How are you taking care of yourself amidst COVID-19?
We have all heard it over and over: we are in unprecedented times. Those of us who are privileged enough to be staying healthy are still struggling with figuring out our “new normal,” which can include: finding ways to prioritize our health while we (or our partners or housemates) continue to go into work; learning how to be productive while working from home; simultaneously balancing other household responsibilities (such as caring for elderly parents and/or children); and stressing about our personal finances or job security amidst all of this change and uncertainty.
I am here today to invite you to take a moment to BREATHE. Take a moment to PAUSE and check in with yourself amidst all of this... When you’re ready, read on.
As a certified leadership coach and emotional intelligence instructor, I want to talk to you about a concept called depletion. I first learned about it during a workshop I attended several years ago called ‘Navigating Amidst Overwhelming Times’ which was put on by the Trauma Stewardship Institute. The content of that workshop seems more relevant today than it ever has.
Depletion, in this context, means the depletion of our physical, mental, and emotional energy, which severely impacts our ability to function. It erodes our ability to be thoughtful about our decisions and our relationships. It negatively impacts our ability to be effective – at home, in our work, and beyond. Depletion results in ‘decision fatigue,’ a series of mental shortcuts that basically leads to poor decision making in all aspects of our lives.
In our current global crisis, our collective depletion is an all but predictable outcome. It’s important, now more than ever, for us to find ways to truly care for ourselves (physically, emotionally, and mentally) in order to interrupt depletion and mitigate its impact on our lives. Here are some ways to do that.
1. Identify your depletion ‘tells.’
Self-awareness is always the first step in interrupting depletion, and most of us know how our behavior changes when we are depleted and begin taking mental shortcuts.
So what are your personal depletion ‘tells’ or warning signs?
For me, my biggest depletion tell is that I start to get really irritable. When I am depleted, I have a shorter fuse, and I begin to get snippy with the people who matter most to me, like my husband and son. I also start to exhibit signs of decision fatigue – either being too impulsive with decision making or being completely indecisive. Usually, I show both of these types of decision fatigue when I am depleted, resulting in compulsive buying decisions or feeling incapable of making even the smallest decisions, such as picking out what shoes to wear or choosing what to eat for dinner.
2. Know your re-centering and restoration tactics.
Research has shown that certain activities can interrupt depletion – either in the moment (when we are actively experiencing depletion) or proactively (as an ongoing, regular practice to mitigate depletion). Below is a list of activities and behaviors that can help.
Schedule a daily break from electronics. Given our current state of information overload, this may be one of the best things you can do to preserve your energy right now. Even a short break from our electronics can help our brains relax and regain some capacity.
Practice mindfulness. If this isn’t something you already practice regularly, you can utilize free youtube videos or meditation apps on your phone to try out mindfulness. You can also try other mindfulness practices, such as mindful walking or mindful eating.
Start a gratitude practice. Gratitude has been scientifically proven to improve mental and emotional well-being. An easy practice: begin or end your day with saying (or journaling) 3 things you are grateful for and encourage others in your home to join you. The more you practice gratitude, the more you will start to see things for which you are grateful. Our brains are amazing that way.
Get your exercise in. If you are able-bodied, this is a great option to interrupt depletion. Go for a walk. Have a dance party. Do yoga (there are free youtube videos to guide you).
Clean up your sleep hygiene. Go to bed on time and without substances such as alcohol.
Engage in creative activities. Play the guitar. Sing. Paint. Draw. Invite your family or housemates to join you.
Phone a friend. Intentional connection is a great way to interrupt depletion and feel less alone during these challenging times.
Honor your boundaries by saying no to things that drain your energy. This can be very difficult for many of us, but now is a great time to practice saying no to things that do not give you energy or, worse, drain your energy.
Some other activity/behavior that gives you energy personally. What is something you typically do to give yourself energy? Journaling? Self-reflection? Taking a long bath? You know yourself better than anyone else does.
3. Commit to a daily practice to interrupt depletion.
Choosing even one or two of these activities to integrate into your daily life has been proven to interrupt depletion before it hits.
Identify 1 or 2 behaviors to commit to a daily practice. Don’t try to hit it out of the park – start with 1 or 2 ‘low hanging fruit’ to increase your chances of success. You can always build on those later.
Identify an accountability buddy. You are far more likely to commit your daily practice to habit if you are texting or chatting with someone about it regularly and encouraging one another.
What are you committing to in order to interrupt depletion? Please share your thoughts or questions in the comments. Thank you!