As a doctor, I am used to my patients talking to me about their lives, not just their health. In the past, I would gently remind patients about the value of healthy habits, sleep, and finding ways to de-stress, but now self-care is one of the most important topics I discuss with all of my patients.
Schools are closed, events are being canceled, grocery shopping is stressful, and everything feels uncertain. Everyone is struggling, but I find that the emotional and physical burden is even greater for women. We look to our moms or wives to take care of us, but we need to make sure that they are taking care of themselves too. When I have phone calls and video appointments with women, I make sure to discuss ways to stay healthy – mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Self-Care Doesn’t Mean Selfish
Think of self-care as what you do to stay happy and healthy in all facets of your life. It’s important to understand that self-care is by no means selfish. How can you care for others if you aren’t well? Of course, things beyond your control happen, but total wellness can help your body be at its strongest, which in turn can help it fight off illnesses – which is especially important given the current COVID-19 situation.
Tips for Taking Care of Yourself Now
Everybody’s different, so your personal self-care needs are not going to be the same as the next person’s. Consider the following suggestions as a starting-off point to help lead you in the right direction for what you need, both during this COVID-19 situation and beyond as you strive to maintain your midlife health.
1. Don’t feel guilty about putting on your oxygen mask first.
You know how airline safety videos always tell you to put on your oxygen mask first before helping others? Self-care is the same idea. Women are prone to place the needs of others ahead of their own and even feel guilty for doing so. But this guilt can be an emotional burden on the body, which is exactly what you don’t need right now. Just remember that if you aren’t well – be it physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually – you cannot do your best by those around you.
2. Clean up your sleep hygiene.
According to the CDC, adults up to age 60 need at least 7 hours of quality sleep per night and even more as you age. If you wake up repeatedly, snore, or don’t feel rested even though you slept long enough, you may not be experiencing quality sleep. A lack of quality sleep can lead to grogginess, difficulty concentrating, and even increase your susceptibility to illnesses and slow your recovery. That’s the last thing anyone needs amid the current COVID-19 situation.
If you feel like you should be sleeping better, take a moment to consider your sleep hygiene. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, sleep hygiene is “a series of healthy habits that can improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.” The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers the following tips:
- Be consistent in your bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends.
- Have a relaxing bedtime routine and follow it.
- Make sure your bedroom is a quiet place, with cool temperatures and soft lighting.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and fluids before bedtime.
- Give yourself a break from electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime and reduce your exposure to bright lights to stimulate circadian rhythms.
3. Create structure and purpose.
Shelter in place and social distancing has forced all of us to find new daily routines and reevaluate how we structure our time. In the absence of our normal schedule, it is easy to spend too much time on social media or watching Netflix and then feel guilty and unproductive. Daily to-do lists and schedules can help you feel a sense of control and purpose.
If you are caring for your family, you can include them too. Whether it’s scheduling a daily activity at a certain time or creating a to-do list to work on together, having some structure may be what you feel like you’re missing in your life right now. Just be flexible and keep in mind that you can’t control everything, especially considering the current state of the world.
4. Schedule 30 minutes of joy.
Think about something you love doing and make time to focus on it, even if it’s just 30 minutes a day. Whether it’s reading, going for a walk outdoors, or taking up a new hobby, taking a little time to do something simply for the joy of it can be a relief from any stress you may be feeling. If you feel like you are stuck at home, turn that into an opportunity to enjoy yourself as much as possible and indulge in hobbies, games with the family, or just binge-watching your favorite show.
5. Stay in touch without touching.
People may be practicing “social distancing” right now because of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean you need to feel isolated. Keep in touch via telephone, video conferencing, and supportive online social networking as much as possible. It’s important to have a place to vent, laugh, and connect with others, even if it’s not in-person.
Reconnect with old friends or distant family, then keep the connection going. If you spend most of your time already on the phone or in front of a computer, try writing to your friends and family letters. If you have been waiting for a reason to learn how to use video-calls like Zoom, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts, now is the perfect time!
6. Get physical.
Studies have shown that just 30 minutes of exercise per day can have positive effects on your mood, mental health, and anxiety by boosting self-esteem and cognitive function. The 30 minutes don’t even have to be consecutive. This means if you can find just 10 minutes to squeeze in a brisk walk, bike ride, or other moderate physical activity, you can reap the physical, emotional, and mental health benefits exercise can offer.
It’s Time to Focus on You
It’s okay to spend time thinking about and caring for yourself. It’s easy to neglect your own needs during the best of times, particularly if you are a mother or in any other role where you are caring for others. But self-care is a vital part of your midlife health, both in the midst of this COVID-19 situation and during “normal” times. Take a little time to think about how you can better care for yourself, without guilt or expectations. You’ll be a healthier, happier person and, in turn, can better take care of others.
If you have any questions about managing your menopause symptoms or wellbeing during COVID-19, text us. It’s free and anonymous