The term self-care has become a common but important buzzword these days. During difficult times, people may be very critical of themselves, believing they need to do things differently or better than they are currently managing to do. How can we practice gentle pandemic self-care without too much self-judgement?
As we enter our second year of COVID-19, many individuals and families are still doing their best to shelter in place, going out as little as possible. Some people I know haven’t even been out to get groceries or a haircut for months. Many are working from home and schooling their children from home as well. For this group, life has changed tremendously, and while those changes help them feel as safe as possible, they also cause other issues.
It’s not failure. It’s laundry.KC Davis in How to Keep House while Drowning
Lumped together under the catchy title “pandemic fatigue,” many people are experiencing symptoms that can include feelings of anxiety, depression, grief, hopelessness, or frustration. Physical symptoms might include insomnia, digestive upset, frequent headaches, body aches, and more. Any combination of these symptoms equals a very, very difficult time getting by. There are more than a few folks who struggle to care for the basic needs of life like cooking, cleaning, hygiene, feeding, dishes, and laundry.
After enduring several months of this, a person’s mind can start to heap insult on top of injury. “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I find the energy or motivation to shower or brush my teeth? Why can’t I seem to do even the simplest tasks anymore?” Very often, thoughts like these are caused by shame, which demoralizes humans like nothing else. But what can be done?
The key is to practice self-care without self-judgement.
A small, encouraging book entitled How to Keep House While Drowning by KC Davis offers helpful insight on this topic. Davis is a licensed professional counselor and mom of two. In fact, she had her second baby just as the pandemic began. She had also moved to a new city where she knew no one just before the baby was born.
Davis states, “Without access to a support network for months on end, I used every tool in my therapy training arsenal and created a self-compassionate way to address my stress, depression, and ever-mounting laundry pile. After sharing this unique approach on social media, I gained hundreds of thousands of followers within a few months. I realized the shame over not being able to keep up with housework is universal and that’s why I wrote this book.”
This book does not offer a bunch of to-do lists that would likely compound a reader’s shame and anxiety. Instead, Davis breaks the material into 31 brief, readable sections full of encouragement and gentle nudges to invite perspective shift. For example, if a person hasn’t done laundry, cleaned their kitchen or body or teeth in weeks, they aren’t nasty, gross, or lazy; they are instead just a person having a hard time.
And people having a hard time deserve compassion. They need self-care without self-judgement.
Davis recounts her laundry issues: “I had a baby three weeks before the country shut down due to the pandemic. Completely housebound and isolated with a toddler that had cabin fever, a newborn who just came out of the NICU, and a husband who works a lot, my laundry quickly turned into an insurmountable pile. I did not fold even one article of clothing until my baby was seven months old.
For seven months, my entire family lived out of a giant pile of clean laundry that spanned the entire surface of my laundry room floor. I could occasionally get it into the washer and transferred to the dryer between toddler tantrums and baby screams but I just could never get it any further. One day as if by magic I ended up with a little time to go fold some laundry. If I had spent those seven months telling myself I was a piece of *%#$ every time I looked at that laundry pile, I probably would not have had the motivation to do it, despite having the time.
That is because if a laundry pile represents failure, and I’m already struggling with a newborn and a pandemic and an energetic toddler, my brain, which is desperately trying to avoid pain and seek pleasure (or at least relief from pain) is never going to give me the green light to lean in to yet another painful experience like spending 30 minutes in my failure pile of laundry. But it’s not failure. It’s laundry.”
Davis helps shift the perspective of the struggling when she states: “You deserve love and compassion regardless of your level of functioning. True skill building (i.e., self-care) can only happen in an atmosphere of profound self-compassion and gentleness. On a foundation of compassion and rest, with the view of care tasks as morally neutral, rejecting shame and perfectionism, you can begin to explore ways of caring for your body and space that best serve you.”
If you’re feeling fatigued, overwhelmed, or are struggling to care for yourself or your space, I highly recommend this book. It’s a tremendous help with learning some gentle self-care without self-judgement.
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