Lessons from a pandemic: Make time for self-care


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RACHEL BRAY-SPEZIA, Special to the Jewish Light

As a busy parent, my to-do list is a mile long, from A to Z – Z  being Zoom meetings, of course. 

Many of the tasks on my list are things I do for others: picking up a few groceries for my grandmother; taking my son to see his pediatrician; shopping at not one, but two Kohl’s stores trying to find the moisture-wicking socks my husband likes. 

However, I do make it a point to add “self-care” to my list. Being able to manage and maintain my own health, especially during a pandemic, is a must.

When I first started to prioritize self-care, I was a little disheartened with the ideas my Google searches yielded as they didn’t seem to fit my personality or schedule. For example, getting a mani/pedi is a great idea for self-care for some people, but one word comes to mind with the thought of a stranger coming near my feet: Yikes.

So I came up with my own list of self-care ideas because it’s certainly not a one size fits all subject. For anyone who isn’t a fan of journaling, bathing with fizzy balls or the dreaded pedicure, feel free to view my ideas below.

1. Iced white mocha, blonde roast, no whip

I get a drink from Starbucks a ridiculous number of times a week. I know it’s a ridiculous number of times, and I don’t even try to hide the evidence from my colleagues or husband anymore. We recently upgraded our Keurig setup at home to curb my urge to go to Starbucks, but Starbucks is still my BFF. So, why? The reason I count going to Starbucks as self-care is because I treat myself to something I enjoy, and I chat with the baristas just long enough to feel connected to the outside world again. I feel better with a Starbucks in my hand.

2. Vudu

Once you’ve finished binge-watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” for the 21st time, do yourself a favor and download Vudu, a free video streaming service app. Not only does it have several free, ad-supported movies and shows to watch, but you can rent or purchase dozens more that are not offered by Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime, including my favorite, the complete “House” series. Better yet, dozens of available films are new releases still playing in theaters. Bonus points to anyone reaching way back into the pantry for that random bag of popcorn and planning a movie date right at home.

3. Move the couch

This one is particularly helpful to me as I have a tiny house. We spend most of our day in our living room, so every couple of months I rearrange it. Simple changes like swapping out photos on the mantle or big changes like painting a wall will help trick your brain into thinking it’s in a new space. This can do wonders for the psyche. This is also a great opportunity to learn home decor basics, such as how to reupholster an old chair or turn fabric placemats into new couch pillows.

Rachel Spezia is the Communications Coordinator at Congregation B’nai Amoona. She and her husband, James, have a 2-year-old son named Wolfie and are members of  B’nai Amoona.

4. Vacation

While we are all at different levels of comfort when it comes to travel, many of us feel some hesitation when it comes to taking a vacation. But I truly believe that we will all be able to wander the world freely once again someday soon.

Until that day comes, I have found that, almost as fun as taking a vacation, is planning a vacation. Researching new vacation spots and road trip adventures and Pinterest-ing the heck out of possible itineraries helps me mentally escape for a moment and visualize a better “one day.”

Last year, I planned a mini staycation for my family, which included a culinary trip around the world: Italy on Monday, Spain on Tuesday, India on Wednesday, with pit stops in the American South and New England on Thursday and Friday. This was a great exercise in self-care as I scheduled some time to get away, learned a few new recipes and fed my body and soul.

Try this self-care activity with the whole family: St. Louis born magician Justin Willman has a great activity the whole family can enjoy. Gather around the dinner table with each member of your family holding a luggage tag and talking about their dream vacation. Let each person visualize what the perfect trip would look like. It’s amazing what this can do for your spirits.

5. Say “no”

A hundred years ago, in the year 2020, I reached out to a therapist I knew asking whether she could facilitate a virtual self-care program for the families at my son’s school. I was sure she would agree, but within five minutes she politely declined my invitation citing the fact that she was practicing what she preached by creating healthy boundaries. She offered me names of others who could help. I sincerely appreciated her lesson in saying “no.”

For a really long time, I felt like saying “no” opened the door for others to see me as dispensable, but I now understand that a car coasting on empty isn’t going to go far.

6. Say “yes”

It can also be really empowering to make ourselves available for things that our instincts say are senseless.

I have a core group of about 10 friends from high school who live about 40 minutes away, none of whom have children. Before our son was born, we never minded the trek out to Belleville for dinner with them, but once we became parents, it became harder and harder to say “yes” to their dinner invitations. We would receive texts saying, “We’re all going to Bennie’s Pizza Pub in about an hour – would love to see you there.” And as the odd person out, the only one out of the area and with a child, I couldn’t expect them to alter plans just for our sake. Slowly, the invitations became fewer and further between and, while we still made time to keep in touch, it wasn’t the same.

I missed my friends terribly, and it wasn’t just them I was saying “no” to. I was also declining offers to volunteer at events I’d always been involved with – shul programs, community affairs –  the things that made me me, slowly were being deemed secondary to my new obligations as a parent.

Eventually, my soul needed these things back and, in the spirit of self-care, I voiced what I needed from those around me. I was surprised to learn that my friends were happy to be more flexible if it would allow me to attend more gatherings. Sometimes, that was as simple as choosing a restaurant closer to my house. I reacquainted myself with community events by taking on lesser but needed roles, and I began to feel engaged again. 

Better yet, those opportunities gave my husband more father-son time and gave me some breathing room. My husband was very encouraging when it came to “me time” and, in return, I was able to support him when he also needed a guys night out.

7. Therapy is care-apy

The reproductive endocrinologist I saw before my son was born required her patients to see a therapist skilled in the area of fertility and women’s issues. If it wasn’t for this reason, I would have never sought out a therapist, but after our first session, I just knew I would be returning. It was like I had a person with a direct line to my brain and heart sitting in front of me for a full 45 minutes.

As it turns out, therapy has been a key player in my self-care routine. Once I realized this, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. I was recommending therapy to everyone and anyone. I felt like Oprah saying, “You get a therapist! And you get a therapist!” It didn’t take long to also realize that therapy often comes with a stigma, and people close to me were reluctant to picture themselves “laying on a couch complaining about their mother to a total stranger.”

While I’m happy to chat about my experience in therapy, I don’t want to go into detail here because the experiences and reasons people visit mental health professionals vary from individual to individual. However, one thing I truly believe is that if you find the right person, a therapist is there to aid you in feeling closer to feeling whole, centered and at peace. 

And if that doesn’t sound like an act of self-care, then I don’t know what does.

I encourage you all to make time for self-care, and I encourage you to encourage others to make time for self-care. Pandemic or not, life can be stressful, and parents have a particular kind of stress. 

Be kind to one another, and take (self) care.