Weeks ago, in the midst of some of the most difficult days in our COVID struggle, a friend and colleague asked me what I was doing for self-care. I admit my first response was to laugh because the days were long, the nights were sleepless, and the weeks felt endless. But after my first “Are you kidding me?” reaction, I realized that taking care of ourselves, while important all the time, is critical during times of intense stress.

As people who have devoted our careers to caring for others, sometimes we even feel a twinge of guilt at the thought that we are taking a moment to put ourselves, and not someone else, first. Can we spare that time to care for ourselves? Do we really have the time to shift our focus from all the other things that are screaming for our attention?

I think the answer is that we must take time to check in with ourselves, to assess where we are mentally and physically, and to remember that, if we don’t take care of ourselves, we cannot take care of anyone else. I know that we all think that we have unlimited capacity to work and give and just keep doing and doing but the truth is, even we have a need to recharge as do the members of our team.

Some of my colleagues have found self-care in learning new skills, like cooking meals when they’ve really never spent time in the kitchen before. Others are making a point of connecting with friends and family through Zoom or FaceTime, not just talking but really checking in. Still others are finding ways to make exercise a priority, not just for physical health but to manage stress.

I start just about every morning with a live stream of my barre class. Normally I go to class four times a week but now I am in class early in the morning, six or seven times every week. While my plank pose is now rock solid, that’s not why I do it. I do it because it’s the place where stress takes a backseat, a time when my churning thoughts are briefly quieted as I focus on the micro of each movement and instruction from the teacher, grateful for a moment not to be the person giving direction or making decisions.

In the light of so many challenges, in a world of such complexity and stress, caring for ourselves is the way we will rebuild our strength, recharge our energy, and reinforce our ability to carry on. What are you doing to take care of you?