There are days when I feel as though the tank is empty. Not just my tank, but also the tanks of all my family members, friends, colleagues, even the bank teller’s tank… As we approach the year mark of this new existence we’ve been handed, the notion is setting in that we cannot continue to draw on our internal resources indefinitely without replenishing them. We need to look at evolving our self-care. But what does that mean in practice, when we can no longer do many of the things that used to fill our proverbial buckets in the past? How do we carve time out for self-care when others depend on our attention more than ever? How have our needs for self-care changed now that we live and work in the same spaces?
When we holed up at home at the start of the pandemic, many of us took a little vacation from working out. Some of us slept a little longer, ate a little more and maybe had an extra drink here and there. But as days turned into weeks and gyms remained closed, we put off looking for alternative ways to take care of ourselves. Our kids needed homeschooling, our laundry and food preparation duties multiplied, we started working from home, and just like that, our places of refuge took on very different meanings.
Myers, Sweeney, & Witmer (1991, 2000, 2005), have spent decades immersed in the field of wellness. They proposed a holistic approach using Adlerian Theory and other research-based findings, to identify the various life tasks which impact our sense of well-being. They emphasized the interconnectedness of our various ‘selves’, responsible for performing tasks in areas such as love, work, friendship etc., and proposed that when attention is paid to one ‘self’, it can induce positive effects in others.
Dr Bessel Van Der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score, recently commented on the shared experiences many of us are confronting during the pandemic. He reminds us of the need to bring structure into our lives as a means of taking care of ourselves, stating, that ‘We need to organize our interior lives because our exterior structure has disappeared’.
This is a powerful call to self-empowerment, challenging us to find alternate ways of addressing our self-care needs and filling our proverbial buckets. What that means for each of us will vary, but as I look at the various spheres of life we all occupy, the idea that they are interconnected resonates on many levels. Certainly, getting more sleep seems to equip me to better handle the task of being present for my family, friends, colleagues and clients. If one of my children has a melt-down, I am better placed to deal with it calmly and rationally. Eating well, sticking to a regular schedule, making time to walk with a friend (six feet apart, wearing masks), making time for family movie night, getting out in nature, baking, reading, taking a bath and sometimes even going for a drive by myself while I listen to a podcast. All these things restore my sense of self and help me feel cared for and connected to those who matter in my life. Self-care is changing for all of us. As we have pivoted to work from home, connect with friends and family through a screen, and shop online, so too must we pivot to find new ways of taking care of ourselves. Spending time identifying those areas where we need to invest more in ourselves can be a valuable step in devising alternative ways to fill up our tanks. New ways, more consistent with our present circumstances. As we navigate new challenges brought by the pandemic, we might even find moments where we note that instead of merely surviving, we are in fact thriving.