COVID-19 SELF-CARE SUPPORT

Prioritizing your self-care is a way you can do your part in all of this.
Your health contributes to the global health, and we’re all in this together.

We’ve never gone through anything like this before.
Here’s how we’re going to get through this  –
one day at a time, one thing at time, and one moment at a time.

SELF-CARE HOUR

with Ami Kunimura, MA, MT-BC
Founder of The Self-Care Institute

Managing Stress and Anxiety with
Mindfulness, Music, and Mind-Body Practices

Every 1st and 3rd Thursday at 5 pm PT / 8 pm ET
(Recordings are available in case you can’t make it at this time)

ARTICLES

What Balance Means Right Now

Lately I’ve been reflecting on what “balance” means right now.

Balance was hard enough to attain before the pandemic started, and now it means something completely different.

Balance can be a tricky word. I often get asked if work/life balance is possible and if this even a healthy goal to aim for. What matters here is how you are defining what balance means for yourself. An unrealistic definition of balance (such as perfectly maintaining all areas of your life) can be unfair to yourself. However, a realistic and personalized definition of balance can be helpful to give you something to work towards.

Balance is not about perfection, balance is about compassion.

Here are some ways I’ve been looking at what balance means right now –

  • Balance can mean encouraging yourself while also being patient and gentle with yourself.
  • Balance can mean finding harmony with your expectations and your reality.
  • Balance can mean finding a compromise between what you want to do and what you can do.
  • Balance can mean not being so hard on yourself.

I want to check in with you today to make sure you’re not being too hard on yourself.

When it comes to balance, remember that what balance means for your life is defined by you. Balance does not mean having everything in order, being in a good mood all the time, giving equally to everyone, or having perfect self-care. Please do not expect this of yourself, especially not now.

Instead, we can work towards having a balanced perspective of ourselves and our lives, where both struggle and strength coexist and we allow ourselves to be human.

Allow yourself to be human.

Balance is about compassion, not perfection.

One day at a time.
This too shall pass.

Ami Kunimura
April 29, 2020

Creating Moments of Peace

I want to remind you that a feeling of peace is in reach. In difficult times, peace can be hard to find, but moments of peace can be created within. These moments matter.

Your body and mind have been through a lot lately, and even small moments of peace in the midst of it all can be nourishing and meaningful.

You don’t have to wait for a moment of peace, you can give one to yourself right now.

This isn’t always easy, so I’ll help you here in five simple steps that will take less than a minute:

1. Take a deep breath in through your nose as you count to four . . .

2. Slowly exhale through your mouth as you count to eight . . .

3. Relax your shoulders and face, and place one hand over your chest.

4. Ask your heart what it’s grateful for. Listen, allow it to respond, and pause.

5. Take another deep breath in and feel your chest rise. Then, release your hand as your exhale.

Although we often think of peace as the absence of conflict, stress, or worry, it’s important to remember that peace can be its own essence that is not necessarily dependent on the absence or presence of anything else.

Peace can exist within us even during hard times and we can continue to create peace in small moments. These moments can be little nudges that can help you get through an hour, a day, a week, or the rest of this pandemic. Each moment of peace you create contributes to the peace in this world.

I know that these days it might be difficult to get to the peaceful spaces with ourselves, but this is when we need it most.

Don’t wait for peace, create it.

Ami Kunimura
April 22, 2020

What Have Your Dreams Been Like Lately?

Do you remember what you dreamt about last night?
What have your dreams been like lately?

A few weeks ago I had a dream where I was with my friends and family and as we were laughing together my dad looked at me and said, “I’m so happy you’re here with us right now.” In that moment I suddenly became aware that I was dreaming and I looked at my dad and said, “no, I’m not really here, this is just a dream.” I woke up in tears and felt sad the rest of the day.

This dream showed me how much I was grieving. I knew I missed them, but that dream helped me realize that being far away my parents and my brother has been the hardest thing for me about this pandemic. Facing those feelings and tending to them was necessary for me to cope and heal through all of this. That dream broke my heart, but also gave me information to help me piece it back together.

What about you? What have you been dreaming about?

