The world we live in looks and feels so much different than it did just a few months ago. The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on families, businesses, communities, and individuals. Navigating life in these uncertain times has been stressful and discouraging. I, like you, have had my highs and lows. At times, I have been viciously self-critical and have torn myself down. I have gained weight, gotten impatient with people I love, wasted hours mindlessly scrolling social media, and have not been able to successfully bake the perfect loaf of sourdough bread. I have felt like a failure. Overall, we as hygienists are proud perfectionists. It makes us good at what we do. However, these perfectionist tendencies can be dangerous to our mental health—especially during times such as these.
Looking back at the last few months, I could punish myself for what I did or did not do to properly cope with the stress of this pandemic. But the fact of the matter is wallowing in self-loathing thoughts will do me no good and it will not do you any good either. Instead, let us look to the opportunities we have ahead of us. Below I have used the word TIME (talk, interest, meditation, exercise) as an acronym to remind us of four things that we can do to care for ourselves a little better. Please note that I am not a trained therapist or life coach, but these items have worked for me.
Our jobs require us to be social. We are used to interacting with dozens of people a day. It is understandable then for the extroverted among us to be feeling lonely and unfulfilled. Putting our feelings into words can be a therapeutic approach to help understand and process our emotions. Some of us are chattier than others. Some of us are hesitant to open our heart to share what we are truly feeling with friends, family, or a stranger. Life in quarantine is lonely and it is important to seek out opportunities to express your thoughts, ideas, and emotions to someone who will listen.
Journaling is a valuable routine that many people use as a way to process. As a former avid journaler, I can attest to the value it holds in helping me express myself. Some of us are far more eloquent on paper than we are while speaking and that is OK! A journal can be a useful tool in helping process our emotions.
I love to craft. As it became evident that quarantine was going to be inevitable, I rushed to my favorite craft stores to stock up on supplies. While I have since had to ration out my crafting supplies and limit myself to a craft a week, it has been a fantastic creative outlet for me. I am fulfilled when I transform supplies into something beautiful.
Identify your interests and seek them out. Taking the time to engage in learning a new skill, picking up the old crochet hook or paint brush, or reading a book is an excellent way to take time for yourself. May I suggest that you take a little bit of time each day to do something that interests you.
Give yourself time to think every day. This does not require a yoga mat, leggings, and relaxing music (although I have meditated in that format before and I highly recommend it). Setting aside distractions and being alone is an excellent way to recharge. Taking a long shower, soaking in a bath, taking a nap, stretching, lying in bed staring at the ceiling, or just sitting in your favorite chair are excellent settings to take time to think. If you are religious, you could consider taking time to read out of religious texts or participate in prayer.
We know that exercise releases endorphins, which help to boost mood. Find a way to exercise every day. It does not require a gym or a smart watch. While the settings in which we can exercise may be limited right now depending on location, consider going on a walk, gardening, taking a bike ride, playing with children and pets, etc. Also, remember to give yourself a break. Choose to approach exercise with a self-loving attitude. Do not use exercise as a method of punishment for overindulgence.
Recently I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend about mercy. It is defined as “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm.”1 All at once, I realized just how brutally unmerciful I have been on myself. I tell myself things that I would never dream of saying to anyone else. So, remember to give yourself mercy as you navigate challenges. Acknowledge that you are imperfect and give yourself TIME to talk, pursue your interests, meditate, and exercise.
1. Oxford University Press. Mercy [definition]. Lexico. 2019. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/mercy
Rebecca “Becca” Neilson, BS, grew up in Provo, Utah. She graduated from Brigham Young University in 2014 with a bachelor of science in biology. She is happily married and lives in Elkhart, Indiana. Becca’s long-time hobby is arranging flowers and she currently works as a florist. She is excited to graduate and receive her dental hygiene licensure in May 2020. She thrives on interpersonal relationships and finds satisfaction in helping others learn. Becca can be reached at [email protected].