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Choosing self-care intentionally

05 N1909P34008CThe COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in uncertainty, leaving many of us feeling confused, frustrated and fearful. Daily we face threats to our physical safety and financial security. An accumulation of these macro-level stressors makes it more difficult for us to handle the mundane, daily stresses of living. Our traditional methods of coping are challenged and we are forced to reimagine a new “normal.” 

During times of crisis, it is more important than ever to practice self-care. Self-care is a popular term that brings to mind visions of bubble baths, expensive shopping sprees and decadent foods. The ugly truth is that self-care is often not glamorous. It is a daily practice of building healthy habits for a strong body and mind. Said another way, self-care is deliberately taking care of your well-being through restorative activities. 

About seven months ago, I would have defined self-care as simply making sure to eat and sleep. At the time, I was working as a clinical assistant professor and staff psychologist at a top 10 university. I started every day darting out the door with no breakfast in my belly and haphazardly putting makeup on while I drove to work. I went to work and had few breaks and finished my day only to crash on the couch to watch Netflix and scroll social media. I was in complete denial about what I needed to do to take care of myself. Ultimately, I burned out, and I quit my job. I decided to pursue my passions of entrepreneurship and family by moving closer to home (Fayetteville) to start my private therapy practice. As a licensed psychologist, a large part of my job is to support people who are suffering from stress and mental health-related concerns. I learned quickly that to serve my clients successfully in a sustainable way, I needed to be a relaxing presence, which meant I had to take care of myself. That’s when I discovered how to practice self-care. My foundation began with a healthy diet, proper hydration, physical activity and adequate rest. I added three other restorative activities to this foundation, which were: moments of stillness in silence, practicing spirituality and belonging to a community. 

Self-care involves attention and intention. Moments of stillness in silence can draw our attention from external noise to our inner voice. When we meditate, it brings awareness to that internal voice. When we have awareness, that’s when we can choose thoughts and feelings we’re holding onto and those we want to let go. The intention is to observe compassionately and nonjudgmentally those places inside yourself that need care. 

In conclusion, I have one recommendation for you. I encourage you to try waking up one hour earlier in the morning to carve out some self-care time. My self-care daily ritual consists of: 10 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes of journaling, 10 minutes of affirmations, 10 minutes of visualization, 10 minutes of gratitude and 10 minutes of physical activity. You are so worth it. Start small, and remember, this is a practice and is not something you have to get perfect. 
 

Better air, better health

The public health of our communities is — and should be — our collective priority during these unprecedented times. As our families, friends and neighbors face the challenges posed by our ever-changing reality, we must also reflect on the role that a healthy natural environment plays in sustaining our lives.

Reliable, affordable and accessible energy resources are critical now that much of our population is home-bound. Clean, viable water is crucial to maintaining our personal hygiene. Proper waste management procedures sustain sanitary homes and communities. And, our natural world is an important source of joy, providing many people with physical and mental respites as we practice social distancing.

But right now, our most necessary asset is one that we cannot even see: our air.

This spring, air quality has been at the forefront of the media more than ever, as researchers have discovered that air pollution is one of many factors in the spread and severity of the novel coronavirus. Conflicting reports about air quality abound. Stunning images reveal crisp, clean skylines in cities that are usually buried in a cloud of smog. Other reports claim that, in some areas, air quality is at its absolute worst. One fact is certain, though: better air means better health.

Clean air is essential for everyone but especially for those with respiratory issues such as asthma and emphysema. On rare occasions when our air is considered to be unhealthy, each breath becomes more of a concern for all. Now that our society faces a virus that adversely and indiscriminately impacts our respiratory health, our air quality is one natural resource that we simply cannot take for granted.

We are typically blessed with clean air in the Sandhills. In fact, our area boasts some of the best air quality in the state of  North Carolina. But, we must not become complacent if we want to cultivate that distinction further.

Several organizations are leading the charge for healthier air. We can attribute our air quality successes to the vigilance of agencies such as the Fayetteville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Sustainable Sandhills, and the Air Quality Stakeholders. Their initiatives to improve and manage the air quality of our region contribute to our public health and the quality of our lives.

Each resident of the Sandhills is also a key player in the efforts to enhance our air quality. May 4 to May 8 is National Air Quality Awareness Week. You can care for our air by adopting habits that foster healthier air in the Sandhills. Simple steps — such as riding your bicycle instead of driving your car, fueling your vehicle when temperatures are cooler and properly inflating your tires — can have significant impacts. You can also learn about the Air Quality Index. The AQI is a forecast of the air quality in a region, ranging from “good” or “Code Green” to “hazardous” or “Code Maroon.” Most weather reports include the AQI. You can learn more about the Air Quality Index and other issues at airnow.gov or sustainablesandhills.org/airquality.

Our society will undoubtedly learn many valuable lessons from these uncertain days. By using our resources responsibly and protecting the natural assets that are so vital to our lives, we can protect our residents and build healthier, more vibrant, more resilient communities that can withstand any threat — today, tomorrow and forever.

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