Your body, mind, and soul communicate with you through your dreams, and your dreams can provide important clues about how to care for yourself right now.

I’ve also been having many vivid, intense, and strange dreams lately and I’m hearing that a lot of others are too. Dreams like these can be an indication that the body and mind are trying to work together to process a lot of information, decisions, emotions, uncertainties, and unresolved stress.

It can sometimes help to pick out patterns, specific images, or symbols from these types of dreams to see what might information might be coming through that you can work with.

Dreams where things are “normal” again, like the one I had, can be difficult right now when we have desires that can’t be met such as getting a hug from a certain person or simply going to the store to get groceries without worrying about getting a virus. Even though we can’t fulfill specific desires right now, we can still care for the feelings around them and acknowledge feelings of loss. Listen to how your heart might calling out to you to pay attention to your feelings and your needs.

What do you think your dreams are telling you in regard to how to care for yourself right now?

Take a moment to think about what your dreams are communicating with you.

Be gentle and patient with yourself as you think about this.
Approach this with curiosity and compassion.

When it comes to dreams and sleep, here are some tips to get better quality sleep and calm your mind so your dreams are not so distressing or intense:

  • Try your best not to get frustrated with yourself if you can’t sleep or consistently have stressful dreams. Frustration could just make it all worse. Instead, approach sleep with gentleness and patience, and practice listening to your body instead of demanding it to do things. Direct your energy into being disciplined with your sleep hygiene instead of using energy to get upset with yourself or your body.
  • Move your body for 30 minutes during the day. If it’s possible to go for a walk outside, schedule that in. Or, stay inside and do some stretching, yoga, dancing, or something else.
  • Talk things out and process your stress, fears, or anxieties with someone else. Sometimes we’re not even aware of what we’re stressed about. Talking things out with someone can help you see things that you can’t see yourself and and can help you process your experiences so that your body and mind don’t have to take on the task of working through it in your sleep.
  • Self-reflection, journaling, creating art or music, meditation, or creative writing can be excellent practices for making sense of your experiences right now. These can be an energetic outlets to help discharge unresolved stress.
  • What you eat matters too. Avoid refined sugar and caffeine as much as possible, especially after 3 pm. The protein in certain foods such as red meat or tuna have been known to cause vivid dreams.
  • Listen to one of my mediations here before going to sleep (scroll down on this page to find the recordings).

Again, what do you think your dreams are telling you in regards to what kind of self-care you need?

Remember, your dreams are a space where your body, mind, and soul communicate with you.

Practice listening.

Ami Kunimura
April 15, 2020

Releasing, Recovering, and Learning From Stress

Drop your shoulders down and relax the space between your eyebrows.

So much tension and stress has built up over the past month.

Take a deep breath in, and slowly exhale some of that tension out.

This week we need to work on releasing, recovering, and learning from past stress.

It can be challenging to recover from past stress while still having to deal with current stress, but here’s one thing we have going for us that we didn’t have a month ago – we have a little experience to draw from about what going through a global pandemic is like.

Although this is still rather new and there’s still uncertainty for the future, we have a different vantage point than when this first started.

Each day, so much learning is happening and we can start harnessing the value of these lessons now to help ourselves and others. We don’t have to wait till this is over to learn from it and do something to help ourselves.

So let’s reflect on what we’ve learned and experienced over the past month. Our reflections will help us gather information that will help us manage our stress and make decisions as we continue through this.


Here are four questions to reflect on:

1. What has helped you to get through this pandemic so far?
(Clarifying questions: What has helped you deal with the stress? What people, activities, or media have been helpful for you? Is there something you’ve being doing regularly that helps you feel better? What has been grounding for you? What are you grateful to have had during this time? What’s a positive coping skill you’ve implemented that was helpful?)

2. What has not been helpful that you need to stop doing or do less of?
(Clarifying questions: What are some behaviors, people, or situations that have negatively impacted your well-being? What negative coping skills might you need to decrease? What ways have fear or stress manifested that have made this harder for yourself or others?)

3. How could you be kinder or more compassionate with yourself through this?
(Clarifying questions: Is there something you’ve been too hard on yourself about? How have you been putting too much pressure on yourself? How could you have given yourself more grace, patience, and love during this difficult time?)

