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Caring for ourselves right now seems impossible—but it's necessary, mama

We are all in this together and collectively we will come out braver, kinder and more connected as a human species—forever.

woman reading and relaxing on the couch

We are in a very, very hard season of our lives. Plain and simple. The uncertainty and overwhelm is real. Running a household, homeschooling children, getting work done, being in a partnership (for some of us), taking care of older loved ones (either in our own homes or away from us) and managing our own fears and anxiety through all of this not knowing what the next day, week or month will look like—is very unfamiliar territory for all of us.

I am in the thick of this myself. Yesterday evening I went to bed with tears in my eyes after I returned from our local downtown and saw the impact firsthand this global pandemic is having on the small businesses we have fondly visited for years.

And often what many of us end up doing at 8:30 pm once the kids are finally in bed is binge watch TV or scroll through social media (or both at the same time!), simply to tune everything else out. There are moments when that comedy show you're looking forward to watching is just the thing you need to relax before getting ready for a good night's sleep.

And there may be other moments when that isn't the best thing for our hearts and bodies. When our heart might be craving something else, something more soulful—but we are too tired, depleted and overwhelmed to even pay attention to that voice inside of us, let alone act on it.

Fear, anxiety and uncertainty can be incredible levers to tap into our purpose, creativity and contribution. It is hard to make space and time for acting on and processing your emotional energy when we are already feeling so maxed out—I fully get it and experience it myself too, almost daily. Yet in so many ways, valuing the parts of ourselves that want to feel seen, nurtured and cared for which may give us more energy and space to attend to our work, families and everything in between.

Here are some ways we can try to attend to that creative, purposeful and joyful part of ourselves during quarantine.

1. Reflect on what you may be called to do

Think of your life before COVID-19 or perhaps even before you had kids. Don't add any constraints yet—simply go into daydreaming mode.

What are the problems in the world that need to be solved? Where, inside those problems, do you feel called to contribute? What messages does the world need to hear more loudly? What do you feel like creating and making (I am not referring to mac and cheese for your toddler, FYI)?

You don't need to go on a retreat to answer these questions. Just grab a journal and spend five minutes writing down or reflecting on these questions in the shower or while brushing your teeth. Keep it simple yet give yourself permission both to dream and to feel all parts of yourself—without judgment.

2. Now narrow down the list

You can add some constraints and get more specific here. Pick something from your list that you can make progress on with only one to two hours a week to start. Pick something that makes you feel alive but won't feel like one more thing on your list.

Here are some ideas to help you get started:

Volunteer: Find an opportunity to lend a (virtual) hand in your community.

Make art: You may have always wanted to paint or build something. Remember that scrapbook you always wanted to create? Time to go for it now. All you have to do is start by dedicating a few minutes two nights a week.

Write: No, I am not talking about writing the next NYTimes bestseller. Maybe a blog post or even a simple yet meaningful social media post. Your voice matters now more than ever.

Cooking: Did you always want to learn more about Thai cooking or how to make pizza from scratch? If so, the weekends may be your chance to nurture that part of yourself. And who knows—it may turn into a fun date night with leftovers your kids will actually enjoy.

Movement: Note, I didn't use the word 'exercise' as I'd encourage you to think about this in terms of movement that helps you experience joy and connection to yourself. Dance for 10 minutes between meetings or do a restorative yoga session before bed.

Strengthen relationships: Sure, you can't grab dinner with your best friend this week, but perhaps you can send her a handwritten note or set up an intentional video chat at night with your favorite beverage once all kids are in bed so you can connect over something meaningful from the week.

3. Plan in advance

Now here's the thing, you need to prioritize and plan somewhat in advance so when the kids are all tucked in, you don't just pick up your phone to read the latest news. Create a list of five-minute, 10-minute and 30-minute activities so you have options to choose from.

Planning is what will help you execute. You'll be prepared with yeast in your pantry so you can try out that new bread recipe you found because of planning. Yes, I know the laundry and dishes are piling up and it may feel more efficient to get those done once the kids are in bed, taking the time to write one note a week or to try one new recipe a month may give you that much-needed dose of joy and connection that you might be craving.

4. Hold yourself accountable

Find a friend or join an online community to find the momentum you need to keep going toward something that feels meaningful to you and brings you joy.

There will likely be weeks with no room for anything outside of your to-do list—but in between the busy days, I hope that you also find days and weeks with a few small moments of calm and purpose to remind you of your own power, wisdom and brilliance in making our world a better place.

We are all in this together and collectively we will come out braver, kinder and more connected as a human species—forever.

In This Article

    Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

    There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

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    Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

    Minimize smoke exposure.

    Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

    Do your best to filter the air.

    According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

    Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

    "Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

    Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

    "COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

    Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

    Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

    Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

    Most importantly, don't panic.

    In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

    This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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