Self Caring in 2021
“Who are we? Are we simply what others want us to be? Are we destined to a fate beyond our control? Or can we evolve, become something more?” — Jean Grey, Dark Phoenix
A friend recently said to me, “I admire your ability to stick with self care during the worst time in modern history.”
I chuckled. “Don’t be too impressed. It’s not that I’m motivated, it’s that my other option is a possible femoral neck break.”
It’s true that I’m doing my best to take care of myself, but I wouldn’t refer to it as a success story. I’m a woman in my 40s with early onset and advanced Osteoporosis with no underlying cause. I don’t have a choice, end of the world or not. This alone is incredibly stressful.
We’re 10 weeks into 2021 and everything that has to do with our existence feels stressful in immeasurable ways, the same as it did in 2020. It doesn’t matter how much I exercise, how healthy I eat, how much I sleep or whether I remember to take my vitamins. If I continue to fail at managing my stress level, my skeleton will continue to deteriorate.
Newsflash: I’m not the only one negatively affected by too much Cortisol, we all are. Unless, of course, you’re immune to stress.
My doctor reminds me of this during my monthly appointment, as if I have the magical ability to snap my fingers and the stress just dissipates.
You’d think this would be enough to motivate me, and mostly it does, but there are days when just getting out of bed is my golden and ultimate achievement.
Because that’s what self-care has transformed into, right? Doing what we need at the moment to get through the moment. It’s about facing the world without having a panic attack. It’s about taking responsibility for our own physical wellbeing while our healthcare system fights a horrific battle against COVID-19.
Just over a year ago, mainstream self-care culture had us jogging seven miles, chasing 40 lbs. of raw carrot sticks with liquid spinach, tracking our feelings with an app and reading all 254 pages of Seneca’s “Letters from a Stoic,” before breakfast, seven days a week.
A lot of us fell for it. We started each morning (hours before sunrise) under the impression this was the self-care standard to live up to. If we wanted to be cool, we lived a life of kale, Zumba classes and organizing our flaws inside our bullet journals.
Back in 2016, when “Self-care” was a mere $9 billion a year industry and trending its way into the national spotlight, it wowed me that taking care of ourselves is now something others profit from. In 2019, the industry was worth $38.28 billion.
The definition of self care is “any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated.”
We learned the fundamentals of how to take care of ourselves in grade school: physical activity, social and emotional wellness, nutrition, rest and problem-solving skills.
We’ve been dumping time, energy and a lot of cash into quick fixes, but when it comes to caring for ourselves, it’s the most valuable action we can take for ourselves and for our family and friends, and for our communities.
We used to view taking care of ourselves as a luxury until a global pandemic smacked us back into reality. Now, it’s a dire need that none of us have the luxury to ignore. To navigate today’s crises, we need real skills, not oatmeal baths, 20 minutes of power yoga or homegrown fennel topping our salads.
I’m learning that these tactics aren’t real world skills or useful while living through a crisis, and that a 10 minute guided meditation across the ocean will not solve our problems because they’re much bigger than we are.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m struggling and if I’m in a battle against stress, I’m epically getting my ass kicked. It’s not that I don’t know the steps to “manage my stress.” It’s that I’ve got stress coming at me from every direction, like I’m surrounded by cannons firing off ammunition. I keep getting hit.
Some days, I don’t feel like there’s room in my life for me, and my anxiety induced sped up heart rate beats to the chaotic rhythm permanently playing in the backdrop.
Some days, all I have is enough personal space to take a single small actionable step to gaining control over my stress level, but I’ll never have control over the stressors. I’m learning to work around them, and my anxiety.
We may be limited with what we can do right now, but it doesn’t take a fitness center, juiced organic produce, or a bookcase filled with self-help tricks to take care of ourselves. It simply requires the basic fundamentals.
When the pandemic first arrived in Iowa in March 2020, 30 days to slow the spread felt like a lifetime, specifically because I live in a Red state where we have made no attempt at mitigating the virus. Sure, schools shut down from March until May, but by then, hogs had landed in the top priority slot and the governor legalized cocktails to-go.
Iowa’s every man for himself approach hit me hard. Reporting on it hit me even harder. Feeling powerless against the walls crumbling down around me, I took control over the only thing I could — Myself.
I set the goal to come out of this catastrophe a better person than I went in. I didn’t know what that looked like or meant then. I do now. I’m growing. We’re all growing. In someway we’re figuring out how to conform to our present day stressful lifestyle.
Inside the core of a year filled with doom and gloom, it has given us the opportunity to take a good, long look at ourselves.
Some days, it feels like an uphill battle, but that’s nothing new. I’ve found an unconventional way to deal with the anxiety. However, stress is the anxiety trigger and I’m still trying to figure out how to manage stress. It’s my nemesis, and a lifelong battle.
Writing, which helps me process emotionally, along with exercise, are the most effective tools I use for self care.
Right now, like most, I’m focused on what I can do to get through the day. Even if I take seven hours, and 14 sets of aerobic steps, to write these 1,100 words.