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Managing Stress with Effective Self-Care

By: Barbara Kocak-Hodapp, LCSW, Carolina House
April 14, 2020
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Managing Stress with Effective Self-Care

My smartwatch keeps telling me my heart rate is elevated these days. It also keeps alerting me about a new headline regarding COVID-19, inclement weather, or some other less-than-pleasant event. It feels inevitable that certain elements of our new reality will affect my stress level.

Here are nine helpful ways I’m managing my stress these days using self-care.

1) Disconnect to reconnect
One impactful way to engage in self-care is to take a break from technology. In the age of information overload, disconnecting can help us to reconnect with ourselves. Turn off your cellphone, smartwatch, smart speaker, TV, radio, etc., and just breathe. Take a minute after you finish reading this to sit and do just that. Notice what it feels like to use your senses to take in your surroundings. You might be surprised to find what you can hear, see, smell, feel, and taste without your senses overloaded by technology.

2) Limit time reading news
With nonstop information available on so many devices, it’s too easy to go down a rabbit hole reading article after article about everything that’s going wrong all over the world. It’s important to be informed but easy to become overwhelmed. Limit yourself to reading the news once a day for a certain amount of time. This has been my top stress reliever lately!

3) Enjoy time with your loved ones
If you’re working from home with your children and/or partner, take some time to enjoy the luxury of being with them during the day. How often have you wished you had more time with them? Celebrate having this extra time despite the forced circumstances. Take your lunch break with your partner, enjoy a walk together, or watch an episode of your favorite show during your afternoon break. If you haven’t already, make sure you sit down as a family and create a schedule to have a work/school routine, separate workspaces, and, if financially feasible, keep the babysitter or nanny to retain a sense of normalcy and routine.

Part of a healthy relationship is spending time together and apart, so be sure to maintain open communication if you have a significant other to ensure that you are both getting the necessary time for yourselves. At the end of the day, my partner and I debrief on our jobs, then take the dog for a walk before cooking and eating dinner together.

4) Find joy in the little things
As we bustle through our days, it’s easy to forget mindfulness activities. However, when we pay attention to our presence in the world, we can shift our day in a positive way. While walking outside recently to take out the trash, I spotted a flower budding out of the corner of my eye. It was a lovely little reminder that when we pause, we can find beauty in unexpected places. I’ve been tracking that little bud opening more each day, and it’s brought me joy during these strange times.

5) Reframe your thoughts
Instead of thinking, “I’m stuck inside,” reframe that to, “I can finally focus on myself and my home.” You’d be surprised how reframing your thoughts can affect your stress levels. Changing the way you think can impact your mood, your actions, and even those around you. I have worked hard at reframing my thoughts about being stuck in traffic to, “this is just extra time to listen to my podcast.”

6) Create a new routine
Self-care is more than just taking a bubble bath; it’s about making sure your batteries are charged. Your routine may be dramatically different right now, so setting up a new routine that encompasses all aspects of your health – physical, mental, and emotional – can help you manage your stress effectively. For me, that means spending extra time outside gardening. This checks all the boxes, as I’m physically active and have time for introspection.

7) Treat yourself
Do things you enjoy and that make you feel good. Maybe that means painting your nails, tinkering with your latest project, or planting vegetables for the summer harvest. Just the other day, I baked some brownies for myself and a neighbor.

8) Avoid complete isolation
Make sure you’re finding ways to connect with others while still following appropriate recommendations to stay healthy. Reach out to friends, family, and your social networks. People are being creative and having virtual dance parties and movie watch sessions, and some musicians are even hosting concerts virtually! Particularly while we are isolated physically, we need to make sure we stay connected emotionally.

9) Take care of yourself
As a psychotherapist, it’s easy for me to forget that not everyone has a therapist. It’s OK to feel worried, unsure, and scared, particularly with the stress you may be experiencing right now. Now might be a great time to reach out to a therapist to process your thoughts and feelings, and many are offering their expertise virtually. Check in with your therapist – if you haven’t already – to talk about what you may be experiencing. If you don’t already have one, check in with your insurance provider or EAP about seeing a professional today.

Managing stress takes practice, but recognizing stressors and finding your own healthy ways to deal with them is what’s important.


Situated in the heart of North Carolina, Carolina House offers residential, partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient eating disorders treatment to individuals with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and related issues. Carolina House seeks to treat the whole person and promote the development of strong, life-long emotional and behavioral skills that honor a person’s unique situation.

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