Me? I’m polishing tennis shoes.
In these unprecedented times it is easy for my self-care to go out the window and for self-medication to completely take its place. I know the difference between the two. For me, self-care keeps my attitude positive and results in moving forward, sometimes one small step at a time. Self-medication, on the other hand, are things that make me feel good in the moment but are self-destructive. Then there is polishing tennis shoes.
Polishing Tennis Shoes
When stress gets beyond our ‘go to’ coping mechanism, whether it is self-care or self-medication, we often shut down. A wise woman I know called it “polishing tennis shoes.”
Taking the time to polish tennis shoes is just a way of not dealing with reality. For me, it takes the form of reading. Incessantly. For those hours spent lost in a book, I don’t have to think about how scary the cornoavirus disease is, how much my 401K has gone down or what I will do if both mom’s caregiver and I get sick at the same time.
But those hours spent in a book do not change the reality of my world and how it feels like it is spinning out of control. Nor does it change the fact I must continue to take all precautions to keep mom safe and myself healthy, despite the fatigue with social distancing and washing my hands. Not to mention that it is too easy to curl up on your couch in comfy clothes, completely unaware that your favorite pair of jeans no longer fit.
Polishing tennis shoes is a great way to avoid adulting and I would love to take that option right now. Unfortunately, as mom’s caregiver, that is not possible. I am left to cope using either self-care or self-medication. Right about now, it’s running 50/50 and I’m OK with it. I call this mix self-compassion.
I’m half Italian. Every victory and every defeat are celebrated or solved with food. I can remember going to see my brother play little league baseball. If he got a home run, we went out for ice cream. When I lost my bid for class secretary, dinner that night was my favorite meal. Is it any wonder that my go-to self-medication is comfort food?
By the same token, food is also the way we show love. Right now, I crave things like brownies and banana bread. Denying this craving usually results in eating everything but what I want and that’s equally self-destructive. Instead, I am baking and sharing these goodies with neighbors, leaving them on the front porches of those who want them.
The truth is, when stress levels reach a four or five on the Stress Level Barometer, your reptilian brain, which controls instinct and survival, takes over. Your body craves sweets and carbohydrates despite will power and resolutions. My guess is collectively as a nation, we are close to chronic stress levels four or five. To get beyond this reptilian survival mode, we need to retrain our brain daily through exercise, breathing and mindfulness, self-care methods that caregivers are constantly told to turn to and often find hard to practice.
If you currently exercise, meditate, journal or simply practice breathing, then keep it up; you have a good foundation. If these tried and true methods are no longer working or you never developed them, it’s time to look for new ways to practice self-care.
The problems we currently face with the coronavirus are not ones that we can make go away by changing our situation. Circumstances are out of our control. We need coping mechanisms that take care of emotions precisely because we can’t problem solve our way out of this pandemic.
Maybe because this is unchartered territory, journaling and meditation are not working for me right now. I’m not sure what my new coping skills will look like so I’m experimenting to find new ones.
Technology and the generosity of people have allowed me to experiment with free online chair yoga classes. Sometimes I only have 10 minutes and that is the class I take. I like what yoga gives me and it is one of the self-care experiments I will continue.
Many faith communities are offering online and streaming services that can be viewed on demand. Sunday is not the only day I need my faith renewed. Having these online resources keeps me in balance. It also helps to limit my social media intake to once a day. Instead I reach out to friends via the phone and video chat services.
Even with these new tools, when I am brought low by my fears and social distancing fatigue, I ask myself what do I need to do to get through today? Oddly enough, sometimes it is just cleaning one room in my house. The physical activity of straightening up, vacuuming and dusting helps my mood. The sense of accomplishment allows me to feel in control of one thing in my out of control world. It helps if I bargain with myself when it feels like doing that one thing is beyond me. “If I get this article written or if I clean the bathroom, I’ll sit outside and read for half an hour.”
Right about now, self-compassion is a combination of polishing tennis shoes, self-medication and self-care. The key is keeping it in balance.
To keep myself from avoiding reality, one night a week is off limits for reading. Each week I keep a list of books I’ve read. If the list is going over four, that is a red light to self-reflect on emotions. When there are not enough veggies and protein in my daily food journal, it is a red light to lighten up on the comfort food. I ask myself two questions when I look at new self-care opportunities. “What rituals keep me in balance in a healthy way?” and “What brought me joy as a child?”
What is your go-to self-medication? Do you need different self-care activities? What are you avoiding when you polish tennis shoes?
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.
Deb is available as a caregiving consultant. Are you stressed about the coronavirus? If you would like to invest a half hour to learn how she can help, please schedule a time here: Deb’s calendar