5 Ways to Be Kinder to Yourself during Social Distancing (and after)

24th Apr 2020

It’s been many weeks now since Social Distancing came into effect due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us have experienced a roller-coaster of emotions and mood shifts so far - be it due to the pandemic itself, or pre-existing mental health issues that intensified during this time. Top all that with worries about our families, our friends or our job and it becomes suffocating. Suddenly, most of your freedom went away (for legit reasons), and the idea that you can’t go outside without it being necessary became a hard to swallow pill.

But how do you cope with something you’ve never experienced before? Simply put: the same way you always do - improvise, adapt, overcome. And be kind to yourself along the way!

Gene Tierney With Portrait Masks by Horst P. Horst, 1940

Over the past six weeks I went from focusing on what I can control and making the best of it, to feeling super anxious and having migraines for consecutive days. I’m a little better now, and have enough mental space to acknowledge that again I need to start putting in the work to keep my anxiety disorder in check, and be kinder with myself.  I’m no expert when it comes to this topic, but I’ve spent many years being kind to others so I think I have a few great tips up my sleeve to share with you:

1. Plan ahead

Most of the time you won’t be able to prevent having a shit day, a meltdown or your anxiety going from 1 to 10 in a matter of minutes because someone said something nasty to you in an email. However, if  “present you” organizes stuff in order of priority and makes small decisions for  “future you”, this will prepare you for the eventuality of shit hitting the fan at work, in your personal time or both.

Sometimes your day starts shitty and ends the same, or it starts well and ends shitty, or it starts shitty and ends well - you get my point. We can’t control most of the factors that make our lives miserable - but we can control what we do to make it better. When you have  a day/week that is planned in advance (which you can also adjust as you go), and you learn to counterbalance the negativity of what went wrong with attempts to make yourself feel better, chances are that your mood will improve. I mean, being miserable definitely feels nicer in a bubble bath.

2. Make Time for Alone Time

For those of you who have roommates or live with your family, this might be more difficult to achieve - but hopefully, not impossible. You can have some alone time even in a room full of people... by using the right noise cancelling headphones (wink, wink).

Solitude can help you get the mental space you need to figure out how you feel or make decisions for yourself without people buzzing in your ear. It’s also a great way to recharge, wind down after a long day and enjoy your own company and thoughts.

3. Say no to say yes

There are still just as many hours in a day as there were before this pandemic. So the key here is to be mindful, adaptable and accommodating with everything that gets thrown at you.

Sure, all these online events and catching up with old friends and socializing with coworkers sound nice and dandy - but the reality is you don’t have extra free time just because you are working remotely. Be wary of what you choose to participate in, and for how long, especially because it’s easier to push yourself too hard after a long day of working in pajamas. Keep an eye open for peer pressure - you probably don’t feel it as much by working remotely, but it’s still there. Better to refuse invitations rather than participate in things you don’t have time nor energy for just because you gave your word in the heat of the moment.

4. Dolce far niente: Pleasantly doing nothing

When you feel stressed out, or tired, overwhelmed by tasks and feelings, and you already said to yourself “Fuck this shit!!!” - it’s a sign you need to push the pause button and do nothing. No matter how many reasons you can find to not “fuck this shit” right then and there, chances are there isn’t anything that urgent that can’t wait until tomorrow. Ask to get off early from work on such a day if possible, or take the next day off. Any manager with common sense or at least a hint of humanity will relate and grant you this wish (if they have no reason not to). Yes, the problem will still be there when you return, but at least you can dedicate some hours to taking care of yourself. Then, proceed to do nothing - you can sit on your couch and stare into the abyss, or surf the web - as long as you don’t engage in any serious activity. This is your time to do nothing, and yours alone. Don’t be afraid to take a rain check for your own wellbeing - if you don’t put yourself first, who will?

5. Start chasing your dreams

I know this is such a cliche - but if you think about it, most of us are unhappy with our lives and careers because we don’t live or do what we actually dreamed of for years. One reason for this is the fact that when these dreams were formed in our minds and souls, we probably didn’t have a realistic viewpoint, were not mature enough or we did not have enough information on how to actually make that dream come true. It’s easy to wish for things, but it’s hard to transform an ideal into a palpable and realistic plan to achieve a goal. Another reason could be that you started from the bottom and realised that the bottom has many layers just like I did (more about this, here)  and it turned out there is no linear path to reach the top.

Aside from talent, potential, hard work and perseverance, you also need connections and a fair share of good luck to succeed. No matter what reasons you had for procrastinating on your dreams, today is a new day and a new opportunity to transform your dream into a realistic action plan. Yes, it might not go as you expect, it might not even turn out as you dreamed it would - but at least you’ll be able to get the regret and disappointment of not chasing your dream out of your system. Maybe you’ll discover that it was a silly dream, or that au contraire, it was a genius idea that you left hanging for 10 years. If you never explore your dreams and potential, you’ll never know how far you can go.

I know these tips are not groundbreaking, but being kinder to yourself is a lifelong process - and it starts with doing more of what you love, and what is good for you. What are your tips for being kinder to yourself?