By Kennedy Mapes
COVID-19 has caused the entire world to go through an immense amount of unexpected and unprecedented change. Much of that change has been difficult, frightening, and in many cases, even traumatic, but there has also been a fair amount of positive change that has come from these more than unfortunate circumstances.
The reading and listening of self-help/motivational books and podcasts have increased exponentially since the start of quarantine, and for good reason. Due to quarantine and social distancing, people have been spending more time with themselves than ever before, and although spending the majority of our time isolated in our households is not ideal, it’s given people time to reflect on who they are, where they are, and who/where they want to be. It has given people the opportunity to reevaluate their goals, values, and most of all, their basic needs.
Quarantine, and really 2020 in its entirety, influenced me to start becoming the truest version of myself and I am not alone in this experience. I posed a question on my Facebook account asking how the pandemic contributed to people’s personal growth and received several inspiring replies.
Skylar Pastor, 19, of Muskegon commented “I truly think if this pandemic didn’t happen, I wouldn’t have gotten over some things in my past. I’ve learned healing takes time and in reality, time goes by so fast.”
Ellis Derezinski, 23, of Muskegon responded “I am very much a planner and need things to be a certain way and all of that shifted due to the pandemic. Nothing went as planned, but I was able to develop new skills to adapt to change.”
I related to this comment because I also think the pandemic helped develop the ability to adapt quickly, to not only a new environment but one that is unknown and sometimes frightening.
Shortly after the pandemic hit Michigan and the state began its shutdown, my boyfriend and I moved to Grand Rapids, an hour away from our hometown and our families. My boyfriend went back to work prior to our move, but I had been laid off from what I thought was going to be a major stepping stone towards my future career. Not only was the weight of being in a pandemic weighing heavily on my mind, but I was also feeling completely lost and like an utter failure, even though these changes were at the fault of absolutely no one and had virtually nothing to do with me or my abilities.
I was living in a new city, composed of new people that I didn’t know and couldn’t get to know. The only person with whom I could spend every second of my time was myself. And I got to know her very well. The pandemic forced me to spend so much time on my own that I started to learn how to properly take care of myself. Before the pandemic, self-care really wasn’t at the top of my priority list. I was so consumed in being a good student, a good employee, a good daughter, a good companion, that the importance of being good to myself took a backseat (and not even in my own car.)
The energy, hard work, and care that I put into other areas of my life needed to be put into myself more. I was consistently watering the plants around me, but never took the time to nurture myself and to replenish what I had used for others.
I quickly realized that was what had been prohibiting my growth all along.
I realized that self-care is about more than just putting a mask on your face, slapping cucumbers over your eyes, and sipping on wine while in the bathtub. Was that part of my self-care routine? Maybe…but a very minuscule part. True self-care consists of taking the time and effort to understand how to accurately care for our mental, physical and spiritual health. It’s about listening to our bodies and our minds and fulfilling their needs before fulfilling that of others. It’s about creating boundaries and establishing a healthy balance across all areas of our lives. It‘s about intentionally choosing to prioritize yourself in order to thrive.
Once I came to understand all of that, it was like I unlocked a new outlook on my life. I saw things from a completely different lens than ever before.
Things I used to care so much about started to seem so insignificant. I used to get so bogged down by other people’s opinions of me and my plans for the future that I often did what I thought would be impressive to others and didn’t listen to what I truly wanted.
I used to be extremely insecure about my body and my appearance. I would change a million times before any event to make sure what I was wearing looked good from every angle, of every mirror, in my house and I rarely went anywhere without some kind of makeup on my face. The pandemic truly helped me become more confident in myself, both in appearances and character.
This resonated with a few people in my comment section as well. Several of them stated how the pandemic helped them become more comfortable in their own skin and contributed to a greater sense of self-worth.
Hannah Morey, 19, of Muskegon, commented, “I feel unapologetic for who I am. I also feel connected to myself in more spiritual ways.”
Alyssa Higgs, 20, of Muskegon also weighed in on the subject, commenting, “my confidence and creativity get better every day because I have more and more faith in myself. I can honestly say I am my one true love.”
I used to be a people pleaser and an extreme pushover, who would continuously allow myself to be a doormat in several toxic friendships and work environments. I also had many issues, even through quarantine, with being incredibly hard on myself, really with anything and everything that I did, but mostly my productivity. If I rested for just one whole day, even if I was extremely stressed or ill, I would repeatedly beat myself up for wasting a day of potential.
While the pandemic has been a scary, sometimes painful experience, it helped me realize just how trivial all of these things are. I realized that I am here, I am healthy and I am surviving a global pandemic, and that is enough. Me being here, being present, and learning to love and care for myself is enough. Instead of using all of my energy toward negative, uncontrollable things, I finally started putting it towards myself and my creativity.
