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Self-Care in Uncertain Times

Hello, my friends.

With the Coronavirus concerns and constant media cycle related to the outbreak and efforts to reduce spread, it is a difficult time to be a person in the world. As much as I’ve wanted to keep up the streak of posting every Monday, it feels like a weird time to have a blog about self-care. So, I took a week off as I adjusted to working from home and then, as restrictions on movement increased, temporarily relocated to my boyfriend’s house.

Behold the new plant in my impromptu office/yoga/space at Andy’s

These past weeks, I’ve had an unprecedented amount of time to think, and have used the word “unprecedented” a, well, unprecedented number of times. I think we’re all being forced–called?– inward, whether or not we like it, as the physical distancing (aka social isolation) measures have taken effect. Much has already been posted, and emailed, and livestreamed relating to the importance of self-care during this time.

And yes, taking care of ourselves is even more crucial in these uncertain times, but I am neither a doctor nor one of the most affected individuals in this pandemic. I have the type of job that has not vanished almost overnight, and I am relatively young and healthy. I’m an introvert, so while isolation disrupts my daily routine and occasionally gives my thoughts too much time to spiral, I am not unaccustomed to entertaining myself home alone.

So, it feels strange to thrust myself into this conversation. And yet, I am a writer, and to process, I write.

I can’t offer you expert advice, but I can share my own experience and what I’m doing to cope. As someone who has lived with anxiety my whole life, in some ways I am strangely more prepared for this level of panic and uncertainty. My brain thinks the world is a threat like 90% of the time, and I have worked hard to learn how to work with it and bring it into a better space.

(Sourced via Giphy)

I hope you have these tools, too. If you don’t, there are plenty of sources curated by actual experts to help you. Here is one of them. 

Like so many of you, my routine has been disrupted by the ever-changing precautions as restaurants and bars close. I work in higher-ed and for the past few weeks, the only constant has been change. Each morning I would wake up and wonder what new changes had been decided upon by our COVID-19 task force in conjunction with CDC guidelines.

On Monday two weeks ago, it was business as usual with heightened precautions, new posters, and newly installed extra hand sanitizer dispensers. By Wednesday, we were discussing joining other institutions in the shift to virtual learning.

I went home the following Monday with the knowledge I’d be working from home for the next two weeks. At least.

At least. The reality is, with the landscape changing so frequently, none of us know how long this will last. Last year when my mysterious pain began, I remember saying so many times in therapy that I just can’t handle uncertainty. If I know what I’m facing, I can face it, I would say. With each scan and test that came back without answers, my panic rose.

Eventually I got an answer and, as predicted, adjusted to my new reality fairly quickly, aside from forgetting that pills were now a thing I had to pack when prepping for trips (thank you, CVS online prescription refill for letting me get ahold of my meds in another state, on a Saturday, no less).

I’ve been thinking about that a lot while trying to limit my exposure to news and numbers. We are all living in uncertainty. Uncertain how bad this could get. Uncertain how long this self-isolation will last. Uncertain of the larger ramifications on our economy, our civilization.

The unknown is so tricky, so difficult to get a grasp on. It leaves so much space for our minds to wander, to spiral. Like so many people, I fluctuate between fairly calm about the measures we are taking and complete and utter panic and catastrophic thinking.

In a recent webinar offering, Nataly Kogan of Happier talked a bit about how our brains are wired to perceive threats and keep us safe. They don’t do well with uncertainty because they are constantly scanning our environment to pick up on danger and steer us away from it. When it can’t pin down the exact danger or what is necessary to keep us safe, it just keeps on scanning. And scanning. And scanning.

(Recording of this incredibly helpful webinar is available here on Youtube.)

And so, what to do?

We can continue to try to take care of ourselves and others, to the best of our ability, I suppose. Self-care looks very different as physical gatherings of large groups aren’t recommended and events around the country are being cancelled. Places like yoga studios and gyms, social gatherings and parties, are what many of us rely on as part of how we cope with anxiety and stress. They are what some of us rely on for our livelihoods. And they are closing with an unclear timeline for reopening.

I, like so many people, have been trying to stay busy and stay entertained. I am being gentle with myself about productivity, trying to continue to get my work done while holding space for the fact that life simply is not normal right now, that settling into a new normal is difficult when the landscape keeps shifting. Here is what I’ve been up to:

1) So many online fitness classes! Alongside my staple, Yoga with Adriene, I’ve been taking advantage of the many online offerings that local yoga studios and fitness instructors are offering. This morning, I’ve got a live class via Zoom booked through my local yoga studio, Yoga Hive.

2) Celebrating a birthday. What a time to turn another year older. I just want to say it, fellow March birthday folks–this sucks. Happy birthday to you, and may you celebrate the best you can. For me, that was a Google Hangout with my friends around the country and being pampered a little bit extra by my boyfriend (Thank you, Andy!)

(Sourced via giphy)

3) Reading some books. Call it a coincidence or call it intuition, but I checked out a stack of books from the library shortly before things got real, and I’m working my way through them right now. Currently working on Namaslay by Candace Moore and Startup by Doree Shafrir (of self-care podcast Forever 35)

4) Listening to podcasts. I’ve got a backlog built up from the winter wherein I’ve taken fewer long podcast listening walks, so I’ve got plenty of audio content to keep me company. Favorites include the often mentioned Glass Cannon Podcast, Forever35, Magic on the Inside, and The Witch Next Door. 

5) Panic buying from local businesses. One of the weird things my anxiety has fixed itself on is the fear that all the local places I love, that have made Pittsburgh home to me, will collapse under the weight of closures and event cancellations.

So, I ordered a ton of frozen handpies from Prohibition Pastries and have ordered buffalo chicken calzones from Pastoli’s a couple times already. I am also contemplating buying coffee grounds from Coffee Tree Roasters in spite of having one backup bag in the cabinet already, because they make the best iced caramel latte I’ve ever had, and which I have thought about almost nonstop these past few days.

6) Looking for the helpers. You know the quote.

I am trying to focus more on the stories of people helping than the conflicting and constant reports from all sides about a disease we simply haven’t had the time to learn much about. I’m watching people like Kat from Crystal Bar donate soaps to those in need, seeing content creators offering up their wares for free or reduced prices to bring us joy. It helps, if only a little bit.

7) Taking walks. Outside isn’t cancelled as long as you keep a reasonable distance and don’t parade around if you’re sick. So I’ve been giving myself a daily dose of sunshine and trails whenever I can.

8) Checking on my people. Sending texts, planning virtual activities like watching something together and texting about it or using Roll20 and Discord to keep up with our Pathfinder gaming.

I hope this post finds you as well as can be expected given the circumstances. I hope you may take a moment to pause and ask yourself “What is it that I need in this moment?” and then provide it for yourself as best you can.

Stay healthy and stay safe, my friends.