In recent weeks, a common response to the question, “How are you?” has been:  (Long pause) “I don’t know.”

I love this answer because it acknowledges all the ups and downs we are pulling ourselves through.  Some days we are doing just fine and others, not so much. Some nice things happen and also there is a lot of simply putting one foot in front of the other. Even on our worst days we try to count our blessings. We are dismayed and discouraged by most headlines but determined not to lose hope or heart.

There is no “one-size fits all” guidance for these times. In fact, the abundance of self-care advice out there can start to make self-care itself feel like just another thing to fail at. Who wants to feel guilty for not managing to light a candle and take a bath? Yet, I want to share a few insights from my community of colleagues, clients and friends. I do so not to be prescriptive but to generate the possibility of some shared experience or a little nugget that may be useful to ponder.

-Many describe a disconnect from their motivation and their sense of purpose. I was thinking about this when I watched the Pixar movie, “Soul” with my niece and nephew. In coaching there is a lot of focus on purpose and meaning-making. This movie reminded me that a sense of purpose is unquestionably desirable and additive to our lives. But “purpose”, like achievement or wealth, can also become one more idea we obsess over and strive towards that distracts us from what is happening all around us, which is our life. Mid-February, a year into a pandemic, is an ideal time to give yourself a break if you aren’t feeling especially purpose driven. Perhaps there are smaller every-day things to glean meaning from that you can give yourself extra permission to enjoy for now. Spring is coming in so many ways.

-A meaningful victory for some has been not checking their phone when first waking up. What you will find there is a calendar full of to-dos,  some unpleasant news stories, and emails suggesting or demanding more from you. Some folks appreciate the way these realities get their brain ready for the day. But for those whose amygdala might benefit from a gentler transition, perhaps let yourself ease into the day inside your own head with your own people before everyone else gets to you.

-So many clients have reported their awareness that they need to avoid doom scrolling and Instagram checking as break activities. We really need to take little breaks from our work, especially given the intense routineness of these days. The most common thing to do is pick up our phones and check the news or Twitter or Instagram. My best estimate on how often this fills us with renewed energy and enthusiasm for life is approximately never. As we try to navigate our need to stay both informed and sane, let’s err on the side of sane. I now designate a couple times a day for news intake and try to leave it there. Instagram provides some great ways of staying connected and informed but is also a direct IV infusion into the part of us that insists on comparing ourselves with everyone else to measure our own value. Social media is filled with curated quips and images ready to subtly torture you.  If a scroll through leaves you feeling like a million bucks, then by all means build it into your day. If you are more like me and find it leaves you vaguely unsettled, it may be worth cutting down on whatever you just hooked into.  Perhaps there’s a delightful book or magazine on your nightstand you could move to your desk and indulge in a page or two of that instead of picking up the phone or cruising the internet.

-Getting up and away from your work space is so vital. It also seems to be very hard. Most of my clients report being disappointed by their lack of discipline in taking breaks that involve physical activity. If that’s you, you are not alone. Keep trying. Physical activity is one of the few healthy, quick things proven to reduce stress.

-Many parents working at home have reported more ease with the reality of balancing work and kids at home. Everyone is still struggling to juggle and they are tired, but they are also aware that nobody has ever said on their death bed, “I wish I’d spent less time with my kids.”

There are really big things that are still uncertain and out of our control. This justifiably creates a lot of anxiety. Focusing on what we do have control over is a useful anecdote. One thing we have control over every day is how we treat the people around us.