4. Gently place one hand on your chest and take a breath. Take a moment with your heart and be here with your body. What are your heart and body communicating with you?
(Clarifying questions: What does your heart need right now? What does your body need? What lessons might your heart have to share with you? What messages might your heart and body have for you? What wisdom does your heart hold?)


If the answers to these questions are not all there yet, that’s okay. They will come with time. Even just considering these questions can help your mind shift into curiosity, which can be a healthy state of mind to be in.

Do not underestimate importance of the answers that do come, and use this as information to make changes. Your responses here hold valuable wisdom on how to recover from all the stress that built up and how to keep moving forward through this.

I recommend going over these questions first on your own as a personal reflection exercise. Write this down in your journal or copy and paste these questions into a document on your computer and type out your responses.

Then, go over these questions with your family, friends, and loved ones if you’d like to. One great way to release stress is through words and communication, and learning can be solidified when communicated.

Again, drop your shoulders down and relax the space between your eyebrows.

Take a deep breath in, and slowly exhale…

Ami Kunimura
April 8, 2020

Tend/Befriend vs. Fight/Flight/Freeze

One topic I have found myself talking a lot about lately with my clients, family, and friends is trauma. For the past 14 years I’ve been working with adults and children who have experienced trauma, and my work in self-care and burnout prevention first started with helping professionals who worked in trauma and were experiencing vicarious traumatization.

It’s important to know that this COVID-19 crisis is a traumatic event. Although trauma can feel like a heavy and scary word, trauma can be a useful word to use because this can help us make sense of how our minds and bodies are reacting to this.

A response to trauma in this current situation can look very different between different people. Panic buying and hoarding are trauma responses, and so is denial, defiance, or avoidance. Other responses can include difficulty focusing, irritability, heightened sensitivity, feeling emotionally overwhelmed, feeling numb, or feeling helpless.

Many of these reactions relate to the flight/flight/freeze reaction that happen when we face trauma, stress, or a threat. One of the first steps in dealing with this is noticing these reactions as a response to trauma rather than going into a downward spiral of thinking that something’s wrong with you or that you’re weak and can’t handle this.

When it comes to people going through a traumatic event together, I wanted to bring you some hope and good news too. In addition to the fight/flight/freeze response, there’s a lesser known response called tend-and-befriend.

Research has found that tend-and-befriend is a common response to trauma or stress and involves nurturing behaviors, actively tending to one’s family or community, reaching out to help others, and/or strengthening one’s relationships or social network.

If you’ve felt a stronger pull to connect with your friends and family or felt a stronger urge to help, nurture, or care for others (including yourself), this is the tend-and-befriend response. Listen to it when it’s there. It’s a good thing that can come out of all of this.

However – this doesn’t mean you need to be tending to and befriending others all the time. This also involves tending and befriending yourself. And, make sure you allow others to tend-and-befriend you so they get a chance to do this too.

Each day through this COVID-19 crisis, fight/flight/freeze reactions and tend-and-befriend reactions can happen simultaneously and it’s likely you’ll experiencing a mix of this reactions. Not everyone responds to trauma in the same way, and observing our own reactions can help us understand our needs and what we need to do to manage our stress.

For today, see how tend-and-befriend can help you get through this.

You can tend-and-befriend yourself by being patient with yourself and giving yourself grace. This might mean not putting so much pressure on yourself or allowing space and compassion for what you feel.

You can tend-and-befriend others by reaching out with warmth and kindness. This might mean a heart-felt phone call, or could simply be offering a smile during a difficult time.

We can tend-and-befriend each other by keeping our souls connected and moving forward through this together one day at a time.

Ami Kunimura
April 1, 2020

Making Sense of Your Feelings and Emotions

My emotions have fluctuated so much over the past few weeks. One moment I’ll feel anxious and overwhelmed and then I’ll feel brave and strong, and then that turns into frustration, and the cycle keeps going. These ups and downs can be exhausting. So, I’m trying to be gentle and patient with myself as I try to make sense of how I’m experiencing life these days.

