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Self-care in challenging times

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At CTL, part of our mission is to support the well-being of our colleagues at the University of Windsor.  Today, I’m sharing some techniques explored in past workshops, and adding some new suggestions for self-care in the time of COVID-19.

During this pandemic, the evolving landscape of work and personal life has meant that we have all had to reassess what we mean by “self-care.” Whatever the new normal may be now (and in the future) we must learn to improvise, mixing our personal and professional lives in unusual ways.  We’ve proved how resilient we are, but there is no denying that these times are stressful. So – here are some ideas and tips to deal with our daily realities.

Make time to care for yourself.  Chances are you are doing many things at once right now: working, dealing with household necessities, and even caregiving for others.  Making time to ensure your own physical, mental and emotional health is another essential.  Please don’t forget to add this to the mix!

Be kind.  Keep your daily goals realistic, and give yourself a break if you don’t achieve them.  Forgive grumpiness in others and irritation in yourself.  If you lose your cool, start over. Right now, generosity of spirit is a super-power – one we could all use.

Take control of your space and time.  Structure your environment, and shape your space.  If you are working from home, set up a station which works for you, with plants, colours and images which energize and inspire.  Consider adding little rituals to begin and end your workday (mine involve tea in the morning and a glass of wine at night).  Create your world according to your own needs, as well the deadlines imposed by work and life.

TIP #1: Pick a fantasy leadership role that really suits you (ship’s captain, film director, music conductor, master chef, stage manager, basketball coach, prime minister; mother superior).  Let this guide you through the day. Reality may intervene, of course, but now that you know your secret identity, you’ll find it much easier to get back into the groove, whatever happens!

De-stress your environment.  If the news drives you crazy, turn off the TV.  If too much coffee (or sugar, or alcohol) tends to trigger headaches, edginess or anxiety, limit your intake.  If loud noises bother you, invest in a good pair of headphones.  

TIP #2: Download music, nature sounds or meditation aids to soothe and focus you during the working day.

If you are your own boss, be a good one.  Allow yourself breaks, remember to eat three meals a day, avoid negativity, encourage productivity and provide support so that you can achieve your goals without exhaustion.

TIP #3: Push back from your computer. Close your eyes, put your hands on your lap, and both feet on the floor.  Take a deep breath and hold it for 5 seconds.  Exhale slowly.  Repeat as necessary throughout the day. 

Go for daily maintenance rather than crisis management.  Anticipate work and life needs, keeping surprises to a minimum.  Avoid conflict with co-workers or people sharing your space by voicing concerns and resentments before they come to a head.  (Q. Is it OK to ask a room-mate to turn down the volume?  A: Yes!!!)  Be aware of your own state of mind, and your own needs.

TIP #4: Download the free CALM IN THE STORM app, with loads of breathing exercises and a daily stress “check-in” to promote self-care.

Keep a sense of proportion.   Remember that it is not your task to save the world, but to nurture your own corner of it. Keep your sense of humour and preserve your sense of story.  Cherish the idea that this chapter is part of a greater narrative.

TIP #5: Keep a journal where you jot down insights and experiences from this unique time.  You might be very pleased to have this as a memento one day.

Reach out to others.  Need help with internet technology? Reach out to work colleagues for help.  Overwhelmed with worries over health or finances?  Pick up the phone and consult an expert.  Feeling lonely?  Call, Skype, Zoom or e-mail a friend. (Never has the saying “only connect” been more relevant than today.)

TIP #6: Create and post a personal list of your “team” members, from primary care physicians to family members and co-workers, as a quick (and reassuring) resource guide. 

Help others.  Nothing helps us repossess our humanity like serving the needs of someone else.  Show empathy to a neighbour, a student, a friend.  Send a card to senior.  Donate to a local charity. Share a joke, story or photo with family members, even the difficult ones.  You’ll feel better, and so will they.

TIP #7 – Have a look at the resources provided by the University of Windsor for faculty, staff and students.

Do something you love.  Netflix binging is all very well, but this is also a good time to remind yourself of the amazing talent which surrounds the globe.  See that play, hear that concert, wander though that gallery; browse those libraries.  There are free sites across the blogosphere to make your brain come alive.  Or you could take up living-room boxing, write a love poem, go for a walk, laugh with a friend, eat chocolate, or sing karaoke on Zoom.  Go for it! Joy is the best de-stresser of all. 

Erica Stevens Abbitt is Professor Emerita, School of Dramatic Art, and a former director of the University of Windsor’s Humanities Research Group. She is currently a Teaching and Learning Senior Fellow at the Centre for Teaching and Learning.

A graduate of McGill, Stevens Abbitt worked as an actor in Canada, the US and Britain before completing a doctorate in theatre studies at UCLA.

Her writings on girl culture, politics, pedagogy and feminist performance have been featured in theatre journals and texts, including The Theatre of Naomi Wallace: Embodied Dialogues (Palgrave 2014). She is passionate about mentorship, interdisciplinary exchange, and the importance of liberal arts education in contemporary society.

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