COVID-19 has had a detrimental impact on the mental health of Americans. In the early days of the pandemic, panic and fear gripped the homes of many Americans. After some time, regular reports detailed how the number of Americans dealing with anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide were at an all time high. As the days of the pandemic dragged on, and more Americans dealt with issues like quarantine, isolation, disconnection, loss of employment, and financial insecurities, issues with mental health only intensified. During the latest surge of the COVID-19 variant Omicron, the nation has been dealing with a trauma response, with feelings and emotions that were prevalent during the early stages of the pandemic once again taking center stage. In short, the mental health of Americans has been at a tipping point for some time, and many people are unsure of what to do or where to turn to find balance, comfort, and relief.
The idea of self-care is often spoken about but sometimes misunderstood. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.” Another definition for self-care is “a multidimensional, multifaceted process of purposeful engagement in strategies that promote healthy functioning and enhance well-being.” In short, self-care is a personalized, individualized conscious practice or behavior that a person takes or does for their own health and well-being. Self-care is a practice, based on the person’s own needs, utilized to better cope with daily stressors to promote their own physical, mental, and emotional health.
Therefore, during the COVID-19 pandemic, when we as a society are in the midst of an epidemic of anxiety, depression, and stress, self-care for each and every one of us is more important than ever. It is also important to note that self-care can be different for everyone. There are several types of self-care: emotional self-care, physical self-care, and spiritual self-care. For one person, self-care may be incorporating a daily practice to help cope with regular life stressors like their job or family. For another person, self-care may be the consistent engagement in physical activity like going to the gym, running or yoga. For someone else, self-care may be making a conscious effort when feeling stress to disengage for unnecessary chores or activities. And for even another person, self-care may simply be creating a time when they are purposefully mindful, meaning leaving work at work, or doing household chores and tasks that have been piling up and causing stress because they have not been completed. Self-care could be taking a mental health day from work, unplugging from technology, a relaxing bubble bath, or a daily commitment to their physical health. Self-care is different for everyone, but there is no doubt that each person needs to develop their own self-care routine in order to feel centered and able to deal with the life stressors that we all experience.
Here at Maryland Addiction Recovery Center, as our patients engage in treatment after a long history of substance use and mental health struggles, self-care for them is a vital component of their recovery program. However, the recommendations and suggestions for their self-care supported by our clinical team of psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors can also be vital tools to anyone in need of self-care dealing with the stress of living within a pandemic. The following is a list of ideas, suggestions, and recommendations from the team of MARC clinicians in terms of self-care. Some are suggestions for others, while some are practices that they have incorporated themselves to support their own self-care. All are good ideas that can be implemented, if appropriate, for your own self-care in order to promote and support and personalized plan of health and wellness. Please see below:
MARC Clinical Director Dr. Jennifer Richards offered insight and a number of helpful suggestions. Jenn said, “The first thing I would say is that while fear and anxiety are normal and inevitable responses to uncertainty and challenging times, they are not helpful or useful. It is difficult to control our thoughts and feelings. The single most important thing you can do is to focus on what is in your control, and that is your behavior.” She went on to say, “The second point I would make it that self-care is NOT selfish. You can’t help others if you tank is empty.” Her final suggestion was a meditation resource: This is a YouTube meditation titled “Mountain Meditation.” To this resource, Jenn added, “Just as a mountain endures constant change and extremes, we also experience various thoughts, emotions, and life challenges. Imagine viewing these experiences as external, fleeting events, akin to weather patterns or changing seasons.”
Primary Therapist Tara Pistorio, LCPC, CAC-AD, offered the following: “Self-care is a hard concept for a lot of people. There is an overall belief that self-care is, in some ways, selfish. There is truth to this and that’s not necessarily a bad thing! Lately, I have been using the following statement to reinforce the importance of self-care: ‘I help me so I can help you.’ This highlights the healthy aspect of selfishness that is needed in one’s recovery. So, say yes to that bubble bath and no to a task that will only cause stress or resentment.”
