Written by Julia Fleenor Bejarano – Marketing Coordinator, Camp Fire NHQ
Before we begin, take a deep breath with me:
Lower your shoulders from your ears and roll them backward.
Stop your tongue from pressing into the top of your mouth.
Unclench your jaw.
Grab a glass of water.
Stress is a word everyone is familiar with. Simply living as a human on this planet requires some levels of stress – feeding ourselves, getting the kids to practice, finishing a term paper. Generally, our healthy minds and bodies can manage these daily stresses and continue to function at a high level. We may not even realize we are experiencing stress because our bodies are able to adapt well and can return back to a neutral state once the stress has been alleviated.
I felt like, for the most part, my body and mind handled stress pretty well. Obviously there were times when I felt stress more than others, and I had to work a little harder to adapt. But generally, I could trust my mind and body to do what I needed them to do – keep me going.
Then COVID-19 came.
Stress has a whole new feeling and definition for me now. My workflow was abruptly changed. My daily routine halted. People in my house lost their jobs. Everything about my life changed and very quickly. Pretty soon after, my appetite and sleep schedule started fluctuating. Then came the anxiety, depression, disassociation, intense joy, moments of clarity, and then an inability to concentrate. My mood was all over the place (and still is).
For a lot of us, we don’t realize we are experiencing stress until it starts to affect our minds: our mood, our ability to concentrate, the presence of anxiety. However, a lot of the time, our bodies actually react first, often in small ways that we tend not to notice. When we did the relaxation exercise at the beginning of this post, were you surprised to realize that you had been clenching your jaw all day? Or that your shoulders had slowly been tensing and rising closer to your ears? I find myself having to unclench multiple times a day. Our bodies hold on to stress just like our minds do.
So how do we manage stress, when so often it doesn’t come to our attention until it starts affecting our ability to function at our best, or, in the era of COVID-19, our ability to maintain a relatively healthy mental and physical life while so much is unknown?
A good place to start is beginning to create habits of self-care.
Self-care is a word we all heard thousands of times before the Corona era. It has always been something that a lot of us knew is important but always wished we were better at. My body and mind’s ability to react to the stress of COVID-19 (or lack thereof) made the need for self-care even more evident to me. Nothing gets you to reexamine your priorities like a global health pandemic.
Self-care can look and feel like many different things. The key, however, is that it is a consistent practice to help keep you at your best in the good times, and keep you from completely shutting down during the bad.
Think of yourself as a pressure cooker. Everyday life consistently adds stress – pressure – to our lives. When that pressure never gets released, eventually there is a breaking point and the whole thing explodes. This can look like completely losing your temper on your family, losing your ability to control your emotions, or even disassociating from life completely.
What self-care does is slowly let out some of that pressure on a regular basis so that we never get to the point of exploding. Those stress (pressure) releasers will be different for every person and may need to happen at different frequencies, but they are vital to living a healthy life both physically and mentally. For some, self-care may look like doing some sort of physical activity every day. For others, it might look like taking alone time every week. A fellow Camp Fire NHQ staffer has weekly “Board meetings” for her “Self-care foundation” so she always has time to do what she wants or needs to do for herself without work, kids, or relationships to worry about. (There are hundreds of articles out there listing different self-care activities. Psychology Today’s 12 Ways to Take Better Care of Yourself is good place to start.)
Obviously, living during the time of COVID-19 adds big, new stressors to our lives. The amount and frequency of stress-relieving practices we have in our lives may need to increase in order to help us stay as healthy as possible.
For that reason, Camp Fire wants to invite you to join us for our #HappyCamper Challenge:
We are challenging you to dedicate the month of May to self-care. Whether you have already made self-care a regular part of your life, or you want to start figuring out what that looks like for you for the first time, we want you to make a commitment to taking time for yourself for the next 30 days. Making small, consistent choices to put your mental and physical health first is essential to living a full, thriving life. Now more than ever we need self-care habits to help us navigate the unknown territory of COVID-19. Take the pledge and give yourself some love this month (and earn a really cool #HappyCamper Challenge digital badge!).
For those of you who already practice self-care regularly, maybe now is a good time to reevaluate those practices.
- Take an inventory of your current practices. Do they still work for you? Are there some that no longer serve you that you need to quit or replace?
- Examine what you need with our current situation. Are your normal self-care practices what you need right now during all the changes and uncertainty brought by COVID-19? Do you need to adjust or add a few for the time being? Do you need to do them more or less frequently?
- Remind yourself to be consistent. Many people refer to self-care practices as the “boring life things” that actually keep you going. Are there practices that you have stopped being consistent about that need to be recentered in your life?
For those of us that are starting this journey for the first time, here are some things to think about when determining what your self-care practices might be:
- Take an inventory of your physical health. How are you feeling? Do you have chronic health needs that need to be accommodated? Have your eating and sleeping habits changed? Once you’ve taken an inventory, what practices might you put in place to help correct or prevent those things?
- Identify the things that matter to you. Who are the people you want around you that give you good energy? What makes you feel joy? What makes you relax? What things are you currently doing that do not bring peace, security, or joy into your life?
- Get comfortable with the word no. What boundaries have you set for yourself at work, at home, and with yourself? What boundaries do you feel you don’t currently have but need to start creating?
Still need some ideas? Try some of the things on our Self-Care Checklist!
You deserve to take care of yourself. Take the pledge to practice 30 days of self-care and earn your digital badge.
I want to be clear that while self-care is important for everyone, I know there are people in situations currently that need more than help de-stressing.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger or need immediate assistance, please call 911.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
If you are someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-TALK (8255).
If you or someone you know needs a safe, judgment-free place to talk, please call the Trevor Project Lifeline for a supportive LGBTQIA+ community member to reach out to you: 1-866-488-7386.
If you or someone you know is experiencing food scarcity, need help with rent/utilities, contact your local United Way to be connected to services in your area.