Self-care hits different now
On Saturday afternoon, after a tall glass of Crémant and a great deal of screaming out the window, I did something a bit odd for such an enormous moment: I took a shower. One of those delicious, long, thorough showers where you come out feeling impossibly clean and fresh. I washed my hair! I shaved my legs! I did a special face scrub! And it didn’t end there: I blow-dried my hair, put on a cute outfit (a skirt!), applied lipstick. The next day, I drank utter gallons of water and did yoga and ate kale. I didn’t even touch a corkscrew.
It all felt so different: Sure, I’ve been keeping myself (and my children, thank you very much) alive and fairly healthy, but the actions I’ve been taking to do so have felt like self-care in spite of all the factors conspiring to bring me down. In spite of the whole world. As though my kettlebell swings are helping me not letting the terrorists (or the fascists, or the virus) win. But after the election was called on Saturday, I suddenly just wanted to feel and look and be at my best. Like there was hope again, and I wanted to rise to the occasion. I posted about this oddly healthy feeling on Instagram, and the “SAME!”s began to roll in. “I feel ready to get back to life,” one friend said. “I feel so refreshed,” another reported. And “I woke up this morning, ran 5 miles, and am currently wearing a hair and face mask.” And “I feel motivated to TRY again.”
As with so many strange feelings, there’s a brain-science explanation for this: “When we feel helpless and hopeless, there’s a neurobiological shift in our brain functioning. Specifically, the brain region of the frontal lobes becomes sluggish and dimmed, which reduces our ability to problem solve, reason, plan, have insight and feel motivated. This is why many people find it hard to self-care during times of stress,” Deborah Serani, PsyD, author and professor at Adelphi University, tells me. “However, when we feel hopeful or our mood brightens, these areas in the frontal lobe are reactivated, and that’s why you find yourself feeling renewed — able again to self-care.”
Of course, if you’re not in this boat, you’re not alone: Plenty of folks are experiencing an “emotional hangover,” feeling totally spent and nowhere near as celebratory as they may have expected. If that’s you — or if the reality that we’re still living in very dark times and grappling with an out-of-control pandemic is outweighing that little dose of optimism — focus on what you can control, Serani suggests. “Resilient people don’t ask why things are the way they are. The move into action mode. Studies show when we keep a scheduled routine, practice gratefulness, recognize strengths instead of weaknesses and reflect on simple daily meaningful experiences, we can move better through challenges,” she says.
As for me, I’m enjoying the surge of energy (and the delicious home-cooked meals I suddenly have the urge to make again), but also looking for ways to pump the brakes so I can keep taking care throughout what’s sure to be a very difficult winter. “Self-care can be used to plan for future stressors,” Serani says. “It’s a good idea to take into account how Covid is still a major health concern, and plan for challenges that may come with school, work, and personal issues.”
And as always, don’t forget that self-care can be small (which is good for me, because there’s not a hell of a lot of extra time around here for long indulgent showers, generally). “My go-to technique is to feed my senses each and every day,” Serani says. “A long glance at the sunset, savoring a cup of tea, listening to a beach soundscape as I drive home, cuddling with my beloved, lighting a scented candle or spraying some lavender on my pillowcase helps me feel centered and calm. Even if it’s for just a few moments, research says sensorial experiences can have a profound effect on your sense of well-being.”