Committee for Children Blog

Put on Your Oxygen Mask First: How to Practice Self-Care During Physical Isolation

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bit resistant to a lot of self-care options, even during times of crisis. Maybe that’s because I come from family of nurses who seem to take on the world with little regard for themselves. Maybe it’s because I’m from Kentucky and a lot of the supports I run across don’t speak to my cultural experience. Whatever the reason, I’m skeptical. Fortunately, I work for an organization that is great at explaining the scientific foundations and research outcomes of many methods, products, and supports for social-emotional well-being. This has helped me learn the importance of putting aside skepticism and trying things that might help me manage my feelings, communicate effectively, and build good relationships with others.

If you’re struggling with self-care right now, as many of us are, take the time to practice recognizing your own emotions as well as what you need to manage them and feel safe and healthy. If you’re not taking care of yourself, it will be infinitely harder to help your children navigate this situation. Here are some self-care strategies that seem critical to me right now.

Make Time for Yourself

Seek out the time you need for thoughtful reflection. That might mean putting a 30-minute hold on your calendar during work hours, having a virtual happy hour with your best friend, or taking a slightly longer than normal bath—there’s not a person I know who hasn’t hidden in the bathroom to get some much-needed alone time when there are children in the house. Recently, I’ve been thinking about taking a drive alone if I can manage to get away for a bit. Even 15 minutes thinking about yourself and your own needs can be crucial when you’re spending most of your day focusing on others.

Take a Chance on Mindfulness

Mindfulness practices seem to be particularly effective for folks, so think about trying out one of the many free apps focused on mindfulness. Here are some vetted by our research team:

  • Calm
  • Headspace
  • Mind Yeti (Yes, this is a shameless plug and yes, this program is intended for kids, but twice a week our organization takes 15 minutes do a Mind Yeti meditation and it really helps!)

Don’t Feed Your Lizard Brain

I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. a couple nights ago reading articles and sending out memes about the pandemic. I’m saying that so you know that these suggestions take practice and we won’t always get them right. That being said, it’s best to try and set some limits for yourself around media or interactions that might be increasing your anxiety and putting you in survival mode. Once the part of your brain that only gives you the options of fight, flight, or freeze takes over, you’re not going to be in a good place to deal with things effectively. Try one of the following tactics and see if it helps:

Limit your consumption of media related to the pandemic.

It’s important to stay informed, but you probably have the information you need without watching the news into the wee hours of the morning. This week I’m setting aside a specific time each day when I can surf for information I feel I need. I’m also going to work on setting some screen time limits for myself.

Communicate with family and friends about what you’re doing to reduce anxiety for those in your home, and use the conversation to gently put some boundaries in place.

Before Washington’s Stay-at-Home order, I received no less than three text messages from family members asking me if I thought I should return to Kentucky so I could be there in the case of travel restrictions or a national shutdown. That same day I sent at least five funny texts about the effects of this pandemic. With some states reopening and friends and family anxious to see each other, I realize how these interactions create a vicious cycle that heightens one another’s worry. It’s fine to use humor to decompress as long as you know it’s serving the same function for the other party. It’s fine to check on family, but be aware if the constant text messages can add to an already difficult situation. I recommend we all communicate our needs clearly so everyone is on the same page.

Be Proactive in Seeking Help

You may want to consider making an appointment with a counselor if you’re struggling, or if you think a fresh perspective and some support tools may help. Many counselors are providing services virtually here in Seattle and across the nation.

Do Something for Yourself

Here’s what I’ve done for myself this week:

  • I made a decompression playlist and I’ve been listening to it in short bursts while doing certain tasks, like making breakfast for my kids.
  • I set some of my meetings to end 5 minutes earlier than normal; I use that time to stand up,  walk outside, and take a few deep breaths whenever I can.
  • I changed our kids’ bedtime to be slightly earlier. Now I have an extra 20 minutes at the end of the day to sit and think about what I need to be okay right now.
  • I set up some virtual socialization times with friends and family to reconnect.