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Self-Care Strategies for Tough Times

In the Time of COVID (as we may be referring to it years from now), things got pretty rough for most of us. And if you were already struggling with your mental health or a child’s mental health, you know it was like a double whammy. We were stretched to our limit on all fronts–keeping our kids and ourselves safe, engaged, and sane were like three full-time jobs rolled into one! So here are some things I did (and didn’t do) to help me get through– tips that are good for any time of crisis.   

Here’s what I did...

1. Create a Support System Call List (and use it!).

A. Make a list of all your most non-judgmental, safe-feeling sources of support–whether family, friends, professionals, support groups, Facebook groups, or hotlines. This won’t be everyone in your life; most of us have at least some well-meaning people in our lives that just won’t get it, or who, for whatever reason, we’re not comfortable sharing highly sensitive information with. And of course, there are times we are just too emotionally exhausted to explain the situation while worrying about potentially negative reaction. Know that even if your list is short now, it will grow. I began this journey feeling certain that no one could understand my particular struggle, but along the way discovered so many unexpected allies.

BConsider the types of support you need. I know for myself, there were days I just need a lighthearted conversation; other days I was looking to commiserate with someone who was equally invested in mine and my son’s well-being; and others, I needed specific recommendations from someone who’d faced similar challenges. With this in mind, write down next to each name, what that person/group offers you.

For instance:           

  • Mom: Comfort, compassion
  • YMHP Parent Support Network: Understanding, guidance
  • FB Group:  professional recommendations
  • Parenting Coach: Insights, parenting techniques
  • Crisis Hotline: Immediate professional support & referrals

  • Having this list did three things for me: first, it was a comforting reminder that I was not alone; second, it helped me identify the kind of support I needed in a given moment; and finally–and most importantly–it encouraged me to reach out when I needed that support.

    C. Get comfortable reaching out. This can be tough for a lot of us; we may be embarrassed, afraid of appearing weak, worried about judgment, or just simply tired of talking about our problems. One thing is certain though, trying to manage things alone is hard as hell, and not nearly as effective. Support is available, you just need to practice asking for it!

    2. Create a map of hope

    When things look bleak, we need hope. Not fantasy-style hope, but hope based on real possibility. This may take some creative imagining, but you will never regret the time you spent thinking up all these good things!

    A. You can use a sheet of paper or posterboard, depending upon how big you want your ‘hope map’ to be, and where it will end up (I like mine big and visible ). Then choose three colored markers and write the words Immediate, Near Future, and Long Term in different colors, wherever you like on the page, leaving room beneath each heading.

    B. Now, ask yourself this question: What do I have in my life right now that feels good? This can be anything you enjoy doing, person you enjoy being with, or place you like spending time. Beneath the heading Immediate, write out as many of these things as you can without editing.

    C. Next, write your response to this question under the heading Near Future: What positive things can I foresee happening in the near future (ie. taking a trip to visit our cousins, resuming our weekly family walks)? Try to visualize these experiences until you have a felt-sense of their comforting realness.

    D. Finally, under the heading Long Term, finish this sentence: I am so looking forward to the time when… Allow yourself to imagine the very best of what’s possible for you and/or your child. It’s okay if your list is ambitious, in fact, it should be! You want this to be an exercise in hopefulness.

    I feel bolstered whenever I read my hope map. Every one of these existing and potential positives is like an emotional nutrient. And as long as I have enough of this nutrition, I can get myself from point a to point b, however rocky the terrain in between. This is also a great exercise to do with your child!

    3. Two highly-targeted meditations every day: The Regulater & The Elevater.

    These meditations are based on a method I developed called CACAO, which combines the tools of conscious breathing, awareness, compassion, appreciation, and optimism, to regulate your nervous system and boost your mood. I recommend doing The Elevater (intentional spelling :) first thing in the morning, and before you go to sleep at night; and using The Regulater whenever you’re feeling anxious or just out of sorts. You can listen to them both here and download the ‘cheat sheet’ versions here.

    And here’s what I didn't do

    1. Guilt Myself

    It’s hard not to wonder how much of our own, or our child’s suffering is due to something we’ve done wrong. And the reality is, sometimes it is! For instance, as loving and devoted a parent as I am, that first year of COVID did not bring out the best in me. I lost my cool far more than I consider acceptable, spent far too much time glued to my newsfeed, probably went overboard on safety measures (I know there are many who would insist I did!), shared too much about COVID in an attempt to scare B into being more careful. And these days, I wonder if I’m not being safe enough.

    It’s equally hard not to question yourself when things go awry. Amongst my top 10 greatest self-questioning hits: “Did I miss critical cues?” “Was I not sensitive enough to his emotional needs?” “Was I too strict?”, “Did I not show enough compassion when he had meltdowns?”, “Should I have been more patient when he was bouncing off the walls?”…

    Now, I think these are all reasonable questions, and worth asking. But only if done in a constructive way. So, I recommend, with whatever questions you’re asking yourself: ask the question simply, answer thoughtfully, then make any necessary adjustments and amends. That’s it. Because here’s the thing: guilt is not a motivator. It saps us of the energy we need to make positive changes, and causes us to question our very ability to make said changes. We can take responsibility for our mistakes without heading down the rabbit hole of self-recrimination!

    2. Curb my bad habits

    Like nightly Netflix binging, FB scrolling, over-caffeinating, overeating. Of course, I tried to keep my indulgences this side of destructive, but with everything going on, I knew it was not the time to amp up the self-discipline.

    3. Worry about the future

    We can inform ourselves, hold onto hope, and stay proactive. And that’s all we can do. As I consistently told myself: Plan wisely for the future then forget it.