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2020 Self-Care Pledge: Sustaining Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Illustration Three Women My Self-Care Pledge

2020 will go down in history as one of the roughest, rottenest years in our lifetime. In March, when COVID-19 hit NYC hard, I promised myself that I would take care of my health (physical and mental). I told myself that I would focus on meeting a few new fitness goals to preserve some control over my life during this super-stressful time. I made a self-care pledge to help me get through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a woman in her 50s, I’m in the high-risk group for COVID-19 complications, so I chose to prioritize my health as much as possible. Here were the promises I made to myself:

  1. I would exercise at least four times per week (like I typically did when I went to my local YMCA).
  2. I would eat healthy, whole foods as much as possible.
  3. I wouldn’t gain weight by using food to comfort myself.

At first, it seemed like I was reaching for a far-off dream. I had no access to a gym (or ability to exercise in the park during quarantine), I waited in long lines at the grocery store for a limited selection of fresh foods (at least during the worst times in NYC), and I lived with fear and sadness each day as I watched some of my loved ones fight for their lives.* Under these circumstances, I was afraid the fear and sadness would lead me to choose food for comfort. After years of overeating that way, I was scared that I might go back to those patterns and jeopardize my recent weight-loss success.

Illustration bowl of salad My Self-Care Pledge Actions

But, I managed to keep my promises. It was a secret pledge that I made by myself (and for myself). It was something that I could protect and work toward when I felt like I had no control over other areas of my life. To fulfill my pledge, I took these actions:

  • I bought a rowing machine (it cost me $379, and I put it right in my living room so that I would use it).
  • I woke up at 6 am to go food shopping to avoid crowds, safely social distance and have time and space to shop for healthy foods.
  • I added weight training videos and online workout challenges to my exercise routine to make up for the loss of spin classes and weight machines at the gym.

My Self-Care Pledge Results

The results of prioritizing my health from March-August:

  • I remained healthy (the biggest blessing of them all)
  • I lost weight (4 pounds).
  • I continued to build and grow my muscles (especially my biceps and butt) as part of my long-term body goals.
  • I replaced my yearly weight gain from summer vacation with consistent, healthy summer eating.

It was comforting to meet my pledge goals, and as I think about fall and the possible continuation of COVID-19 into the next two seasons, I’m convinced that self-care is vital. I know that money can be tight these days, so I have some tips for meeting self-care goals on a budget. I’m hoping that adding one or more of these self-care practices to your weekly health and fitness routine will give you something to celebrate come next spring.

Illustration arms hugging heart Your Turn: Self-Care Options

  • HOME Exercise to the Rescue Home exercise routines come in all types: free, online workouts, body-weight workouts, or home-made routines using inexpensive home exercise equipment (dumbbells, bands). These affordable, at-home workouts make it possible to get fitter year-round and in any weather.
  • Quiet the Mind Meditation and quiet mindfulness can help you recharge. You can use an app like My Life to give yourself some much-needed “me” time. Sitting quietly, or taking a slow walk in nature, also helps quiet the mind so you can take a mental break from stress.
  • Pump Up the Volume Listening to music (perhaps with a little dancing around the house) can take you out of your present mood and transport you to a happy place. Music is a universal language for a reason: it connects us to our emotions in a way that feels good and revitalizing. Lately, I’m apt to listen to J. Cole, Drake, or Kehlani. Having a teenage daughter has its benefits, like keeping me updated with the latest music artists. I didn’t listen to much hip-hop/rap in my 20s and 30s, but the “tell-it-like-it-is” vibe of some artists speaks to me as I get older. I forget about my problems, allow myself to feel the raw emotion, and get into another zone. Other times, I like electronica or R&B. Find your groove (for free using the SoundCloud app) and let it transport you and lift your mood.
  • Eat High-Quality (Low-Cost) Healthy Foods Try one of these nutritious, whole-food options to satisfy your hunger:
    • flavor-rich, roasted vegetables with spicy Sriracha tofu
    • hearty bean stew
  • Express Gratitude: Every night before I go to bed, I like to think of at least three things I’m grateful for. Instead of focusing on the negative, I make a mental list of things that are going well. On hard days, I may come up with something like “I’m breathing” or “I have a roof over my head,” but my list is longer on most days. Reminding myself of all the wonderful things in my life, especially when things aren’t going so well, keeps me focused on what matters: health, family, love, friendship, personal freedom. Don’t let the days go by without recognizing all that you have. You may not be doing a happy dance every day, but you need to think about blessings, even in the struggle.
  • Laugh: Sometimes you have to laugh, so you don’t cry. Watch a funny show, call a crazy friend or go on YouTube and take in the insanity. I love this SNL video: I’ve seen it dozens of times, and it always makes me laugh like the first time I saw it!

What’s on your self-care list? Comment below and tell me how you’ve been taking care of your health and mental wellness during these challenging times.

* My condolences to those of you who have lost family and friends to COVID-19. My thanks to all the essential workers who cared for us when we needed it the most (and sometimes at the risk of their own health and safety). I know that self-care can be difficult when you’re in the middle of a life crisis. Taking care of a sick friend or family member, dealing with your own illness, or feeling mentally unable to gear up because of depression, anger or sadness, can make it hard to prioritize self-care. My wish for you: I hope you will be gentle with yourself. You are still worthy and wonderful through all these moments. Perhaps a pledge to self-care doesn’t feel possible right now. Sometimes it isn’t. Luckily, all these opportunities to give yourself a chance for better health and fitness will be waiting for you when you are able to make them a priority.

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