Whether by nature or necessity, women are multi-taskers. Before the pandemic, many of us were used to tackling our ongoing list of to-do’s, routinely overcoming the natural limits of our energy in order to balance the demands of work, family, relationships, personal life, and health goals. When the pandemic hit and forced us to add “survive global health and economic crises” to our already crowded agendas, the additional weight was crushing.
Our workout routines were interrupted, our work lives were thrown into chaos, and our roles as caretakes amplified. It is no wonder that we have turned to coping mechanisms like “pandemic-snacking” to relieve the added pressure and bring some enjoyment back into our days. The trouble is, while stress-eating feels good in the moment, the intensity of our emotions will still be waiting for us at the bottom of the next bag of chips.
While normalcy is still a ways off, there are three simple things that all of us can do to feel less stressed and more nourished, and not just survive but thrive, during these complicated times.
- “Do” Less
Often, when trying to make a life-change, the most common strategy is to add something in—committing to a new workout, starting a new eating plan, learning a new skill (sourdough bread baking, anyone?)
While bringing in something new can add fresh energy, direction, and excitement to life, and at the very least, be a welcome distraction, a lot of our stress stems from the sheer amount we’re all trying to achieve on any given day.
So, before you add in something new, contemplate taking something old out.
Consider: What is one current habit you engage in regularly that isn’t fulfilling you? Scrolling through social media, rereading the news headlines, or refreshing my email inbox every ten minutes are a few examples from my own life. Try doing less of that one thing for the next 21 days before adding in anything new. Notice how you feel.
- Find Mindful Moments Throughout Your Day
In the spirit of doing less, commit to finding mindful moments throughout your day rather than setting a goal to start a formal meditation practice. When you’re standing in line at the store, sitting at a red light, listening to your friend or partner, or helping your child with their homework, practice being fully in that moment.
To do so, use your senses to notice the sights, sounds, and sensations that are a part of that moment. Notice how you’re breathing, and the way you’re positioning your body. Observe your thoughts, noticing when you start thinking about something else that is not about the moment you’re actually in. For example, thinking about something that happened in the past or daydreaming about something that may happen in the future.
See if you can meet whatever is occurring with patience, interest, and curiosity. See if you can relax a little into whatever is happening now.
- Explore Your Cravings
Pandemic-snacking (and pre-pandemic cravings) typically have little to do with physical hunger. So, before indulging, consider what that food represents and what deeper longing it may satisfy.
A particular food from your childhood may bring with it a sense of comfort or belonging or a memory of simpler times. A hankering for an ice cream cone may be as much about having an excuse to leave the house to do something fun, as it is about the treat itself.
By connecting to these associations and becoming aware of what you’re really hungry for, you may open up a larger menu of options for yourself.
For example, if you identify what’s underneath your urge for ice cream, you may be able to substitute another quick, fun outing that doesn’t sabotage your goal to cut out sugar. If you opt to eat the ice cream anyway, maybe you do so with added attention to the experience of being outside and the feeling of being free for a few minutes during a busy day. Either way, you’ll likely feel more satisfied.
As you take small steps towards increasing ease, peace, and enjoyment in your life, it’s important to acknowledge that this is a complex time. Whatever you are feeling is normal, and whatever you’ve been doing to cope is ok.
So, scratch “handle crisis gracefully” off your to-do list. Instead, when in doubt about what to do, first, do less. Whatever you are doing, try to do it mindfully, and when hunger strikes, think about what you really need in order to feel more fully fed.
About the Author: Dana Rizer is the Executive Director at FEAST, a non-profit dedicated to promoting wellness and enriching lives through the power of healthy foods and human connection. Dana has a master’s degree in Food Studies and Food Systems, a nutrition-focused professional culinary certification from the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts, and is an Advanced Registered Yoga Teacher.