There are so few human challenges—most all of them intangible—that everyone, regardless of background, inevitably has to weather at some point in life. Romantic heartbreak, death of a loved one. It’s genuinely hard to think of more. The COVID-19 pandemic is so prodigious because it’s not only an experience that everyone is dealing with but one that everyone is dealing with at the exact same time. Personally, I start to freak out a little bit any time I come up against a challenge so rare that my mom has never seen it before. Needless to say, COVID-19 has set off those panic alarms, which I’ve spent the past week and a half attempting to quiet with the best self-care rituals and products available to me—a journey that is by no means complete.
There’s nothing like a crisis to bring out both the best and worst in us. For every ounce of compassion and selflessness that’s emerged from this, there’s an equal amount of agitation and impatience, arrogance and shaming of others. Because this is something that nearly the entire human population is tackling, there is an overwhelming quantity of information (some valid and helpful, some less so) about how we should be spending these uncertain times. I’ve seen memes advising the internet to make good use of the quarantine—to look on the bright side by starting that novel you always told yourself you’d write or by taking this “precious” period to “pause” and “unplug”—the creators and sharers of which were no doubt well-intentioned but maybe not considering the millions of people dealing with everything from homelessness to cancer to depression who don’t have much of a silver lining right now. As connected as we all are by this crisis, coming across the wrong information at the wrong time can make one feel even more alone.
The most helpful sentiments I’ve scrolled past all voice a similar message: As long as you’re abiding by the recommendations of the government and WHO, taking every precaution to keep yourself and others safe, there’s no “right” way to do self-care. You don’t need to write that novel, alphabetise your food cupboards, get in amazing shape or somehow spin this whole experience into a good thing (unless you want to, of course). The only thing any of us “needs” to do is protect our own health and the health of our communities. The rest is going to look very different from one person to the next.
I was talking to a friend on the phone this morning for whom this quarantine has served as creative fuel. “I’m going to write a children’s book,” she told me. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, and I’m finally going to do it.” For her, self-care looks like artistic output, which is wonderful. “You go, girl,” I replied. But for me? Self-care these days is a little different. I’m being really gentle with myself, avoiding negative self-talk when I find myself sleeping until 11 or feeling unshakably squirmy about the future when I know I’m comparatively so, so lucky. I’m not alphabetising anything or exercising much, but I am doing other things. Namely, a lot of face masks. I’m also pushing my skincare routine in a more sustainable direction, like by swapping disposable facial cleansing wipes for reusable options. I’m also reading my little heart out. (I just finished Such a Fun Age, a novel by Kiley Reid, which was phenomenal.)
To get a sense of what other people are doing right now to care for their minds and bodies, I reached out to 20 women from all over the world, who kindly responded with their quarantine self-care routines. From Italy to South Africa to Australia, here’s how women from a variety of cultures and experiences are spending their lockdowns. While there is certainly no “right” way to do self-care, here are some ideas from across the globe.
How are you engaging with self-care right now?
I am in Bologna, Italy, and have been in quarantine for 10 days. At first I struggled getting dressed and finding my balance, but after a few days, I realised that for me, routine is key. Self-care in this moment means keeping disciplined, waking up early, getting dressed as if I were going out, and eating during normal times.
How are you moving your body?
I am actually starting my first live yoga session this Friday! I live in Italy, but I was born in Paris, and all my friends are in quarantine now, so I organised a live yoga session for all of us with a teacher friend of mine.
Can you recommend a beauty product you’re enjoying?
I love the calming mask from Avène! Sending you much love!
Self-care: Too many things! I feel so alive right now. First step is to limit the time spent on social media and then starting to DO things. My apartment is cleaner than ever. I have read some books and do proper healthy meals during the day. And hell yeah, even though I do not move my body as often as usual, I feel slimmer since I refused to have my food delivered and cook clean and healthy food during the day.
Movement: I do workouts in front of my TV and afterward stretch on the terrace. There are plenty of very good workouts on YouTube. Tidying is great cardio too!
Beauty: Vitamin C! There is a local brand called Havlikova Apoteka with the highest concentration of C in their product. It works wonders! I truly recommend!
United Arab Emirates
Self-care: In my line of work, travel has become a recurrent necessity. Between having a clothing line, a consultancy, travelling for fashion weeks, and doing the influencer thing, I was barely ever home in 2019. I profoundly missed my alone time at home and being with my husband. It's sad that we're having to go through such trying times, but the silver lining for me personally is that I'm able to get my personal space (both physical and mental) a little more aligned and in order. It's been a great time for self-reflection and overall just taking a break from this transactional ecosystem. It's been relaxing to be home, although after a few days, it can get a little frustrating. My husband and I make it a point to go for long walks after dinner. We watch documentaries at night before bed. I've been cooking more now than I ever have. Laundry is done in a more timely manner, and with spring around the corner, the closets have been spruced!
Movement: Regular walks around our neighbourhood on a daily basis. I'm almost embarrassed to say I rarely work out. Gyms and I just don’t get along.