Here’s something we can try together to help us make sense of what we’re feeling.

Try these three steps with me right now:

1. Identify an uncomfortable feeling that you’ve been experiencing lately and allow it to be there. You might need to take a breath, be still for a few moments and check in with your heart and mind to see what’s there without judgment.

(In case you need some ideas, here are some words to explore: worried, disappointed, disconnected, afraid, frustrated, impatient, angry, resentful, jealous, hostile, confused, detached, numb, frozen, aloof, grief, unsettled, tired, exhausted, flustered, heartbroken, lonely, sad, depressed, tense, anxious, distressed, irritated, nervous, overwhelmed, sensitive, vulnerable)

2. Identify what the need is behind that feeling. It can help to ask yourself, “what is this feeling telling me about what I need right now?”

(Here are some examples of needs that we might have: connection, safety, affection, closeness, love, nurturing, soothing, respect, stability, support, to be heard, to be seen, to be understood, trust, rest, movement, touch, security, honesty, play, joy, ease, harmony, order, space, meaning, peace, relaxation, clarity, creativity, hope, mourning, purpose, structure, expression, steadiness, expression, release)

3. Do something to meet that need, even if it’s something small or a step you can take to get that need met in the near future.

(For example: texting a friend and telling them how you feel to build connection and to be heard, close your eyes and take a few breaths to feel more steady and in control, roll your shoulders band and drop them down to bring in a little ease, or put one hand over your heart and say something comforting to yourself that’s soothing and supportive, or doing something to release your emotions)

Our goal here is not to do this process perfectly and our goal is not to immediately change the uncomfortable feeling. The goal is to be with yourself in the process so that you are not abandoning or pushing away how you are experiencing life right now.

I’ve give you an example of what this process has looked like for me. A few days ago, I allowed myself to be still for a few moments and realized that underneath all the worry and uncertainty, I was really feeling sadness. I realized I was grieving lost opportunities, I was missing my family, and deeply longing for normalcy.

When I allowed the sadness to be there, I realized the sadness was telling me that what I needed that day was to cry and let it out. My need at that moment wasn’t to feel happy, my need was to stop thinking about coronavirus for a while and instead attend to mourning my losses and missing what I longed for. And once I did cry it out, even though I still felt sad, I felt lighter and had more clarity.

So practice this. If you get stuck at a certain step in this process, be patient with yourself and know that even doing just one of these steps can be useful.

I got these lists of feeling and needs from The Center for Non-Violent Communication’s feelings inventory and needs inventory. You can find more extensive lists at those links in case that might help you.

Also, it’s likely that you’ll be communicating with someone who dealing with an uncomfortable feeling. You can try this process to support them too by listening to them and having them tell you how they are feeling, encouraging them to identify what it is they really need, and supporting them in meeting that need.

Remember, we will get through this one day at a time, one thing at time, and one moment at a time.

Ami Kunimura
March 25, 2020

How to Stay Emotionally Connected to Others and Yourself

Emotional connection is essential right now as we cope with stress and uncertainty. Here are ways you can stay emotionally connected to others and yourself.

1. Staying emotionally connected to others –

Social distancing and staying home is absolutely necessary for everyone’s health. This requires physical separation, but you can still remain emotionally connected. Here are some suggestions for emotional connectedness:

  • Set up specific check-in times with family and friends that you can count on and look forward to. This can create a sense of security and routine.
  • Instead of texting, call someone and hear their voice. Or, you can FaceTime with them or set up an online meeting.
  • Tell people how you are feeling emotionally, not just physically. Physical symptoms are important to monitor, but stay in touch with your feelings too. Practice naming what you feel each day and sharing it with someone.
  • Be honest with what you feel. It can be hard to talk about our fears, but fear will have less power over us when it’s expressed and not kept inside.
  • Share the burden of this experience. You don’t have to be the strong one all the time and allow yourself to be in it with others rather than being the one fixing or solving the problem.
  • In your conversations with others, ask questions that are strengths-based.
    For example: How have we gotten through other hard times together? What were some times in our lives when we were brave? What is energizing you right now? How do you think we’ll feel when this is over? What do you want to learn in this situation?
  • Social interaction doesn’t always have to mean talking and conversing. Emotional connectedness can also be built by meditating, praying, playing music, being creative, or playing games together.

