Caring for yourself is more complicated than caring for others. When caring for others, there are immediate, direct needs- food, water, shelter, money. When it comes to the self, often, it can get pushed aside in the name of others’ needs.
Self-care is hard for those who are caring for others. In the same way, if a nurse skips their meals to work more, they’re going to be unable to help others the way they want in the long run. Think of it as “helping yourself to help others.”
Self-care isn’t all just what we post on social media, though. A glass of wine and a candlelit bathtub might be much more Instagram friendly, but sometimes what’s really going to reduce stress is cleaning the house. Sometimes it means organizing that old junk pile. Many more people are working from home than ever, which means the home is now the workplace as well. The workplace is to be kept at least somewhat tidy, clean, and above all, functional.
In the age of instant information, most have realized that a break from social media or television news is becoming a necessity. Even before the pandemic, the news could be depressing or heavy; in the time of COVID-19, it’s hardly anything but. The election and its historic implications weighing heavily on everyone’s minds. “Normal” not being back in time for the holiday season. The amount of 24-7 wall-to-wall coronavirus news coverage.
Taking a break from the constant stream of worrisome news can help ground oneself, a reminder to focus on the things that are within control. Being concerned with things outside of one’s control- such as the state of the world, the virus’ existence, or politics- can only up levels of stress and anxiety, which can directly contribute to physical health problems, even chronic ones.
Constant stress is terrible for the human body. When the body lives in a stress response – “fight, flight, or freeze” mode for days, weeks, or months at a time, physical symptoms become more frequent. According to Healthline, that kind of stress response can cause headaches, insomnia, a weakened immune system, and more. It can even raise your risk for heart attack.
This is why, in our current situation, self-care is more important than ever before.
Self-care isn’t often prioritized or even encouraged. This is especially true in American culture. Working off-hours, overtime, and on holidays is seen as a necessary sacrifice or proof that you’re a good worker. Taking time off is to be avoided at all costs.
However, during a long-term crisis like COVID-19, self-care has to be a priority. The stress response is the body’s natural response to a threat. Adrenaline allows an extra burst of strength to help fight off a threat or run away. The stress response is a great biological failsafe- but not for weeks or months at a time. Running or fighting a long-term crisis won’t work.
That’s why investing in the self will help to get through the long-term crisis. Running a car into the ground rather than get regular tune-ups and minor fixes will eventually cause a bigger crisis than if the car had been taken care of over time.
But it’s still good to have that glass of wine and take that candlelit bath once in a while, too.