Content warning: this article includes mention of trauma, the pandemic, chronic illness, and disability
It hits me in the most mundane moments.
I’ll be riding on the subway, folding laundry, or walking my dog when suddenly I’m overwhelmed with the memory and emotions of the last two years.
Feeling trapped during NYC’s curfew. Grieving the friendships that didn’t survive this particular storm. Missing a more able body that didn’t hinder my day-to-day or my hobbies quite as much.
I’ll remember just how much things have changed. How much I’ve changed. The losses and the hardships.
And then I’ll go back to the task at hand, sometimes with tears in my eyes, sometimes with a heart full of gratitude, most often with a little bit of both.
Since COVID first hit, the conversation has focused on rushing to get “back to normal.”
Never mind that normal actively harms a majority of people.
Never mind that rushing bypasses joy, connection, and healing.
Never mind that our lives have been irrevocably changed.
I, for one, don’t want to go “back.”
If you’re reading this, maybe you don’t want to either.
Of course, there’s more than a lingering pandemic draining our energy and mood right now. From the climate crisis to regular holiday drama to new holiday hardships, to say there’s a lot going on right now is an obvious understatement.
So many of us are grappling with shifts in our inner selves, our communities, and the world at large.
Having our world and what we thought we knew to be true crumble, will do that.
Now we find ourselves in more of a liminal time—intense grief intermingled with all-encompassing joy. The world is kinda-sorta open, but in a different way. We know we can’t go back but are struggling to move forward.
Dozens of articles have been written about COVID burnout and being past our “surge capacity.” As a sex coach and couples counselor, the last many months have been extra busy as folx found themselves facing longstanding cracks in the foundations of the relationships along with a hefty dose of self-discovery (to which I very much credit TikTok’s algorithm).
For me, the feelings come and go. I do my best to witness and honor them. I understand this is my brain-body’s way of inviting me to begin to process and integrate the many traumas of the last 20 months. I aim to feel grateful for the teachers, mentors, communities, and friends who showed up in that time to support me and offer me new ways of understanding and working with this experience. I try to lovingly release the relationships and communities that didn’t or couldn’t stick around as I made this turn up my life spiral.
What’s really stuck out to me is that my go-to self-care strategies—and those of my clients—don’t seem to work like they used to.
So, I sought out new tools. And, yeah, I polished or upgraded some of the old ones too. Here are a few of my favorites.
5 Practical and Powerful Self-Care Tools to Cope with Holiday Stress and World Burning Sadness
Name it tame it
This old therapy adage sticks around for a reason: awareness of your emotional body is an important first step. My partner and I keep a feelings wheel on our fridge—sometimes it’s easier to point than to try and find the word. Google and you’ll find one you like.
Find little pleasures and moments of rest
During the pandemic, I started a Highlight on my personal Instagram titled “Joy in COVID.” There are now 4 of these. I’m not asking you to bypass the hard stuff but instead offering the reminder that joy, rest, and pleasure give you a little extra space and capacity.
Give your movement a purpose
One of the most powerful tools I’ve added to my personal and professional repertoire in 2020 is task-based movement. There are a gazillion different ways this could look but the idea remains the same: you’re practicing mindfulness by focusing on a task versus going within (which especially right now can feel extra fraught). As an added benefit, this type of movement can support you in unlearning perfectionism and being with uncertainty—you’re going to fall or drop the object you’re holding and what happens when you do.
Release over catharsis
If we think about stress as excess energy, then we have to find a way to use it up. For many of us, pandemic times included tons of extra sitting and screen time—and that’s OK! In my opinion, that’s just as important a form of self-care as going for a run.
Tap in, tap out
The main reason I don’t freak too much when I’m watching a holiday rom-com and overwhelmed with a wave of grief or anger is that I know this is my body inviting me to process a little at a time. It’s literally all too much for any of us to hold. So I’ll spend a few minutes in it and then go back to critiquing the kisses on screen.
You aren’t “too sensitive.” (And I’m hosting an upcoming workshop on this very topic, if you’re interested.)
(Or “too much.” Or “too” anything, for that matter.)
In these liminal times, where joy and grief intermingle; where hope and despair compete for our attention; where how you feel constantly changes, you aren’t alone if you’re craving a space to talk about and process it. To move forward in community. To remember that your boundaries are valid—and that you are whole and worthy, just as you are.