How to master 'The Art of Showing Up' during a pandemic

Rachel Miller's book offers advice on everything from maintaining friendships to self-care. Miller shares how to use those skills in the COVID-19 era.
Woman reaching out for flowers
Maintaining adult friendships can be difficult in normal circumstances, let alone during a global pandemic.daruma46 / Getty Images stock
By Kerry Breen

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Rachel Wilkerson Miller's "The Art of Showing Up" covers almost everything you need to know about forming and maintaining adult friendships while also taking care of yourself.

It's a topic that's especially useful during the coronavirus pandemic, when many standard rituals — like nights out — are canceled for the foreseeable future, and physical connection is complicated by social distancing.

Miller spoke to TMRW to share her top tips for taking care of yourself and your friendships during the pandemic.

"The Art of Showing Up: How to Be There for Yourself and Your People" by Rachel Wilkerson Miller

1. Take time for yourself when you need it

Miller said that the initial idea for "The Art of Showing Up" grew from an article she wrote for BuzzFeed several years ago, which focused on the necessity of taking care of yourself so you could be there for others.

In 2020, amid the stress and turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic, self-care has only grown more important.

"There's a chapter in my book that's about taking care of yourself when things are really bad, and I think that applies here, more than in earlier chapters where it's just about taking care of yourself in normal times," Miller said. "These aren't normal times."

An important part of self-care right now, she said, is to make sure you are taking enough time for yourself. The uncertain circumstances of the past several months may make it more difficult to be as supportive as you would be otherwise.

"You're not going to be able to give as much as you normally would, and you have to really make sure that your basic needs are getting met," she said. "I always go back to 'Are you sleeping, are you eating regularly, are you drinking water?' Just doing those can be a lot right now, and that might be all you have the energy for, and that's totally fine."

2. Don't look for self-improvement

Miller said that in discussions about self-care, she's often found that people misinterpret what the term really means.

"A friend of mine said something to the effect of 'self-help is often looked at as self-improvement,'" she said. "There's this idea that you're already at 100% and you're just going to build on that, but right now, people aren't necessarily at 100%. I think that's really true.

"To me, the best self-care right now is to do less, and expect less of yourself," she continued. "Recognize that everyone's feeling a bit brain-foggy these days, we have really limited resources and bandwidth, and just remember that we're ultimately, in a certain sense, in survival mode right now."

Instead of trying to push yourself too hard, she advised seeing self-care as doing what you need to in order to keep yourself safe and healthy.

"The point of staying home, of wearing a mask, of all these things, is to keep yourself alive and healthy," she said. "Make sure you're doing that, and think of everything else from there as a bonus."

3. Remember that social media isn't everything ...

Miller said that in a time when most of our interactions are happening online, it's important to not get sucked into a social media spiral.

"We might go on social media to see what our friends are doing, and then spend an hour looking at strangers that we don't even know," she said.

To combat the potential pitfall, she recommends taking some time to really think about what you want to get out of social media; then make a plan to stick to that.

"If your goal is to keep in touch with friends, then ask yourself 'Is there a way to make this more effective?'" she said, offering suggestions such as making sure you're only seeing close friend's posts or trying to supplement social media interactions with regular video or phone calls. "It's easy to tell yourself that social media is a good way of staying in touch with people, and it's not the worst way, but I think we all acknowledge that social media isn't the whole picture of anyone's life."

Miller also said that finding more fulfilling ways of interacting and connecting may leave you feeling better afterward.

"Social media might be a great starting point. It might tell you that somebody just took a road trip, but it's not until you talk to them one-on-one that you can get the real details of the road trip and how it felt and all those things," she said. "Just remember that social media can be really draining and really exhausting and also not actually effective. Make sure it's not your primary way of staying in touch with people when there's probably better, more direct ways."

4. ... but don't be afraid to use technology to maintain connections

Despite her warnings about not overrelying on social media, Miller said that it has been fascinating to watch people adapt their daily lives to virtual connection over the course of the pandemic.

"In the first couple weeks of the stay-at-home orders, people were just like 'OK, we're doing Google Hangouts now, and we're prepared to roll with it,'" Miller said. "That was really exciting."

Miller said that she wasn't surprised by the innovation.

"Most of what we already know and the tools we already have can be adapted," she said. "A lot of people are changing their weekly happy hour with friends to a Zoom call."

The ease with which people have been able to pivot to new platforms makes it much easier to maintain relationships during the pandemic, Miller said.

"We don't necessarily reinvent the wheel; we can look at what was already working and apply that to pandemic living," she said.