However, true emotional connectedness with others often requires boundaries. Here are some social boundaries that may be helpful:

  • If too many Zoom calls are making you tired or you’re feeling overwhelmed by text messages or the increased screen time with people, it’s okay to set limits or take a break. Allow yourself a learning curve for this type of communication. Even though it happens in real time, virtual conversations have a different rhythm than in-person conversations and this can take some getting used to.
  • If attempts for social connectedness are somehow making you feel more disconnected, try changing up your mode of communication, being more selective with who you communicate with, or adjusting the length of time of your interactions with others.
  • If you find yourself reaching a saturation point with talking about coronavirus, say so with compassion. Saying something like “hey, can we talk about something else for right now so we can get a break from all this?” or “I don’t feel like talking about coronavirus right now” and then changing the subject can give you a break. We don’t have to talk about coronavirus all of time.

2. Staying emotionally connected to yourself –

The emotions we’re feeling at this time are not easy ones to tolerate. However, staying emotionally connected to yourself is a necessary part of moving through this experience and learning from it. Here are some suggestions on how to stay emotionally connected to yourself:

  • If you are feeling anxious or worried, practice sitting with the feeling before pushing it away, trying to fix it, or distracting yourself from it. Don’t abandon yourself by abandoning your feelings.
  • Sit and ask yourself, “How am I doing today?” and allow your heart and body time to answer.
  • Honor feelings and emotions by naming what you are feeling and either writing it down or telling someone. Saying “I feel anxious” can discharge some of that anxiety and allow you to emotionally connect with yourself so that you can find a healthy way to self-soothe.
  • Cry if you need to cry, laugh if you need to laugh
  • Journal or write down what you are experiencing. You could also simply open up a blank document on your computer and keep an ongoing dialogue with yourself about what you are experiencing.
  • Listen to music, create art, or engage in creativity.
  • Meditation is one way you can practice sitting with yourself in a constructive way. I have two meditations below on this page for you to listen to for free. Listen to one of these today. If you are at home with someone (even your kids), have them listen with you. You can also listen to these on a break at work.

Practice sitting through the discomfort for short periods of time, and allow yourself to feel. And, practice enjoying the moments when you are feeling more comfortable feelings, allowing yourself to be fully present. The emotional connection you build with yourself is where you will find the answers on what to do next.

Even though there’s so much uncertainty right now, there is wisdom within yourself. Moments of stillness can allow you to go within and hear that wisdom. Listen to it. It’s there.

Ami Kunimura
March 18, 2020

What Can I Do to Protect Myself Besides Washing My Hands?

I received many heart-felt questions about burnout, self-care, and well-being over the past couple of weeks, and I encourage you to keep asking. Many questions centered around how to know when you should quit your job and how to balance a professional and social life. I’ll be addressing these in the future.

This question was the most relevant and important to answer this week:

I’m worried about the spread of the coronavirus. What can I do to protect myself from being exposed besides washing my hands?

Take a breath, and let’s explore this. Right now, there’s a big focus on external prevention and preparation. Washing your hands, using hand sanitizer, and social distancing are important actions to take and are your first safeguards from pathogens.

But, what else can we do?

Let’s talk about internal prevention and preparedness. By internal, I mean focusing on what’s going on inside of your body and supporting the strength of your immune system and your mental health.

Here are two suggestions:

1. Sleep

Research shows that sleep plays an essential role in the function of your immune system. A lack of sleep can cause inflammation in your body, which can impair your immune system. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep per night for optimal health (for adults).

Sleep also supports the response of T-cells (specialized cells in your immune system that recognize harmful pathogens and activate the body’s response to fight it) and supports the production of cytokines (proteins secreted by the immune system that help mediate immunity).

Sleep is one of your biggest defenses that’s within your control. We want to focus not only on getting enough sleep, but also on getting quality sleep. If in case you’re a new parent, you’re a shift worker, or for some reason getting a full night of sleep is difficult for you, taking naps can be helpful too.

