You know that feeling? Your jaw just metaphorically drops, the days seem to run together like one long, surreal dream. Making decisions or taking action can feel like walking through mud. There is understandable shock and disbelief. It rocks your foundation, leaving you with questions like, “When will this end?” and “HOW will this end?”
Understandably, the COVID-19 outbreak has left many of us feeling shell-shocked in this way.
Whether a pandemic, natural disaster, or something smaller in scale but no less devastating (like a death, divorce, or job loss), these major life curveballs have something in common:
The impact is felt throughout every area of your life.
The coronavirus concern has created instability in our homes, work, financially, at our schools and hospitals, even in our simplest of daily routines.
While there is a lot of information available about how to be responsible, stop the spread, and take care of physical health, we also desperately need resources and support for taking care of our emotional health.
Not only as an online life coach, personal growth coach, and healthy relationship expert, but also as a New Orleans native and survivor of Hurricane Katrina, I have an intimate understanding of what it’s like to have your life fall apart.
The good news is: it doesn’t last forever.
The other good news is: there are very real things you can do to make it feel less catastrophic while reducing stress.
Here are eight steps to emotional self care when your life is falling apart.
Emotional Self Care Step 1: Know This Pain Is Temporary
I put this one first because it is so important. Every day, several times a day if needed, it’s good to remind yourself that what is NOW is NOT FOREVER. This will be over. And that means you can ride it out. You can make it through. Knowing it will end helps ease the anxiety of not knowing exactly when it will end.
Emotional Self Care Step 2: Envision Your Life in the Future
Since you know that what is now is not forever, you can imagine what you want your life to look like after it’s all over. It gives you something to look forward to and to focus on. You have the opportunity to learn and grow through this experience.
A lot of helpful people will tell you to stay in the present when your life is falling apart (and they’re not wrong – I’ll get back to that later). This is because future thinking can create a lot of anxiety over things you can’t even control.
But if you are thinking of the future from an empowered and hopeful place, planning ahead and looking at what you may be able to do now to work toward it, or even just to get excited about what it could be – will feel better.
Envisioning your future when you can rebuild your life creates motivation, hope, optimism, and a sense of productivity and purpose.
Emotional Self Care Step #3: Practice Gratitude
Okay, here’s where we get back to present versus future thinking. If you find yourself obsessing over the what-if’s of an unclear future, bring your mind back to the now.
In fact, focus on what is GOOD about right NOW. You can make a gratitude list. You can take a few minutes each day to appreciate your blessings. But you can also gratefully embrace any present moment by mindfully tuning in to the right now with your five senses [also see: Living in a Beautiful State for more on mindfulness]. Let’s give it a try…
Take a minute after reading this paragraph to close your eyes.
Take a deep breath. Listen to your breath. Feel it fill your lungs.
Notice what you hear around you.
What do you smell?
What emotions come up as you notice?
What are you grateful for at this moment?
Emotional Self Care Step #4: Focus On What Is in Your Control
Part of making through what is out of your control is focusing on what is in your control. The meaning you choose to make out of what is happening to you can dramatically shift its impact on you emotionally and mentally.
Maybe you would never choose to lose a job you love, to struggle financially, or have your life turned upside down. But why are you going through this?
It’s an odd question to ask about something forced upon you, I know. But bare with me. If you could choose a why, what would it be? Because you can. You can create the “why” you want. What you are going to take away from this experience is yours to decide.
Emotional Self Care Step #5: Practice Self-Compassion
Someone recently said to me, “You are your own best friend for life. Be nice to yourself.”
Would you kick a friend when he’s down? Of course not. So be nice to yourself when going through a tough time. Remember you aren’t the only one struggling when your life falls apart. You are not alone.
Give yourself grace and space to make mistakes, to struggle, and to hurt. You’re human. We all are. By practicing mindful self compassion, you are allowing yourself to feel and heal.
Emotional Self Care Step #6: Ride Those Emotional Waves
When we fight our feelings with criticism or denial, they tend to grow stronger (or we just add more negative emotions on top of what we’re already experiencing).
It’s okay to feel all the feelings right now; they aren’t YOU and they pass. Observe them without self-judgement (“Wow, I’m really sad right now”). Ground yourself by practicing that mindfulness exercise above; close your eyes and tune into your five senses. Breathe. Repeat as needed. It will pass on its own. The truth is, embracing growth often feels uncomfortable, but getting comfortable with discomfort is the first step towards healing.
Emotional Self Care Step #7: Keep Self-Care Simple
It’s tempting to let everything go when you are overwhelmed, routine is out the window, and resources are limited. So keep it simple. What are your top three self-care needs?
Sleep, nutrition, physical movement, creativity, social connection…these are just some examples.
Don’t worry too much about what you get done or don’t when it comes to self-care; just focus on the top three things that help you most. And, when working on those, stay simple.
Not motivated? Start with one small step (as small as needed). For example, if you know you need exercise to stay mentally and emotionally well but aren’t motivated to run five miles on your treadmill, you could start with 10 jumping jacks, 15 minutes of yoga, or vigorous house cleaning.
Check in with yourself at the end of this step and ask yourself if you want more.
Emotional Self Care Step #8: Reach Out
Even the most introverted of us need someone to talk to, even just to chat. Check in with your friends and family. If texting them still leaves you feeling isolated, go old-school and make a phone call! Or take advantage of modern technology and video chat.
Maybe now is a good time to take stock of the relationships in your life and nourish the good and let go of the bad. And if you find yourself, looking for deeper or more meaningful connections, learning how to have real friends might be a good next step.
Remember it’s okay to ask for exactly what you need most, and not for what you don’t need. So if you’re yearning for normalcy and want small talk with a friend, it’s okay to say “Hey, can we skip the coronavirus conversations right now? I miss our girl talk.”
Give yourself permission to be vulnerable, ask for help, and just generally share how you’re feeling with a fellow human!
Find Emotional Support Online
Sometimes friends and family can’t support us in the way we need (which is okay!), especially when they are going through something themselves. If you are unsure of where to turn for help and are stuck in quarantine, know that there are many online resources available, such as online therapy, virtual couple’s counseling, and online support groups. [And for more on building community while social distancing read “CommUNITY during social distancing and self-quarantine”]
When your life is falling apart around you, know you can get through it and it will pass. Even if the old normal isn’t quite the same again, take comfort in the knowledge that a new, positive normal will eventually fall into place.
In the meantime, keep emotional self-care simple and be gentle with and kind to yourself.
We’re in this together!
Meet Kathleen: an experienced therapist and life coach with a gentle but powerful style. She can help you build your self-esteem, heal after living through hard things, and create strong, meaningful relationships in a non-judgmental, productive space where you will feel safe, comfortable, and understood.