Being a therapist, let alone just being human, has been difficult this year. Managing clients' mental health struggles, along with my very own, has not been an easy task. We have all been dealing with the multitude of obstacles and distractions resulting from working from home and navigating personal and family issues. As a therapist, I have been there for my clients who have also been trying to adjust to the current situation and process what is happening globally and nationally. These are just a few of the many things that have been on my mind this year. I have tried to process as best I can. However, suffice it to say that working and doing what I do has still been very rewarding and eye-opening.
Weekly conversations with my clients and check-ins with my family and friends have helped us support each other. This has led to emotional processing and growth, which has been essential for adjusting to this "new normal."
While in graduate school, we were taught to engage in self-care to avoid possible burnout and compassion fatigue. While in quarantine, self-care has become crucial in managing my stress and anxiety and dealing with everything that has been going on around me. Engaging in self-care helped me maintain stability and equilibrium. I have utilized several new coping skills during this pandemic that I have added to my self-care toolbox. I would like to share some of these with you, the reader, as possible tools for yourself.
I have advocated for journaling as a great outlet for emotional expression since the beginning of my career. However, I seldomly journaled myself. This quarantine experience has truly forced me to practice what I preach. A previous coworker of mine had given me a beautiful traveling journal because of my passion for traveling. I had placed it on a bookshelf in my home and had forgotten about it. In March, when I found myself alone in my apartment and struggling to adapt to this new normal, I came upon this journal and decided to open it.
I flipped through the wonderful pages filled with airplanes, palm trees, passport images, and other scenic imagery. I immediately found myself thinking about being in my safe space, which in this case, was in a plane on my way to some city in Europe, and I started writing away. I found myself journaling almost every single day. The journal came with some prompts as well, sporadically placed within the pages. These were useful for days when I wasn't as inspired as others. Journaling helped me process, verbalize, and consolidate my thoughts.
I also bought myself a "Question and Answer of the Day Journal for the Soul." This is a five-year journal filled with daily introspective questions for each day. It includes questions like "Where is your heart?" and "Do you value your work?" and "Are you able to engage in positive self-talk?" This journal helped me further process my feelings in writing, helping cultivate more personal emotional growth.
Another creative outlet I have discovered during quarantine is scrapbooking. At the beginning of isolation, I would print out pictures from my nearby pharmacy. Seeing my loved ones in pictures filled me with peace and joy. Later during quarantine, I bought myself a polaroid camera and began taking cool polaroid pictures of myself, my boyfriend, family and friends, and nature— all while social distancing, of course. Once printed, I would put them in a scrapbook, along with stickers and anything I felt like drawing in the pages of the book. This felt creative, therapeutic, and cathartic. It also gave the feeling of creating an album, like our parents used to do with polaroid pictures in the '70s!
I am of Ecuadorian descent, and I am very much immersed in my culture. During this quarantine, I further immersed myself by learning how to cook traditional Ecuadorian meals. This became a genuinely nice form of self-care because it also helped me bond further with my parents. In a beautiful sense, I also felt bonded with my grandparents and my ancestors in general.
Once I had enough of being alone in my apartment, I quarantined with my parents in their home. I started a recipe book with them, and they each took turns writing down the typical Ecuadorian dishes they both knew how to make. Every other day, we would bond in the kitchen while I learned how to cook the respective meals. I also took pictures of every meal I had made and added these to the scrapbook.
Some of the dishes I learned to make are: ceviche de camaron (shrimp), caldo de albóndiga (meatball/plantain soup), seco de pollo (a chicken and rice dish), sango de camarón y bistec (plantain soup made with either shrimp or steak), bolones (breakfast balls of plantains and cheese)— just to name a few. I was not a huge fan of cooking prior to quarantine, but I have developed a newfound liking of it. I have dabbled with other recipes as well.
One last coping skill I utilized was a book I had bought for my clients to do during sessions. This book is called "Mindfulness Skills Workbook for Clinicians and Clients: 111 Tools, Techniques, Activities, and Worksheets." Once again, I would advocate for these worksheets during sessions, but I would seldom do the exercises myself. However, during quarantine, I grabbed the book from my bookshelf and decided to flip through the pages. I tried doing as many as I could when I felt anxious or stressed. Some of these worksheets included guided meditation, body scans, deep breathing exercises, and identifying positive self-talk and affirmations. I also started doing yoga and incorporated my mindfulness practices while doing yoga in my living room.
All in all, quarantine has been a very reflective and introspective period in my life. I was aware of and had engaged in self-care before the quarantine, but the experience of doing it during the pandemic was unique and different. While everyone's version of self-care might look different, the main concept of taking care of oneself while healing/processing at your own pace is similar.