Self-Care: Post-Pandemic Edition for a Healthier and Happier You

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Self-care has been a hot topic throughout the pandemic, with many people struggling on this front and experiencing detrimental impacts on their physical and mental health as a result.

Indeed, we all had to process a lot of new information, and adapt to new ways of working and living in a short amount of time. The fact that rules changed frequently and at short notice (in particular closing and re-opening of schools and daycares), requiring adjusting routines and schedules, was also physically and mentally straining, and contributed to blurring the lines between work, personal, and family time. Gyms closing and restrictions to where and when we could go out only further reduced our options for stress relief. All these factors made keeping up good self-care habits very challenging.

Women, and especially mothers, have been affected by this, bearing an even greater portion of the load at home, and often sacrificing their personal needs to those of employers and their household.

If you’ve experienced this, reading about the importance of self-care and hearing people tell you to “take care” was not always helpful, it could actually feel like one more thing to think about and manage, when your plate was already overflowing.

The silver lining is that the pandemic and associated lockdowns have shed light on some of our most important needs. The needs that, if not fulfilled, eventually leave us feeling mentally and physically depleted. Among other things: the need for human connection, for support, for rest (both our minds and our bodies), and for stress relief.

Neglect these needs long enough and you will find yourself mentally and physically exhausted. I have personally experienced it, and I know others around me have too.

So, now that things have largely gone back to normal (at least in the Netherlands), how can we take the lessons we learnt with us and ditch the bad habits, in order to take better care of ourselves in the future, pandemic or no pandemic?

Here are a few pointers:

Take stock: What is the price to pay for a lack of self-care?

Have a long hard look at yourself. Have you neglected yourself and some of your most basic needs? What result has this had?

For me it was chronic lack of energy, and no mental space to think about (or do) things that bring me joy. What was it for you?

Analyse: Why did you start neglecting your needs in the first place?

Self-care is actually really simple: it’s responding to your own needs. Your emotional state and physical state tell you what you need, all you have to do is listen and respond. Rest when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry, take a break when you’re overwhelmed or need to recharge etc. It’s what I tell my kids to do. I think it’s important for them, and I know it’s at least as important for me, so why do still regularly ignore the signals from my mind and my body?

The answer is that I don’t value myself enough to prioritise my own needs. Many women are taking on a too many commitments or responsibilities. They want to keep giving the best they can to their family, their work, their partner and friends, and often they put themselves last. But that thing about not being able to pour from an empty cup? It’s true. You have to fill your cup first, and that means putting your needs back on top of the priority list. Don’t wait for someone to allow you to do it.

What do you need?

This will look different for everyone. I really need personal space to recharge. And after grossly under-valuing my need for sleep and rest, I now listen to my body more closely and try to respond better (it’s a work in progress!). I’ve also become more vocal when I need support, and ask people for help more easily.

Note that taking care of yourself doesn’t always mean doing what feels good in the moment. It’s “doing the things that you need to do for yourself in order for you to be healthy, effective, and happy in your life,” says Robyn L. Gobin, author of The Self-Care Prescription. Sometimes it’s doing what can feel unpleasant, but is better for you in the long run: having a hard conversation with your partner that you’ve been putting off, making that dentist appointment that’s overdue, leaving a job you’ve outgrown, or finally crossing those lingering chores off your to-do list.

What do you need most right now?

N.B.: it takes some practice to answer this question and really get to the bottom of the answer: establishing which are your most pressing needs and how best to satisfy them. Journaling can be a great way to sort your thoughts and clarify what you need at any given time. Discussing this question with other women who feel the same can also help. It’s a fantastic way to harness the power of collective care and mutual aid. If you are already part of a LeanIn Circle, is this something that has come up in your discussions? And if not, how about joining a circle? Or even starting one? You will find all the guidance you need here.

How can you start fulfilling these needs?

Sometimes this means something punctual, and other times it will mean rebuilding good habits that have been disrupted, which is for most people the hardest part. Start by identifying the simplest way to fulfil your most pressing needs, and then make time to do it. It’s important.

The main message here is: you matter. Fill that cup and don’t let it run dry.

So, what do you need?

References:

Robyn Gobin PhD, The Self Care Prescription: Powerful Solutions to Manage Stress, Reduce Anxiety & Increase Wellbeing, 2019

R. Stauffer, The Pandemic Finally Killed the Self-Care Myth, 2021

Lean In Netherlands is an action-driven community that counts more than 32 Lean In circles and a community of over 1000 men and women that come together to support each other, learn new skills, talk openly about ambitions and get inspired to take on new challenges by defining micro-actions that make a difference in each of their lives.

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