time before all this, from what you did the moment you woke up in the morning, to how you got to work, to what your day looked like, all the way to your evening wind-down. As you review the various parts to your days and weeks, ask yourself: which of these things were replenishing to me? Which felt like a little inhale of energy, or a reduction of stress, or brought me joy?

We often think self-care means morning runs, meditation, or hours at the gym, but it doesn’t always look like that. There are many small actions we take to fill our cup, like enjoying a catch-up chat or banter with our colleagues in the morning, being alone with our thoughts over a nice cup of coffee while on break, taking a bike ride to work, getting fresh air during lunch, going out to dinner, watching sports, getting a hug from a friend…anything that used to be a part of regular life that brought joy, energy, or a sense of calm.

Step 2: Analyze and Adapt

Now, thinking of these replenishing activities, ask yourself which of them have been disrupted or are missing right now. Have you replaced any of them? If not, are you able to? What would a viable replacement look like at this time? Many of us have tried to adapt some of these things in various ways, like by moving our social hangouts to virtual formats and finding physical activities we can do at home, but these replacements may not be as enjoyable or replenishing as they were in their former forms. Remember to be gentle, compassionate, and forgiving with yourself, because the reality is that filling your cup may be more challenging right now.

Step 3: Show Compassion to Yourself and Others

You may need to experiment with adding different activities into your schedule or trying new things before you find a good balance, but in the meantime, things will probably feel a little off. It’s more important than ever to be open to sharing your struggles with someone you trust, like a friend, partner, family member, colleague, counsellor, or EAP, who can support you and reassure you that you are doing okay and that things will be okay. For a lot of people, simply being seen and heard is cup-filling, so it’s important to not only reach out for this support yourself, but to offer it to others as well. Remember to respect the experiences of others and understand that people are being affected in different ways based on things like pre-existing mental or physical health conditions, job losses and money struggles, tense or violent family situations, and so much more. We are all dealing with situations that are challenging in their own ways, and each one is worthy of validation.

Getting back to normal once restrictions are lifted will be a slow process, and the balance of our cups will have to be readjusted slowly over time. Try to manage your expectations and continue to practice self-care as you move through this time and into your new normal, because true self-care is a practice that never leaves us.

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