Kennidie Streed, 20, of Grand Rapids, weighed in on my social media post as well.
“I’ve learned to actually enjoy spending time by myself, which is a big step for me, because, before the pandemic, I hated being by myself and would avoid it (at) all costs. So even though the pandemic has been a very tough time for many people, I am able to say that I am somewhat grateful for it because I learned a lot about myself,” she commented.
Streed wasn’t alone in this revelation. Several people shared similar feelings about finally becoming comfortable spending time on their own and actually enjoying that time, and I can completely understand why.
For the first time in a long time, I was immersed in my own company as well and was completely focused on learning everything there was to know about myself. What made me happy, what made me sad, what hobbies made me feel fulfilled, even something as silly as what my favorite colors were. It was almost like I was dating myself – and I have to say – I fell in love with the person I met.
If you’re reading this, and you are in the same position I was, or even if you are purely just interested in investing more time in nurturing yourself and your well-being, I’ve provided a list of things that helped me get to where I am now:
Indulging in hobbies that make you happy
Pick up your guitar, sit down at the piano, cook your favorite meals, grab an easel and some paint, go for a run. Dedicate time to yourself and the activities that make you feel like you. We often get caught up in the business of our everyday lives and forget to enjoy things that truly make us happy.
Reading books or listening to podcasts
These do not have to be self-help books or podcasts. If you’re interested in listening/reading those things, then that’s great and it can be very helpful, (especially if you’re like I was and have no idea where to start,) but it also can just revolve around any subject that interests you. They’re entertaining and can help you gain so much knowledge and/or motivation. I personally listened to several podcasts centered around self-love and positivity purely because it was what I was seeking at the moment and it helped me kick-start my personal journey.
Creating mood playlists
Just because you’re finally starting to nurture yourself, it doesn’t mean you won’t still experience a plethora of emotions or struggle with the things you’re working toward bettering. We’re still human beings and we’ll continue to have good and bad days. I have found that creating playlists based on those moods helps me gain perspective or even just let all of the emotions out. (If you don’t have the time or energy to create your own playlist, Spotify has some really great options as well!) Music has always been a very integral part of my identity and sometimes it speaks to me in a way that nothing else can.
I have journaled since I was a little girl, but I stopped doing it as frequently as I got older because other things took precedence. I started making it a priority throughout quarantine. I would log my mood, make random to-do lists for the day, write down song lyrics that made me feel something, poems, questions, things I was grateful for. I used it as a tool to untangle some of the chaos happening inside my head.
Appreciating nature helped me in more ways than I thought it could. The most obvious answer is that it feels good to get fresh air – to walk through wooded trails or sit on a beach on a warm, breezy, summer afternoon. I spent a lot of time outdoors, learning to really appreciate nature and all it has to offer and it helped me realize how insignificant so many of my worries or problems were. I am just one tiny person on this huge planet full of so much life. It made me want to spend the time I have on this planet, enjoying as many moments as I can rather than stressing about things that I have no control over or things that won’t matter five years from now.
This can really mean whatever you want it to mean. It could mean pampering yourself more often and creating a killer spa routine that just makes you feel absolutely amazing. It could also mean buying things for yourself that you normally wouldn’t allow because you feel the need to justify every penny you spend (definitely not speaking from experience here…). It could be participating in intuitive eating and no longer caring about dieting. Or it could also be the latter. For me, it included all of these things, but it was mostly about letting go of the feelings of needing to justify anything good that I did for myself. I never had any issues helping or spending money on others, but I struggled internally when trying to do that for myself.
Cutting off relationships that are harmful to your health
This tip was made easier by the pandemic and the social distancing requirements, but it is one of the most important aspects of taking care of yourself – also one of the hardest. Participating in relationships, platonic or otherwise, that are toxic to your mental health can completely drain you as a person. If you’re constantly putting effort into a relationship in which you are getting nothing in return, you will have nothing to give yourself and it will stunt your personal growth. It’s hard to let go of relationships, even with people who treat us poorly, but it’s important to evaluate who you surround yourself with and to ask yourself if they truly care about and support you and want what is best for you. If the answer you’re leaning toward is no, then it is probably time to let that relationship go, whether that person is a friend, a significant other, or even a family member.
Daily affirmations and eliminating negative self-talk
This seemed ridiculous and pointless in the beginning, but it really worked wonders. I began by looking at myself in the mirror every morning and repeating the same affirmations: “You are beautiful. You are strong. Your feelings are valid. You are worthy.” Sometimes I’d throw other positive affirmations in there that fit the mood. It really helps you weed out the negative thoughts and lead you toward a more positive mindset.