Self-care is especially important now, as we are moving from short term shelter-in-place into the weeks and months ahead. When we’re on vacation, we might throw out all the rules and drink and eat in a way that isn’t healthy longer term. We’re at that point in the marathon journey that Covid-19 is presenting to us.
Extremes of fear, outrage, overwhelm and other nervous system reactions are in our face at the moment as are times of clarity and gratitude. Some people, like me, are alone in a safe environment. Many are in situations where they are fighting with the people they live with, are broke, or trying to work with children who are also at home. Ordinary trauma, the pain and struggle of human life, affects us all and many people were overwhelmed before Covid-19.
One of the effects of trauma as that we disconnect from ourselves. We don’t want to be in our body. We don’t want to feel the painful sensations and reminders of feeling helpless and hurt. We escape into eating, drinking, screens, or numbness.
Through being aware of and welcoming how I am feeling, I have the direct experience of knowing myself. That tight fist in the gut is where I feel my fear. Those teeth that are clenched? Me holding in what I can’t afford to say. Catastrophic thoughts taking over my mind? My attempt to keep myself safe by preparing for the worst-case scenario. This is happening in my mind and my body.
We all long to be known and validated, to be loved and feel safe. Connecting with ourselves means moving inward and knowing our whole experience. We can be interested in, know and love ourselves!
The root of disconnection from nature and from other people is this inner distance, this lack of attunement with who we are. It’s the stale dirty bathwater we’ve swum in so long we don’t know we’re in it.
Feel the coolness of your breath as it flows over the membranes in your nostrils. Soften your belly as you breathe out. Take a deep breath in as you bring your shoulders up to your ears then let them release on the exhale. Feel your feet on the floor. Notice.
One of the most persistent ways we disconnect is through thoughts in our mind. Anxious thoughts are driven by fear in our nervous system. They settle when we look to see the truth – we are safe here in this moment. We soften our forehead and eyebrows and let go of worry in our mind.
We acknowledge that we don’t have to go anywhere or do anything for the next few minutes at least. We have time to let our bodies relax. We don’t actually need to plan or defend ourselves, wish we’d said something different, or wonder about the latest stats on the virus. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to be present in our body for a few minutes and rest.
Pay attention to your sense perceptions as you breathe in and out. Our belly softens and we release some of the anxiety. Our breath becomes smoother as our body relaxes and we have more room to breathe. This ease in our breath signals our nervous system that we’re safe and our body lets go of more tension.
This gives us an opportunity to focus on the stillness in our mind. Notice the quiet between thoughts. Notice the deep quiet that is there even as thoughts come and go in our attention. When thoughts attract our attention, and they will, we have an opportunity to be patient and gentle as we bring our attention back to stillness. We are aware of the space itself, and what is arising and falling in the space of our mind and our whole body from head to toes.
Bring your attention to your heart center. Physically, we might notice the rib cage protecting our heart and lungs and the movement of the diaphragm as we breathe. Energetically we feel emotion in our heart. Sadness and grief. Love and warmth. Anger. Gratitude. We notice feelings as they come and go.
One of the most profound ways we can care for ourselves is to pay attention, to notice and welcome our experience. Isn’t feeling heartbreak better than being disconnected and tuned out or turned away from yourself? Can you welcome yourself and the nuance of your life experience? Can you stay?
What does your heart know? What does it want you to know about self-care during these difficult times? Give it some time and listen. There might be words and images or not. Continue to rest your attention in your heart center.
Do you long for quiet time in nature? A visit from someone you love? Notice if you are holding yourself to a standard of perfection instead of resting. This causes us to disconnect at any time and especially now. If there is even a hint of shame, let it go as you breathe out.
If you were talking with your best friend, what would be most helpful for them to do with self-care now? Can you offer that to yourself? Remain open and welcoming, even if it seems silly or not practical. Listen. How could you support and nourish yourself in this moment? It might be a nap one day or a long walk another, a quiet time of reflection or a phone call to a friend.
Connecting with ourselves with kindness is a radical act of self-care. With gratitude and appreciation, we open our heart and get to know ourselves.