Self Care - JFCS of Greater Philadelphia

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How to Soothe Yourself in Stressful Times

Written by Lilliam Rozin, LCSW | JFCS Older Adult Mobile Mental Health Therapist

It has been an incredibly challenging time for all of us lately. We have been required to change almost everything about our lifestyles, schedules and plans. We are cooped up either completely alone, or with our families and we are tired of it! Many of us are worried about being able to care for our families and pay our bills; we all wonder what our futures will be. And we all have to learn to live with uncertainty.

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One of the deepest lessons we are learning at this time is that we often cannot count on our external environment to bring us comfort and peace. So how do you find peace, calm and ease during such a challenging time?

Here are some suggestions to help you navigate this time with as much grace as you can!

  • Always do your best, but let go of perfection.
    Juan-Miguel Ruiz in his wonderful book,” The Four Agreements”, encourages us to let go of getting things exactly right! Whether you are a front-line worker or a parent with young children, this is a time to be kind to yourself and realize that you can only do what you can right now. So remember, you can’t fix or control everything. Just do your best each day. Because each day is different, and each day we may feel different!
  • Take time for yourself, any way you can.
    If you have kids and are working from home, this may seem impossible. But teach your family that you need 5, 10 or even 30 minutes of time for you. If there is no other place, go to the bathroom and lock the door! Take a few minutes to just breathe, do a guided meditation, put on your headphones, or take a cleansing shower. Everyone needs some down time to function at their best. Plus you are teaching your kids that even moms and dads need downtime…
  • Talk about how you are feeling with others who can listen and share.
    When we don’t try to handle everything ourselves, we at least feel less alone and realize that everyone else is in a similar boat. This is truly a difficult and unprecedented time for all of us. We need each other more now than ever!
  • Do something mindful for yourself at least once a day (if not more).
    Count backwards from 20 as you exhale or listen to a guided meditation on youtube. Take an online yoga class or just sit quietly and repeat everything for which you feel grateful. If you can stop every hour or so and even just stretch or take one deep breath, that would be great. The more you do these small gestures, the more they become healthy habits, and the more they will help you manage the anxiety you may be feeling with all the unknowns.
  • Find some ritual that helps you create a separation between work and home time.
    These days our workspace is our home. So teach your brain that work time is done for the day by mindfully putting your work in a folder, writing notes for tomorrow so you don’t worry about it all night, tidying up, and even putting things on a shelf or closing a drawer. This helps the mind understand that your focus will shift elsewhere for now. If you can, walk outside and physically make a break between your workday and family time. Sounds small, but it helps train the brain to focus where we want it to.
  • Do something unrelated to work that captures your attention in a one-pointed way.
    For instance, Sudoku or a crossword puzzle; watching a great movie; playing a card game, doing a craft project. It is really hard to be stressed if your mind is focused intently. Multitasking is overrated! In order to calm the mind, we can’t be doing 3 things at once.
  • Finally, remind yourself regularly that self-care is not a luxury, it is a necessity!
    If you don’t take care of your needs, you will become more anxious, depressed, angry and less able to adapt to change. We all handle our stress differently, and we can’t expect others to know what we need. So tune in to your own body and once you know what you need, let your family and friends know how they can be supportive. You are also modeling for your kids and others when you take care of yourself!

As you try any or all of these suggestions, be kind to yourself! It is harder to change and learn when our systems are under stress. So remember: all you can do is your best today. And tomorrow’s best will be different…

If I could pick out just one emotional skill I wish everyone could have, it would be to self-soothe. I find in general that people have not learned to do this for themselves, whether because they were over-protected as children, or had to survive trauma and just figure out the best they could for themselves. Mostly, when we become triggered, we revert to either numbing in some way, escaping, ignoring or self-harming. All if these survival strategies have their value at some point; but are they really getting you through the crisis/ problem or just pushing it to the side (or on to someone else!).

After working with a lot of clients over time, I have noticed that people will call me in a crisis, I talk them off the ledge, and then the next time there is a crisis, they call me again. I usually repeat the very same thing I have said before, and often, even they can recognize this pattern. How nice would it feel to be able to do that for yourself, instead of depending on another for your wellbeing?

With that in mind, we have put together a few tools on you can use to identify and help you remember what you need to gracefully move through challenging times.

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Tips for Coping and Stress Reduction

Written by Robin Axelrod Sabag, LCSW | JFCS Assistant Director, Counseling and Therapeutic Services

Times are uncertain. We are experiencing a worldwide pandemic. Countries and borders are shutting down. Some of us are in areas that are hot spots for coronavirus. Many of us stay glued to the news, wondering, “what will happen next?” This is not easy to embrace. Humans do not like uncertainty.

