Updated: May 14, 2022
There has been a lot of information shared already, regarding how to care for ourselves while physical distancing during this COVID-19 pandemic. So instead of repeating all that information, I wanted to share the mistakes I made. I think it’s important to know that we don’t have to be perfect, and to also give ourselves credit for how we made adjustments over time.
The 7 mistakes that I will be discussing are the following:
Calling it “social distancing” rather than “physical distancing”
Not making my well-being the top priority sooner
Not dancing more
Thinking that being an introvert would make physical distancing easy
Not calling people and facetiming sooner
Numbing myself with gaming
Trying to maintain the old, and not seeing the opportunities of the new
1. Calling it “social distancing” rather than “physical distancing”
When this all began, we used the term “social distancing” to describe the physical distance we keep from others. Over time, some of my wise friends suggested the term “physical distancing” to more accurately describe what we are doing. For me, this made a lot of sense. The words we use are powerful, and it can shape our perspective. How we frame things matter. And instead of “being stuck in the house,” I chose to see it as “having down time to rest my mind and body” and “I’m being responsible, and keeping my friends, family, and community safe.” Our minds are powerful, and using it to help adjust our perspectives can go a long way in how we feel about, and respond to, our current situation.
2. Not making my well-being the top priority sooner
I am an essential service worker at a women’s shelter. When physical distancing first began, I tried to go with the mentality of “business as usual.” Except, it wasn’t. And it still isn’t. This is unprecedented, and for me to try and go about “business as usual” was to deny the gravity of the situation. This mentality also meant that I didn’t give myself time and empathy to process my emotions. Instead, I judged myself for my lack of motivation and lack of productivity.
When I took a step back, I realized that the mental stress and anxiety drains my energy level, and not processing it has negatively affected my mental health. I have since re-prioritized to put my health and well-being on top of my list. I often find myself checking-in with how I feel throughout the day, and prioritizing the activities and tasks that is best for my self-care. Even if it means playing some chill background music, while I lie on my bed with my eyes closed.
3. Not dancing more
I love physical activities. I love to dance. And I strangely mistaken physically distanced as also losing the option to remain active. This changed when the shelter I work at threw a dance party. Since physical distancing started, morale has been low for both workers and clients alike. And some incredible workers came up with the idea of a physically distanced dance party. They called it “Physically Distanced, but Emotionally Connected,” which inspired the title of this blog post. We marked “x’s” on the floor, 6 feet apart, as the spot where each person can dance on, while still staying safe and distanced. It was a huge success, and the positive mood lasted long after the party ended.
During this stressful time of pandemic, our bodies have a build up of stress hormones. Movement and exercise help us get rid of those hormones. And because our bodies and minds are connected, not moving our bodies make us feel like we lost a sense control and agency of our bodies. By scheduling time for dancing and working out, it helped me rebuild a sense of agency. It’s also fun, and my body and mind feel great after it.
4. Thinking that being an introvert would make physical distancing easy
I enjoy my alone time, and it helps me re-energize. So I thought that physical distancing wouldn’t be too hard, since I spend a lot of time alone anyways. I was so very wrong. There’s a huge difference between scheduling alone time for myself, and being put into mandatory physical distancing. When I schedule time for myself, I am in full control of making that decision. When I am told to physically distance, I feel a loss of agency, even though I fully embraced it as my responsibility to do so.
Because everything changed so drastically so quickly, I also made some big changes in how I scheduled my days. Prior to the pandemic, I almost never talked to people on the phone or facetimed. Since the pandemic, I made it a point to call or facetime someone at least once a day. I also scheduled activities and work that helped me feel productive. I was very intentional in building a schedule that prioritized my health and well-being. By being intentional with my own schedule, I regained my sense of agency and control in my life. And it also helped me feel positive when I had my alone time.
5. Not calling people and facetiming sooner
As I mentioned before, phone calls and facetiming were not something I did, prior to the physical distancing. When we started to physical distance, it took me some time to adjust and find new ways to connect with others. It was tough, because I need social time with my friends, family, and colleagues. We are all social creatures, and our connections with others shape a huge part of who we are. How we experience things is partially informed by how others respond to us – thus, we need the physical and verbal cues and responses from others. The visual connections with others help us understand our emotions and bodily responses, and help connect our bodies and minds.
I’ve now made it a point to call or facetime at least once a day. Sometimes I schedule a time with people. Sometimes I call people on a whim. The great thing is that people have more time now. Things are at a slower pace. And I found that my friends, family, and colleagues really appreciate the time we spend connecting. I also found that I am connecting with people who I wasn’t planning to connect with until months later. It’s been great to catch up with so many people. In some cases, I feel closer to them than ever before. I plan to continue with phone calls and facetime even after the end of physical distancing.
6. Numbing myself with gaming
I rarely play video games. I’ve noticed that when I have a craving to play games, it is usually when something in my life is causing me stress and anxiety. And let’s be real here, nothing causes stress and anxiety like a pandemic. However, after I finish playing video games, I always feel a sense of loss. I feel like I wasted time that I would never get back. And I feel like I lost my control and agency to the game. Other people may use other strategies for numbing, like alcohol and other substances, movies and TV shows, getting lost in the YouTube universe, or pornography and masturbating. Using these strategies in moderation can be a good way to cope. But if you find it difficult to stop, then it could be a problem.
When I used video games to numb myself, my mind was not attuned to reality. It was not experiencing the current moment, as my mind was focused in the world of the game. This means that my mind was not connected to my body. And this connection is important, because our bodies affect how we feel, and our minds affect how our bodies respond. We need to sync them, to help us comprehend our experience, and identify the things that make us feel positive and healthy.
To get my mind and body back in sync, I used breathing techniques, stretching, and working out to allow my mind to be attuned to my bodily experiences. I also started journaling every morning, to help me reflect on my experiences. It helped me acknowledge how I am feeling without judging it, and identify what made me feel positive versus what made me feel negative. There are lots of videos online that teaches yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness practices. Or perhaps you know a friend who has this knowledge, and can teach you. The mind-body connection is very important for helping us identify our stress, and find creative ways to cope.
7. Trying to maintain the old, and not seeing the opportunities of the new
I thrive on creating structures to help me build habits to achieve my goals. But when COVID-19 hit, it really threw a wrench into my carefully laid plans. And I tried to pivot, to stubbornly maintain my old structures. That didn’t work at all. And after a week of trying to maintain the old, I finally took the leap to fully re-assess the situation, re-prioritize, and put my well-being as the top priority. Instead of seeing this as a setback for my carefully laid plans, I began to see this as an opportunity to spend time doing what I enjoyed. I became very intentional with my time. I slowed things down, and spent a couple days giving myself permission to do whatever I wanted. I spent some time reflecting on what I needed for my well-being, and figure out what I wanted to do. And as the days go by, I am constantly adjusting myself, to find a good balance for myself each day.
However, I’m not perfect though. Although I wanted to make sure I am feeding my body nutritious foods, I find myself eating lots of processed food. My body is craving sweets, and I remain unmotivated at becoming a better chef. But that’s ok. I’m already doing a lot for myself. Perfection isn’t the goal. I’m using this opportunity to enjoy the entire process of taking care of myself.
Remember, all this will pass. By focusing on enjoying the process of taking care of ourselves, we will eventually come out of this better adjusted, and knowing that we, as a community, can handle any challenges that are put in front of us.
As always, thanks for tuning in. If you found this helpful, consider sharing this with others who might also find it helpful.
Take care, and keep being you!
Therapy for Asians
MSW, RSW | he/him