As Covid numbers begin to reach a new high and the world seems destined to regress into some new version of shut down, it’s likely that you and your family are feeling the increase in stress, anxiety, and depression that comes from responding to trauma.  Feeling that we’re going backwards, fears of what the future will hold, and the uncertainty of our own stability make feeling irritable, scared, or tense a completely normal response to the world around us.  

Because of what is going on in the world, it becomes increasingly important to be more mindful of ourselves and engage in regular check-ins.  Checking in with yourself and others on a consistent basis will allow you to be more in tune with your needs and give you the ability to intervene early, which will ultimately help you better regulate your emotions and response to all stressors.  When we have a good handle on how we’re feeling, we’re more likely to use interventions successfully as needed. 

So what does a self check-in look like?  Too many times throughout the day, we are on autopilot.  Because we run to accomplish so much in such a short time, we often fall into the trap of moving through the day at a feverish pace.  Even if we’re not physically busy, the act of functioning during a pandemic can take so much emotional and mental energy that we often feel exhausted even when our calendars weren’t at their fullest.  This type of automatic functioning doesn’t allow us much time to process how we’re feeling, and ignoring that can lead to feeling out of control and falling victim to negative emotions.  Checking in involves allowing yourself to take the time to evaluate how you’re feeling and whether you’re coping as well as you can.

In order to check in with yourself, begin by taking a deep breath.  Inhale through your nose, allow yourself to feel your lungs/chest expand, hold it for a few seconds, and then exhale through your mouth.  You can continue this breathing process throughout the check-in to help facilitate relaxation.  Then ask yourself some questions about the functioning of your body: how do I feel, am I tired/hungry/overwhelmed, do I feel any tension in any of my muscles, and if so, where.  You should also ask yourself to identify a feeling word that best describes you in that moment, such as angry, depressed, frustrated, or worried. Why not use a rating scale to help you identify how you’re feeling in comparison to others check-ins? Ask yourself how you feel on a scale from 1-10.  This should give you some context and help to identify if you need more or less help. The goal is to attend to yourself! When you answer these questions, you have a better ability to introduce interventions successfully.  If you’re tired or hungry, you know there’s a need to schedule time for a nap or a snack.  If you feel tense, you can engage in some muscle relaxation activities, exercises, or yoga to relieve that tension.  If your feeling words include feelings like irritable, nervous, frustrated, or run down, then you know it’s time to schedule some positive activities to lift you up.

The benefits of check-ins extend beyond just helping us to feel better.  Why not try engaging in these same check-ins with your partner, children, siblings, and coworkers?  By helping others to check-in on their physical and emotional needs, you’re functioning as  an important support and helping to make the daily lives of others better.  This can also strengthen your relationship with others, as they recognize your efforts to ensure that they are coping. When you’re checking in on others, be sure to use open ended questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Encourage the same use of a rating scale so you can better understand how well or poorly they’re feeling.  Pay close attention to their answers and offer empathy or support if needed. This is a great way for you to better understand where others are coming from, as well as to help them practice better self-expression. 

Whether for yourself or for others, check-ins are an effort to ensure that you are functioning as the best version of yourself on a daily basis.  It may take some time for you to get in the routine of remembering to check in with yourself and others, but by practicing it often during the day you will become more accustomed and successful in following through.  

We all need to practice better self-care, especially when the world feels so hectic and chaotic.  The first key to taking better care of yourself is to better recognize how you’re feeling and where you’re at emotionally, mentally, and physically.  By checking in with yourself and others you’ll be better equipped to intervene and live your best life!

Good luck, and live well!

Bill Knor, LCPC