Sleep can also support your mental health and cognition so you can make clearer decisions in the next few weeks as this situation develops.

2. Grounding

Grounding is a self-care practice that can be used to manage anxiety and stress. Some stress and anxiety is normal and okay. Coronavirus is impacting individuals, organizations, countries, and this is likely impacting your life, work, and the plans you had this month so it’s normal to feel stressed from this.

However, we do want to be careful of anxiety and stress turning into panic. If you start feeling extremely anxious or panicked use these feeling as signals that you need to take a moment to ground yourself or self-soothe (especially before consuming any more information). These states can be hard on your physical and mental health.

I also encourage you to be aware of how you’re responding to any anxiety you might feel. Anxiety can feel like having an elevated heart rate, difficulty focusing, feeling shaky or unsteady, irritability, restlessness, or repetitive behaviors such as constantly checking social media. Use these symptoms as signals that your body and mind need some self-soothing.

Here are some ways you can ground yourself or self-soothe when you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious:

  • Set a timer on your phone for 3-5 minutes and focus on your breathing. It can help to count your breaths. Slow down your breath and make your exhalations longer than your inhalations.
  • Sit or stand with both feet firmly on the ground, and focus on the connection of your feet to the floor.
  • Set a boundary with how you consume media. In times like these it can be easy to become stressed by all the information constantly coming in. It’s a good idea to stay aware and informed of what’s going on, but stay in control of how you take in information so you don’t get overwhelmed. An example of this is allowing yourself to check social media or the news at the top of each hour, or at specific times during the day.
  • If you feel confused or have a lot of questions running through your mind, get out a piece of paper and make a list of the questions that you’re thinking about. Then, go through your list and address each question one at a time, adding to the list as you need to.
  • I have a free 3-minute grounding meditation you can listen to below on this page.

It may also be beneficial to be proactive and sit down and make a plan of action regarding how you and your loved ones can quarantine while staying in contact, and make a plan regarding what to do should you or your loved ones develop symptoms. This can help you feel more in control. Write down the appropriate phone numbers to call for either medial or psychological support. You can also make a plan about what to do about your work, and discuss this with your supervisor or coworkers if necessary.

Self-care is critical right now and kindness is mandatory.

Prioritizing your self-care is a way you can do your part.

(Note: These are suggestions are not a replacement for medical advice. Reach out to your local professionals if you need medical or psychological support.)

Ami Kunimura
March 11, 2020

GUIDED MEDITATIONS

3-Minute Grounding Meditation

(CLICK THE VIDEO TO LISTEN NOW)

Grounding is a self-care technique to use when you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Use this short meditation to soothe and center yourself.

7-Minute Relaxation Meditation

(CLICK THE VIDEO TO LISTEN NOW)

This 7-minute meditation uses imagery involving water and light for a relaxing experience. Sit back and take seven minutes to yourself.

QUESTIONS FOR SELF-REFLECTION

What has helped me to get through this pandemic so far?
(Clarifying questions: What has helped you deal with the stress? What people, activities, or media have been helpful for you? Is there something you’ve being doing regularly that helps you feel better? What has been grounding for you? What are you grateful to have had during this time? What’s a positive coping skill you’ve implemented that was helpful?)

What has not been helpful that I need to stop doing or do less of?
(Clarifying questions: What are some behaviors, people, or situations that have negatively impacted your well-being? What negative coping skills might you need to decrease? What ways have fear or stress manifested that have made this harder for yourself or others?)

How can I be kinder or more compassionate with myself through this?
(Clarifying questions: Is there something you’ve been too hard on yourself about? How have you been putting too much pressure on yourself? How could you have given yourself more grace, patience, and love during this difficult time?)

What are my heart and body trying to communicate to me right now?
(Clarifying questions: What does your heart need right now? What does your body need? What lessons might your heart have to share with you? What messages might your heart and body have for you? What wisdom does your heart hold?)

OTHER RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

What other resources would be helpful for you right now?

What do you need support with?

We’re working on creating resources to provide self-care support regarding the impact of coronavirus. If you have any questions regarding self-care or stress management or have a request for a specific type of self-care support that would be helpful for you, let us know here:

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