How to love yourself through uncertain times

Social distancing. Self isolation. Widespread lockdown. So much about how we live has changed in such a short time. If we’re single, and especially if we’re living on our own, this new and rapidly shifting reality can make us acutely aware of our aloneness and bring up some difficult feelings. So how can we love ourselves and take good care of ourselves during these challenging times?

Feel your feelings

Firstly, it’s important to allow ourselves to have all of our feelings. Even though millions of people are keeping their distance from each other, we might feel especially isolated. Maybe we don’t feel seen or understood. Maybe we feel different.

Governments around the world are asking people to stay with their families or to only mix with people in their households, but what if we don’t have a family or our household consists of one? Such messaging can drive home our single status, while the uncertainty around how long this pandemic will last can make us lose hope about our chances of finding love.

So if you’re feeling sad right now, or afraid, or anxious, allow those feelings to come to the surface. Notice if you are numbing or trying to avoid your feelings in unhealthy ways, such as by eating on your emotions, over-working, compulsively watching the news or spending too long on social media. For years, I over-ate to avoid feeling my pain. Slowly, I learned to pause before overeating and ask myself: what’s really going on? What do I really need in this moment? How can I meet that need in healthy ways?

I accept it’s hard right now to get all of our needs met: we might have a need for companionship, for a hug, for community, but we can get creative. So many groups, communities and churches have taken their activities online, so reach out to friends, family members and to groups electronically as much as you can.

And remember to ask for help when you need it. For some of us, this takes courage. We first have to overcome our fear of rejection or the thought that we’re disturbing someone’s busy life. Ask God for courage and comfort and then make that phone call.

Maintain a healthy routine

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have spent some time in shock in recent days and weeks, adjusting to this new landscape. You may have lost your routine. You may have lost your job or been asked to work at home. You may have spent too many hours glued to the news or scrolling on a screen. I certainly have. But then I realised that I needed to take care of my physical, emotional and mental health at this time, more than ever before.

So after a few wobbly days, I have recovered my routine. I wake early, read my daily readings, say a prayer and then go outdoors for my exercise, before sitting down to work at home. When I start my day right, with some quiet time and exercise, I feel grounded and balanced. I feel calm. I feel equipped to cope with whatever the day throws at me.

Hold on to your morning routine. Allow it to anchor you in these turbulent times. Create healthy boundaries for yourself around how many times a day you listen to the news or how many minutes or hours you spend looking at screens. Draw up a schedule that incorporates a range of activities, including play, creativity and time connecting with friends. When you struggle to follow it, don’t beat yourself up. Love and accept yourself, and then try again.

Lower your expectations

It’s tempting to think that this is a time for achieving all those things that have been languishing on our To Do list, but make sure you set reasonable expectations of yourself. I have found that it’s taken time and energy to adjust to our new circumstances, as well as to manage the emotions that are tumbling around inside of me. So go gently, go easy on yourself. At the same time, aim to accomplish a few small things each day. A sense of achievement will be helpful at this time. Perhaps ask a friend to act as an accountability partner so that you can both get things done.

Balance giving with receiving

Reach out to others to meet your own needs for connection and also reach out to people who are in need. It’s a balance – a balance that can be difficult to strike. If you’re helping other people, that’s wonderful, but make sure that you fill up your own cup first so that you’re not pouring from an empty cup.

Date only if you feel emotionally well

If you were dating online before lockdown, continue to do so. You can get creative with virtual dates – dinner dates over video call, movie nights in separate homes and so forth. But only date if you feel emotionally well. If you’re feeling vulnerable, anxious, scared and lonely and if you’re lacking in community and companionship, it can be a dangerous time to go dating. You may lose your powers of discernment and end up rushing into something that isn’t right for you, even if it is only online.

So check your foundations. How is your self-esteem? Are you feeling emotionally balanced? Are you feeling well supported and connected? Or are you lonely and lost and searching for something or someone to take the pain away? Be honest with yourself.

Don’t panic. We are in a period of extended uncertainty but you have time. And dating from a place of desperation will waste time in the long run, as well as causing harm to yourself and others.

So try to trust. Trust God with the timing of your romantic life.

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