Actual Self-Care for the Actual End of the World

The Environmentalist from Hell revisits coping strategies she came up with when things seemed tough.

A burst of bright sunlight shines out between conifer trunks in a west coast rainforest, illuminating some bright green bracken ferns
Photo by Erin Flegg

Life as we’ve known it seems to be crumbling before our eyes. Democracy is under attack on many fronts, and in addition to a global pandemic, the world is still charging toward climate change. I often wonder: are these the End Times? To be fair, I’ve felt like the apocalypse was approaching for a while. Over two years ago, I wrote a column for Asparagus called “Self-Care for the End of the World,” which didn’t seem premature in the least.

How quaint! Now that we are in the End Times, I thought it would be good to revisit my recommendations to see how they’ve held up. I know my Environmentalist from Hell persona is more of a sassy ranter than a grounded sage, but right now the world needs less dialled-up angst, more deep-breath calm.

The three self-help practices I focused on were: taking in the good, experiencing nature (specifically forest bathing), and noticing you’re alright right now. These practices have received a lot of attention in these stressful times, as people want to learn how to safely and cheaply care for themselves. They aren’t ground-breaking, but take it from me — someone prone to anxiety and sensitive to the emotions around me — these practices work!

Taking in the good

Over the past nine months, I’ve often found myself doom scrolling: spending more time than I’d like to admit reading awful news on social media. This is the exact opposite of taking in the good. Research has found that news has grown increasingly negative since the mid-20th century. Now is a good time to remember that I need to distance myself from negative information and find balance.

When something good happens, I pause in those happy emotions and soak up every ounce of joy.

And some joyful things are happening. Two of my friends are pregnant, and I’ve started a new romantic relationship. I created a spreadsheet of Vancouver’s rare covered outdoor spaces so friends and I could gather during our rainy winter, and it got the attention of CBC News. Now it looks like city hall might actually take action! These are all good things. I pause and sit in these warm fuzzy feelings to retrain my brain away from its negative bias.

Another way I build on these good feelings is writing down things I’m grateful for every day. Today, it was a cute text from my boyfriend, the sunny day, still having a part-time job, a good cup of tea, and sleeping more than seven hours straight. When something really good happens — like booking an acting gig or connecting with a friend I haven’t seen in a while — I pause in those happy emotions and soak up every ounce of joy. The more time I spend taking in the good, the more I feel like I can get through the day with a smile on my face.

Experiencing nature

I embraced forest bathing at the height of the first wave. It’s a practice of being in nature, taking your time, and using all your senses to be in the present. A friend lent me her car so I could drive to Pacific Spirit Park, 763 hectares of forest on Vancouver’s west side. I would wander the woods listening to my thoughts, the rain, the wind. Amidst the greenery, I felt safe and grounded in ways I can’t when walking my neighbourhood’s sidewalks.

Pacific Spirit Park became my soul’s sanctuary. I’d go on rainy afternoons and find few people on the trails, which was comforting but not lonely. Watching the seasons change by visiting the same trails has deepened my own connection to the forest. As I’ve witnessed the ground changing from wet to dry to cold, I’ve been reminded that this awful time too shall pass. It won’t be dark and dreary forever; before we know it, the flowers will bloom again. Of my three original self-care recommendations, connecting to nature has been the most impactful.

Noticing you’re alright right now

As I step over fallen branches and around puddles, I can’t help noticing I’m well and safe in this moment. This acknowledgement that I’m healthy, secure, and content has become a useful reminder whenever I start to feel overwhelmed by the news. In the early days of lockdown, my body literally shook with anxiety. Acknowledging my own wellness has calmed my nervous system and stabilized my mind, but it took a lot of mental focus to get there. We don’t know when this pandemic will end, but through noticing the many moments of being okay, we’ll slowly make it through.

A woman's hand holds a black pen and is writing in a leather bound journal. Her face is not visible, but her torso and arm are dressed in bright blue.

My new kindness routine

As someone who primarily worked in arts and events before the pandemic, I’ve had my entire life upended. Without work to fill my days, I’ve had the opportunity to find other self-care practices that have helped me, and might be helpful to you too. I like to think of them as my personal kindness routine.

Daily meditation: Every morning, before I do anything else, I use a free app called Insight Timer to help me collect myself for the day. Most often I use the timer feature and simply pause to follow my breath. But on days when I’m too anxious or overwhelmed, I’ll use one of the app’s guided meditations to bring me back into the present.

Frequent exercise: I try to work out right after I meditate. Usually I’ll do a 20-minute high-intensity interval training (a.k.a. HIIT) session, but sometimes I do a barre workout or pilates routine. I really miss going to the gym and lifting weights. There’s something about the communal experience that motivates me in ways I can’t reproduce at home. But I don’t want to go back yet, especially because on my last gym visit, I witnessed a woman leaving the washroom without washing her hands. It was eeeewwwww then, but that’s scary now!

Having this morning routine curbs my impulse to doom scroll as soon as I wake up.

So, months ago, I splurged on a set of 4.5 and 8 kg weights, and worked with a personal trainer to develop some workouts I can do at home. Including a workout in my day helps me sleep, and sleep helps my brain function, so I’ve made exercise a priority. Having this morning routine also helps me feel productive, and it curbs my impulse to doom scroll as soon as I wake up. There are a tonne of free workouts available on YouTube and Instagram these days to get you started, but if you can afford it, many fitness studios have started doing classes on Zoom that are worth checking out too.

Journaling: I’ve kept a diary for most of my life. I recently started following a book called The Artist’s Way again. One practice from that book is to write three pages every morning, “morning pages,” about whatever comes to mind — an emotional or creative brain dump. You’re not supposed to reread your pages, just let them be. It’s about the practice, not the product. Journaling has been a wonderful reminder to give my inner artist time to play. And at times it’s been downright cathartic.

This morning routine — meditation, exercise, morning pages — takes me 40 minutes to an hour. In the Before Times, my schedule was all over the map. Having the time to give my morning this structure has helped me get off on the right foot. I can start the day feeling like I’ve already accomplished something. Most importantly, it keeps me from doom scrolling.

We are living in unprecedented times, rife with fear, anxiety, and burgeoning autocracies. We’ll never get through it without sound minds and healthy bodies. That’s why it’s important to practice self-care when you can. By implementing a kindness routine and taking moments to yourself, you build your resilience. We need to be strong for ourselves and others, now more than ever. While it may feel like the actual end of the world, I remain hopeful we can get through these times by fighting for the Earth, for equality, and for our own well-being.

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