The new normal of living in pandemic times has presented many of us with challenges we were not expecting to have to adapt to so quickly. Some of us have worked through the changes from day one while others were laid off or furloughed. We’re either easing back into the field or are still in a holding pattern. Unfortunately, it is not one-size-fits-all for each state, so dental assistants are in various stages of anxiety.
With so many mixed messages from federal, local, and state governments, the shortage of personal protective equipment, and the general view of the virus itself, we as essential members of the health-care team are dealing with some pretty stressful times! If you weren’t doing so before, incorporating self-care is now vital to your well-being. Here I’ll share how to adapt and survive in the new normal through four main aspects of life: environmental, physical, psychological (emotional and spiritual), and social.
Self-care and physical aspects
Physical self-care includes how we fuel our bodies, the amount and quality of sleep we get, and how much physical activity is incorporated into our days. Keeping appointments, taking medication as prescribed, and managing health are all part of good physical self-care. Ask yourself these questions to assess whether there might be some areas you need to improve. Are you getting adequate quality sleep? Is your diet fueling your body and meeting its needs? Are you taking charge of your health? Are you getting enough exercise?
The psychological impact of COVID-19 will likely not be understood for a long time. We all experience stress differently. You do not have to feel OK about the new normal, but you can work on accepting that this is where we are. Be kind to yourself, work on accepting the situation, and do what you can. Do not let the new normal pressure you into making stressful changes. If now is a good time to start a fitness routine at home, great! Do what you can, but stay safe. For resources about at-home fitness routines, Google “at home fitness routines” for a ton of free resources.
Mental self-care and the psychological aspects
The way you think and how you fill your mind will influence your psychological well-being. Mental self-care includes doing things that keep your mind sharp, such as puzzles, playing games on your phone, or learning about a new subject. You might find that inspiring books or movies fuel your mind and enhance your creativity. Mental self-care involves things that help you stay mentally healthy. Practicing self-compassion and acceptance, for example, helps maintain a healthy inner dialogue. Here are a few questions about mental self-care. Are you making enough time for activities that mentally stimulate you? Are you doing proactive things to help you stay healthy mentally? Sometimes doing something you normally would not do to relax or unwind is enough to kick start and reenergize.
We all have a standard “default mode,” which is how we feel most of the time. Psychologically, this mode may have drastically shifted during COVID-19. We may feel different than before, depending on what we experience each day. For some of us—like me, who’s worked since the shutdown began—this has been difficult to deal with at times. Please be kind to yourself. Even though these feelings can be difficult to deal with, acknowledge them and know there’s a reason for them. Practicing mindful acceptance of your thoughts and feelings has benefits for mental health, which in turn will benefit your overall health. If you find yourself struggling to cope with thoughts and feelings, please reach out to a mental health professional if talking with friends or family doesn’t help. Sometimes knowing that you are not alone can be all that’s needed to snap out of your default mode.
Emotional and spiritual self-care and environmental aspects
It's important to have healthy coping skills to deal with uncomfortable emotions. Emotional self-care can include activities that help you acknowledge and express your feelings regularly. This may involve talking to a partner, colleague, or friend about how you feel, or setting aside time for leisure activities that help you process emotions. When assessing your emotional self-care strategies, consider these questions. Do you have healthy ways to process your emotions? Do you incorporate activities that help you feel recharged? Research shows that a lifestyle including religion or spirituality is generally healthier. Nurturing your spirit, however, doesn't have to involve religion. It can involve anything that helps you develop a deep sense of meaning, understanding, or connection with the universe or environment. Whether you enjoy meditation, attending a religious service, or praying, spiritual self-care is important.
Many people have access to parks and outside areas. In this new normal, some of us have very limited access to the outside world and quite frankly, may not have used the outside areas prior to the pandemic. Get out there and enjoy the environment when you feel like it. Do what you can to take advantage of outside spaces you have access to while physical distancing responsibly and respecting the environment.
Socialization self-care and social aspects
Socialization is key to self-care, and it’s often hard to make time for friends or family and easy to neglect your relationships. Close connections are important to your well-being, and the best way to cultivate and maintain close relationships is to put time and energy into building them. There isn't a magic number of hours you should devote to your relationships. Everyone has different social needs, but we’re all social beings. The key is to figure out what your social needs are and build enough time into your schedule for an optimal social life. To assess your social self-care, consider these things. Are you getting enough face-to-face time with friends? What are you doing to nurture your relationships?
I suggest some self-reflection to make sure that your alone time does not morph into lonely. Connect with friends and family online who post things you actually want to see. Unfollow those who post things with no value. Stay connected to people who put a smile on your face. Another way to feel connected is through the many video options, such as FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype. Connecting with people outside of your house or office can be very fulfilling.
The bottom line is, we can care for our physical, psychological, environmental, and social aspects during COVID-19. Do what you can to be kind to yourself during the new normal and be kind to others. Make time for yourself and have a little fun! Keep doing all that you do for your patients and our profession!
Natalie Kaweckyj, BA, LDA, CDA, RF, CDPMA, COA, COMSA, CPFDA, CRFDA, MADAA, is a senior moderator of the Dental Peeps Network and a past president of the ADAA.