These past few weeks, I have felt the full force of living through a pandemic. It’s what a recent NY Times op-ed by Adam Grant called, “languishing.” I am tired and irritable, restless and discontent. Worst of all, I feel sick and stressed. My sleep is off, it’s hard to focus, and I’ve even developed some weird reactions to foods I love.
I’ve felt this way before, but never to this extent. In college, a friend got sick and I had to speed-race her to the hospital. Once she was stable, I tried to leave. The next thing I remember was waking up between the automatic double doors in the lobby. I made it through the emergency, only to faint once it was over. A couple years ago, my son developed a tumor that had to be removed. I was a champ through pre-op appointments, kept calm during the surgery, and made sure recovery went smoothly. Once he felt better, and we got the results (benign, thank goodness) I fell apart.
I am the person who is a boss lady during a crisis, but a mess once it’s over. And now, I’m pretty sure I am suffering the aftershocks of a big and profound period of perpetual crisis. People are vaccinated, vacationing, and taking off their masks. The sirens have stopped, but I am struggling to believe the emergency is over.
I know I’m not alone, because I have friends who feel the same way. The school year is ending, summer is nearing, and many of us can’t keep it together. It’s like the CDC gave us permission to take off our masks and our bodies took it as a sign to shut down in an attempt to recharge and reboot.
My kid brother and his wife just welcomed their first child. A beautiful brand new baby girl. While I was looking at their pictures, I was transported back to the early days of motherhood. Those days when life revolved around making sure my baby was breathing, sleeping, eating, and pooping.
That’s when I realized, to recover I need to treat myself like a baby. So do you.
We are new to this world of finally-kind-of-post-pandemic life. Before setting out, we should take stock of how we’re doing, and do it by examining the baby basics:
How’s your breathing?
Remember when you brought your baby home from the hospital and you would stare at them while they slept, waiting for their little chest to rise, then fall, then rise again? Or when they would cry at the top of their lungs, and you’d try to will them to take a breath? This is the level of attention we need to give ourselves. Once I paid attention, I realized that I hold my breath when I’m stressed, and I breathe too much when I’m anxious. Intentional breathing will help you and me to relax, focus, and even improve our digestion and immune systems. Consider breathing exercises as daily vitamins to boost your brain, body, and spirit. Here are eight breathing exercises you can try today.
How’s your sleep?
We need it. Some more than others (that’s me). Are you getting enough of it? Is it the quality of sleep that leaves you rested and refreshed? I have a new watch that tracks my sleep, and now have data to back up why I feel so tired. It has made me think of those first nights of sleep training. Those awful hours of listening to my kid wail and not giving in, because I wanted him to become a good sleeper and get a full night’s rest. It might be time to sleep train ourselves. Since my kids will never sleep in, that means I have to go to bed earlier and leave my phone plugged in somewhere else at night. My sleep training is now a “no blue light after 9PM” rule, and it’s painful but necessary. What’s yours?
How’s your eating?
As a remote worker, I have blurred lines between home and work and my eating habits have paid the price. I eat breakfast and lunch at the computer, and dinner while recovering from a day of Zoom calls. I rarely pay attention to what I’m eating and definitely don’t focus on how it makes my body feel. I need to go back to making sure I eat when I’m hungry, and only eat things that make me feel good. I also need to take my time eating, and do it as a solo activity. No multi-tasking. Maybe you’re like me, or maybe you’re not eating enough, or too much. Or, perhaps, for the wrong reasons. We once obsessed over how and what our babies were eating, figuring out what it did to their bodies, brains, and behavior. Now we must do the same for ourselves.
How’s your poop?
Yeah, I really asked that. There’s a strong connection between stress and the GI tract. Remember the days of tracking your baby’s bowel movements? “BMs,” as the cool moms called it. Well, it might be time to start tracking your own. I have recently come to think of my poop as my body’s stress-o-meter. Once I started paying attention, I was able to see how off things were and how stressed I really was. The body and bowels don’t lie. I’m trying to eat differently and adjust other parts of my lifestyle, using my bowels as my barometer. Let’s just say that getting more “regular” has really motivated me to reduce the stress in my life.
If we were once able to monitor and manage these things for our babies, while sleep deprived and functioning in that new-mom survival mode haze, then we can definitely do the same for ourselves. Consider this your “maternity leave” to recover from laboring for more than a year of raising a child or children during a pandemic. Go back to the baby basics, because you and your kids need it. Track those BMs like a mother. Eat a meal at your actual kitchen or dining room table. Be a rebel and turn the lights off at 8PM. And for God sakes, take a deep breath, maybe two.