Beauty: Biologique Recherche. I love the P50 Lotion, which I use rather regularly, plus the Biomagic Mask from the brand. Apart from those, I'm an avid daily user of brands like Vintner's Daughter, Dr. Barbara Sturm, Drunk Elephant, Augustinus Bader, Bioderma and SkinCeuticals, to name a few. Yep, I'm a skincare junkie, and no matter how taxing my day, I'm never falling asleep with makeup on, nor am I forgetting to layer the three serums I love (day and night).
Self-care: I’ve started to work out, which is very unheard of of me, and decided to not rely on junk and cook my own meals!
Movement: I started working out in my garden by watching some awesome workout videos on YouTube! So far it’s working.
Beauty: In the Middle East, everyone is raving about Huda Beauty’s new Wishful Yo Glow Facial Enzyme Scrub (£34). I’ve tried it too, and it really makes your face feel smooth!
Self-care: It’s such a difficult time because of the confinement. We have to stay at home as much as possible for an indefinite period. But my priority since the beginning of 2020 is the time, love and attention that I pay to me. Life pushes us to forget ourselves sometimes, but I decided to put myself in the top priority. More than ever, I listen to my desire to be positive, and I work every day to feel as well inside and outside. It’s amazing how much a mindset can change.
Movement: Since the confinement, which started in Paris on Saturday, March 14, I have reorganised my whole house. Suffice to say, I’m on the move a lot! As soon as I give myself a short break, I go to the Instagram pages @home.excercises and @fittuts, which allow me to do two to three exercises in 10 minutes.
Beauty: Clarins Re-Move Radiance Exfoliating Powder (£14), which is really good. I also make a mask with green clay, lavender and tea tree oil.
Self-care: I try to stay at home as much as possible. Most of us in HK are taking social distancing very seriously. To have a stronger immune system, I use Propolis Spray on my throat daily and have been taking supplements. I also try to eat more veggies and fruits.
Movement: I do some K-pop dance at home and also some stretching.
Beauty: The Sisley-Paris Ecological Compound Emulsion (£168). As we have to wear masks all day now, it’s important for the moisturiser to be non-greasy and lightweight. I also love its calming herbal scent and instant toning ability.
Self-care: I think “me” time is very important for women. Spend some time with yourself. Talk to your body and ask for your own needs. I like giving myself a massage with Clarins body products. When you use oil to massage yourself, you can force yourself to stay away from your phone, as hands are oily! And you can think about your day and life during this “me” time. I also do a hot bath from time to time. I will add some coconut oil inside the water to smell good.
Movement: Yoga and weight lifting are very important for me. Women also need to have strong muscles.
Beauty: I am not a strict beauty routine person, so I apply different beauty products every day. Really depends on the weather and my mood, but I always use toner water for refreshed skin. In Hong Kong, ladies like whitening products, as they prefer white skin. But not for me. I love sunshine and embracing my natural skin colour.
New York, USA
Self-care: Right now, I am listening to my own body. Exercising when I truly feel like it, eating when I’m genuinely hungry, and reading the news when I am deeply curious.
Movement: When it comes to movement, I am mostly doing cardio and strength exercises. I am making it up as I go with good music and past knowledge from workout classes!
Self-care: I have a bit more time for myself now, and I try to spend it on things that I didn't have a chance to do before. I devote a bit more time to pampering, so masks and peelings that may take a bit more effort or time but at the same time can bring some amazing effects. My favourite option is using an LED light mask while reading a book. I also spend more time on taking care of my hair, using heat masks. Since it may be a bit more difficult to go to a hairdresser now, taking care of my hair at home is really important to me. I also spend more time on taking care of my hands. Now, when we need to wash our hands more frequently, it’s essential to keep our hands well hydrated, so I often put a thick layer of hand cream and put gloves on them.
Self-care: Actually spending more time than usual on my skincare routine, as I have extra time at home. I’m also going to declutter my wardrobe, which will make me feel incredibly zen I know! And am absolutely treating myself to a little glass of medicinal wine at the end of the day!
Movement: I’m absolutely making sure I can get at least 12K steps done a day. The fresh air makes such a difference to your mood, and knowing that I have extra time to walk that bit further is one absolute advantage of this episode. Our gym also has online videos that I’m starting this weekend.
Beauty: The thing that’s currently keeping me going is perfume. I’m rotating my favourites—Jo Malone Grapefruit Cologne (£48), Jo Loves Pomelo Fragrance (£70), and Diptyque Eau de Sens Eau de Toilette (£98). But I’ve ordered a new one to lift my mood, Serge Lutens Fleurs de Citronnier (£99), which is the most incredible floral scent and perfect for spring, despite everything else going on.
Self-care: Self-care means community care. Right now, more than ever, it’s so important to be able to love and care for the people close to us and far from us, as our own well-being is literally tied to theirs! So self-care is launching a global poetry swap on @becauseweveread, uplifting calls to decarcerate jails, and organizing a campaign to lift U.S. sanctions on Iran that are blocking its ability to fight the coronavirus!