Discussing her own experience with self-care, Trauma Recovery Specialist Corinne Burnett, LCSW-C, explained, “I know that I can’t be present for others in my life if I’m not taking good care of myself first! During COVID-19, something that has worked well for me is a regular yoga practice. I can do it at home, by myself with minimal space and equipment. It’s something I can do regularly as an everyday practice. It’s time that I can connect to my breath and body in the present moment. Making this a regular practice or habit, it helps me reset, let go of things I don’t need, and practice some self-love.”
MARC Primary Therapist Amber Berkhart, LCPC, has some suggestions she offers to MARC patients receiving treatment for substance use disorders and mental health issues. Amber said, “I encourage all of the patients I work with to participate in self-care for at least 30 minutes a day if that’s feasible. I think that sometimes we have this idea that self-care has to be something that facilitates this huge shift in ourselves, and it really is just taking time for yourself to do the things that make you feel better.” She went on to say, “For me, it’s reading, ice cream, or reality TV (specifically the show “90 Day Fiancé!) COVID-19 is hard on everyone, so allow yourself small doses of relaxation throughout the day.”
In her personal life, MARC Primary Therapist Laura Kendal, LCPC, CAC-AC, has found that the action of intentionally incorporating meditation into her daily self-care routine has been exponentially helpful. “Something I have been better about incorporating daily is meditation, even if it is for 5 minutes,” she said. “There are so many apps now that are easy to access and allow me to take time away from my day to ground myself.”
MARC Vocational Therapist Kyle Aaron, LCPC, M.Ed, said, “This can be such a hard time to engage meaningfully with our own self-care. If having a pandemic to contend with wasn’t enough, during the winter season we don’t really have the option to go outdoors for long period of time comfortably either. For me, I really try to encourage myself first, and then my clients, on taking things slow in this season and finding the activities that help them be good to themselves.” Kyle continued, saying, “Some of the major activities I’ve seen my clients really shift focus to in this season are cooking and reading. I think for a lot of us, cooking dinner is something we rush through after a long day of work, but maybe in this current season we can carve out just a little more time to be mindful of the positive experience it can be when we’re not rushed. I think the same goes with giving ourselves permission to spend a large chunk of a day just reading whatever book has been gathering dust on the shelf. These types of activities allow for quiet joy and help us better go about our days.”
“It’s easy to find excuses not to do something for yourself,” explained MARC Primary Therapist Erica Mullinix, LCPC. “A lot of times, patients and families have difficulty prioritizing themselves. The ‘self’ in self-care can feel uncomfortable for people who are used to caring for everyone else. That’s why I always challenge others to see that self-care is essential if you want to adequately support someone else.” Erica added, “My favorite expression is ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup,’ Self-care, whether it’s exercise, petting a dog, breaking for 30 seconds, or ordering $50 worth of sushi, fills your cup. When I am full, when I am taking care of myself, it allows me to be the best partner, daughter, friend, and coworker. So, for people who feel uncomfortable focusing on ‘me’, look at it not only for yourself, but for loved ones too. Taking care of yourself IS taking care of the people you love most- because they also deserve the best version of you.”
MARC Collegiate Recovery Specialist Sarah MacDonald, CSC-AD, said, “As a new parent, it’s very difficult to find time for self-care. It feels like there isn’t enough time in a day to take time for myself. I have found it takes a lot of communication. You need to make an honest and concerted effort to check in with yourself, so that resentments, anger, or frustration don’t crop up. My husband and I do our best to work as a team, while regularly checking in with each other. I help him carve out time to play music or video games every week, which he does for self-care. And he helps me make time for myself, where I find it best to read or talk and connect with friends.”
While self-care may be different and look different to everyone based on their own wants and needs, there is little question that we all could benefit from some self-care during the pandemic, and we can all benefit from a little guidance and direction. Self-care is not selfish, but rather it is self-concerning. It allows each of us to be at our best and prepared to take on the stressors of life directly, so that we then may be prepared to best help others that may be struggling. Take time for yourself. Recharge. Renew. Optimize your performance through necessary techniques that make you the best you can be, so that when stressors arise or someone else is in need of help, you can be there at your absolute best.
If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at [email protected]. For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.