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With so much unknown, it is normal to feel stressed. While this reaction is understandable, it can wreak havoc when there is a sense of uncertainty and conflicting information around us. None of us was prepared to simultaneously juggle zoom calls, parent quarantined kids, change diapers or help children to log into online learning all while finding the time to cook three meals and several snacks per day. Parents were also ill – prepared to support their kids who formerly were over-scheduled but now have to navigate endless down time, screen time and no real-time friendships. People were not prepared to dodge the disease, worry about leaving the house, and then return from grocery shopping only to wash their hands incessantly and disinfect the bags in which the food was packaged.

With stressors such as these, our overall well-being is likely to suffer, without us even being aware it is happening. Some of us may feel more anxious, on edge, depressed, and frustrated. Those with underlying mental health issues will feel this even more intensely.

During this precarious time, it is important to gain perspective and to know that we are not helpless. We can arm ourselves with tools and choices. Here are some things we can do to take care of our mental health in the face of uncertainty:

Accept That it’s Normal to be Stressed Out Right Now. Don’t Judge Yourself For How You’re Feeling
One of the first steps to coping with anxiety and uncertainty is to recognize that it is a normal and reasonable response. Symptoms of stress, like elevated heart rate and racing thoughts, evolved as the body’s way of signaling to your brain that it is in danger. This is what is commonly knows “flight or fight” and is a basic human instinct. Keep in mind that stress tells us that something is off and that we need to adjust. We cannot simply do away with stress; we have to find ways to manage and cope with it.

Separate What Is in Your Control From What is Not
There are things you can do, and it’s helpful to focus on those, not on what you cannot control. Stay home. Wash your hands. Remind others to wash theirs. Take your medicines and supplements. Limit your consumption of news to certain times per day and only from reliable sources. Take care of yourself.

Stick With a Routine
Having a daily routine in place can help you to feel grounded. Try to: wake up at the same time every day; eat regular meals; do an at-home workout; get your work done; plan for enjoyable activities etc.

Get Outside in Nature
Get outside; you can still walk through nature while keeping a safe distance from others. Take several walks a day. Get your dose of vitamin D; don’t stay inside all day. Exercise also helps both your physical and mental health.

Challenge Yourself to Stay in the Present
You may not only be worrying about current events, but also projecting into the future. You might be concerned about the state of the economy, whether you will have a job next week, whether your sister will be able to have her wedding this spring, or whether your aging parents will be able to survive without catching this virus. These are real concerns. Some you can prepare for; others you have no control over. When you find yourself worrying about something that hasn’t happened, gently bring yourself back to the present. Engaging in mindfulness activities is one way to stay grounded when things feel beyond your control.

Stay Connected—Even When Physically Isolated:
Humans are social animals, hard-wired for connection. Social distancing comes with risks. Staying in isolation can cause depression. Prioritize connections. Do what you can to schedule daily check-ins with friends and family. Join an online support group. Utilize social media to stay connected to your community. Remember, you are not in this alone.

Prioritize Exercise and Proper Nutrition
This is always good advice, but it’s worth emphasizing during times of uncertainty. Since you cannot get to a gym, there are many online at-home workouts available. Anxiety increases the stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol. Physical exercise reduces the levels of these hormones and stimulates the production of endorphins, which serve to elevate mood and well-being. Although it is tempting to seek comfort in food, sticking to a healthy diet is also important and can also help improve your outlook. A recent study found that a Mediterranean-style diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein help reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety among a group of young adults.

Don’t Let Coronavirus Be the Center of All Your Conversations
Keep in mind, there was a life before coronavirus. There are other topics of conversations. When connecting with others, try to take a break from the stress. Remember to laugh and try to find ways to enjoy the company of others, apart from this misfortune.

Seek Professional Help
If your mental health is being impacted by the stress of the coronavirus, then you may want to seek professional help. A licensed mental health professional can help you to manage your fears while also empowering you to make the best decisions for you and your family. Most, if not all mental health professionals, are practicing Tele Mental Health now and can provide support during this stressful time. You do not have to be alone with your worry, and it is okay to ask for help from a professional.

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Self Care Tool Kit

Family Life Education Associate Sarah Waxman, MSS, LCSW, takes you through 6 thoughtful ways you can take care of yourself when the world around you feels out of control. Watch this 10-minute video in one go, or work through this tool kit over a couple of days.

Homemade Dry Shampoo

Galia Godel, LGBTQ Initiative Program Manager, shares her DIY dry shampoo recipe to help you feel good and look fresh, even when life might feel overwhelming.

DIY Face Masks

Sharon Schwartz, Director of Community Engagement, and her daughter share their DIY face mask recipe so you can relax and refresh at home.


Self Compassion Exercises

Dr. Kristin Neff is a leading expert in the study and practice of self compassion. Here’s a link to recordings of guided meditations and self compassion exercies:

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For support during this time, please call our Care Navigation line at 866.JFCS.NOW (866.532.7669)

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number is 800.273.8255.

JFCS’ Support for Healthcare Professionals is made possible through generous funding from Jeffrey Lurie and the Philadelphia Eagles.

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