Movement: As a Muslim, I already pray five times a day (which includes stretches!) and have been trying to go for solo walks alongside the lake when the sun is out here in Chicago!
Beauty: I love Neogen’s Vita Duo Cream (£25)! It has two creams, one for the day and one for the night, and leaves my skin feeling really healthy and bright! (And they are a cruelty-free label!)
Self-care: I'm actually studying a lot. (I am researching bag design as an art director and designer.) I can’t go out, so I prepare my own dishes, and thanks to this, my cooking skills have recently improved!
Movement: I exercise 30 minutes every day at home.
Beauty: Chanel! The products are so romantic and not irritating to the skin.
Self-care: My go-to setting for living a healthy life is generally very simple, and often solitary, so I am not finding the social distancing as challenging as many. I am happy to be able to spend more time with my children and husband without feeling guilty that I should be “doing” more. I am cherishing this enforced isolation, being still, re-nesting at home, being grateful for the love in my life, and for my surroundings in which I am so comfortable in isolation.
Movement: With more “me” time, I am able to focus more on being in the present through awareness of breath and observations of sensations within the body. Energy-wise, I am less manic and find that my body is being nourished by being outside in my small inner-city garden, tending the plants, the soil, and observing the bees, birds, ants, earthworms, and other critters that are sharing this space. My body is more relaxed, less active, feeling less that I have to practice Asana, so I find my mind and spirit are more aware of the true meaning of yoga, which is union, union of all. I am moving my body less in these times, as in the previous reality I was constantly “on the go.”
Beauty: My essential beauty product is the A'kin Invigorating Facial Scrub with jojoba, corn, and witch hazel (followed by A'kin Certified Organic Rosehip Oil, £18). A'kin is an Aussie brand. Its products are made in Australia, cruelty-free, and 100% vegan. The products are effective and simple to use with no excessive glamorous packaging and a reasonable price point.
Self-care: In Spain, we have been in quarantine for a week, and those who can stay at home. I telework every day and try to be distracted and do things all day. I am creating a lot of content to entertain those who follow me and make this more enjoyable!
Movement: Every afternoon, I do sport with @magalidalix, one of the best trainers in our country. She’s publishing a video every morning so people can do it during the day from home.
Beauty: The eye shadows I created for MAC Cosmetics! They have all the perfect colours so you can practice different fun makeup looks at home.
Self-care: I’m giving my body extra doses of vitamin C, probiotic, and other supplements such as zinc to try to be stronger with my immune system working well. I’m drinking a lot of water and infusions and sleeping a lot.
Movement: Days before quarantine started, my husband and I ordered a stationary bicycle, and I’m using it every day for 10 to15 minutes.
Beauty: Highlighters! We are now at home in quarantine, but we still want to shine.
Self-care: I have several great pleasures which pertain to self-care, but prior to these, I find it always lifts my spirits if I shower, dress, and apply some degree of makeup. Whether it be via phone, texts or emails, I love reaching out to friends and family. I try each day to answer comments of my Instagram followers as well as write to colleagues with whom I have worked. I love to read, listen to music, watch favorite films on television, and always have a crossword or 1000-piece puzzle in the works.
Movement: At the present time, I remain fully within my home, with the exception of not having altered my daily practice of walking each morning for approximately one hour. As it usually is just after dawn, I do not encounter others. I have newly begun an indoor stretching program, which lasts about 30 minutes. I continue to be busy throughout the day with many household activities.
Beauty: Living in the desert, sunshine abounds. I am immensely fond of direct sunlight on my face and body but limit this to five or 10 minutes at most. There is something particularly wonderful about feeling vitamin D on my skin. The gift of light truly nurtures my soul!
Self-care: Since I love taking care of my skin, my daily ritual is even more intensive. After my morning shower—that I really enjoy at the moment because I don't have a time limit—I do nine steps for my facecare: hydrating lotion, anti-age emulsion, hydrating booster, eye serum, eye cream, illuminating serum, lip balm, neck-lift cream, and face spray mist. Also, I boost my mood by changing my fragrance two or three times per day. It's such a nice way to make my mind travel! I love perfumes and what they do to my soul.
Movement: Depending on my mood, I have three options. My favourite is taking my two dogs out around the block—due to strict regulations—twice per day and playing with them in my garden; dancing like no one is watching to some of my favourite songs; having a live session every morning at 10 with my trainer through an app, which is real fun because we are like 20 to 30 people at the same time, and you can hear and laugh at all the comments they make!
Beauty: Now that Greeks all have plenty of time, we are seriously into face masks. Since we belong to this beautiful sunny country and we produce so many great local products, I have seen people, including myself, using face masks that have ingredients related to the endless Greek summer like mastic from the beautiful island of Chios (Apivita Tissue Face Masks, £6) or Greek yogurt that we use very often when we get sunburned in Greece but also for our breakfast with toppings like honey, figs, and walnuts . We cannot wait to get our life back, but this time with a new healthier state of mind!