Laurie Santos on Keeping Covid-19 Self-Care From Being Selfish

Self-care is great, if you’re doing it the right way. I’m all for improving your happiness. That’s what the whole class is about. The problem is just how far.

We assume that self-care looks like a nice bubble bath — or even hedonistic pursuits, selfish pursuits. But the data suggests that the right way to treat ourselves would be to do nice things for other people. We actually get more out of being more open and more social and more other-oriented than spending money on ourselves. It’s a bigger increase to your happiness.

Use the tools we do have to really connect. A quick text to a friend you haven’t seen or a family member you’re worried about, like “Thinking of you. Wishing I could get together. Thinking of this fun memory.” Sharing happy times, expressing gratitude and using the tools we do have to do nice things for others.

I’m a big fan of surprise presents. Everyone knows they’re going to get presents on their birthday, but people don’t expect a random, tiny gift and a gratitude letter out of the blue. It’s easy to underestimate how powerful that can be to our relationships and how nice that is to get.

You’re helping others, but the thing we forget is that it’s a way to boost our well-being, too.

The message I’ve seen from the current research is that Covid’s not great for well-being; symptoms of depression and symptoms of anxiety tend to be going up. And those are systematically worse in more vulnerable populations. So if you look at, say, African-Americans right now, the effects of that stuff is worse. If you look at lower-income individuals or folks who don’t have child care help — all the folks who would normally be getting a well-being hit — it’s worse in the context of Covid.

Try not to run away from those negative emotions. As parents, when kids are expressing uncertainty, your instinct is to just deny it or pretend it’s not there, to “power through it.”

But uncertainty, fear, frustration, anger, jealousy — all of those negative emotions — they’re not going away. You need to give them space. One technique is to use meditation, where you really try to recognize and accept those emotions. In particular, RAIN: recognize, accept, investigate and nurture.

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