There is no question we are living in uncertain times, sometimes it can even seem like we are in a Sci-Fi movie, and seriously we could all use a little Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis in Armageddon right now. The information overload can be overwhelming; news with all of the latest headlines and statistics on the chyron, social media can be like a rabbit hole, and there is the talking about it, ALL THE TIME. There are all of the what if’s and how and when, it can be seriously exhausting. It is okay to be tired, to take a break and also be tired of being on a break. Everyone is telling us we have to take care of ourselves, stay strong, relax, enjoy our time with our family. Wait, family is spread out all over the country, can’t see friends, school is closed, work is closed, can not find toilet paper anywhere, why does it feel like life is cancelled and when is it going to go back to normal? Maybe all of this has you thinking, how am I supposed to relax during a pandemic? Let’s start by taking a breath, seriously.
Wherever you are, take a moment and inhale through your nose and exhale from your mouth. Repeat. We know that freaking out does not make things better, so how do we manage how we feel, how we react when it seems like everything is so out of our control? We go back to breathing, on purpose. This practice of breathing with intention a.k.a. Breathwork or Pranayama (Prana – breath + Yama – control) is a skill to help regulate your body’s response to stress and anxiety. According to the National Center for Families Learning site, Wonderopolis, the average adult takes between 17,000 – 30,000 times per day and when active it can increase up to 50,000 times a day. We literally breathe tens of thousands of times per day, without a second thought.
What happens when we breathe on purpose? There is neuroscience behind breathwork or intentional breathing. When you are anxious, your nervous system is working double time, activating your amygdala (the fear center of your brain) and that all too familiar fight or flight response and releasing cortisol (stress hormone) into your body. Sounds like a party right? It can be downright terrifying, your heart beating fast, head racing, everything seeming to spin.
So, you do the thing that you do tens of thousands of times a day and everything changes. As you take an intentional breath, your parasympathetic response (rest and restore) helps you to relax, slow your breathing and lower your heart rate. As you practice breathwork, your amygdala relaxes, allowing information to flow freely to the prefrontal cortex (the logical decision maker part of your brain) and passes information on to the hippocampus (the memory creator and processor). The free flow of information is important to help you make rational decisions, store and recall information and make your brain feel a little less like the news crawler. Breathwork can help relieve fear and anxiety, and help your brain function the way you actually need it to.
It is a skill used by Navy SEALS who are trained to be calm in intensely stressful situations. Former Navy SEAL, Mark Divine describes the benefits of a breathing technique he coined called Box Breath.
Intentional breathing is an integral tool for stressful situations. Managing emotions and your reactions during stressful times can be challenging, and that’s ok. It is absolutely ok to say out loud that things are hard. It is healthy to be self-aware. Dr. Tchiki Davis, Ph.D. says “Self-awareness involves monitoring our stress, thoughts, emotions and beliefs.” in a post for Psychology Today. Working through these moments means acknowledging and allowing yourself to focus on what makes it hard. Is it fear, anxiety, stress, financial worry or all of it? Any one of those is enough to be a trigger, add a global pandemic and well, it can become seriously mind-boggling.
Stress, Fear and Anxiety
This is where the work begins. Allow yourself to pause, for a few moments and sit in this place of discomfort, fear, anxiety, stress or worry. You will not be here forever, I promise. Take notice of how your physical body reacts to being uncomfortable or thinking triggering thoughts. Do you begin to feel tension or stress, tightness, has your breathing changed? Where do you notice sensation? Remember what I said about breathing? Inhale through your nose and exhale from your mouth. Repeat. Now, imagine the opposite.
Just as easily as we can spiral into the abyss of what-if’s of doom and gloom – we have the ability to shift our mindset, reframe and allow positivity to take control. In this positive state of mind, notice how your body feels, where have you let go of tension, relaxed your muscles, slowed your breath? Inhale through your nose and exhale from your mouth. Remind yourself everything is ok, that you are calm, relaxed and your life is full of abundance. Repeat.
Look, we all know stress is real. Life happens. Really big out of control stuff happens. How we deal with it matters. It matters to your brain and your body. Prolonged exposure to stress takes a toll on our immune system, making it harder for it to protect us. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Stress can make it easier for us to get sick and I’m totally stressed. Remember the giant asteroid in Armageddon? Asteroid → Earth = Stress → Immune system. We have to mitigate the damage, give our body and brain a break to help it relax, renew and reconnect.
Just how you are supposed to relax during a pandemic? You can wear pajamas, loungewear or your favorite athleisure, just make sure you are taking care of yourself. Here are a few ways:
10 Ways to Relax
During A Pandemic
- Self-care. Practice self-care, eat well, get enough rest. You need to know what day of the week it is.
- Be grateful. Find one thing to be grateful for everyday. It can be your health, your family, friends, your dog, food, technology, sunshine – whatever it is, acknowledge it in gratitude. I’m grateful for my family.
- Go on a news diet. Take a break from the news and turn off some of the news alerts – especially if you notice your stress level increasing when you see them. It is ok to just look at pictures of dogs and cats, that is exactly why I joined Instagram.
- Breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. On purpose. Until it works.
- Exercise. Regular exercise helps to reduce stress and anxiety. Just get your body moving. Hey, I know a great yoga teacher, check out a class!
- Renew. Turn a shower or bath into a mini spa session. You know all those scrubs, masks, oils and lotion samples you have stashed? Go for it. Take a few minutes just for you. Maybe don’t use them all at once.
- Try something new. Remember that thing you always wanted to learn how to do? Try it. Except for cutting your own bangs, seriously.
- Reconnect. Call someone; Facetime, Zoom, Houseparty, Video Chat on Facebook – make time to just talk or listen. It can boost your mood & you may just make someone’s day.
- Find joy. It is okay to be happy, be silly, to have fun. This is your life, enjoy it.
- Make plans. Planning for the future and practicing positive thinking can help you remain optimistic and do the work toward making plans a reality. Hmmm…I’ve always loved Paris in the winter.
Even when it seems like the world is falling apart, know that you are stronger than you even realize and that there are tools to help manage stress and anxiety. By utilizing breathwork, you can begin to manage your response to the internal and external stressors we are all experiencing. Allow yourself moments to acknowledge the source of your stress, fear and anxiety, and then flip the script and imagine that everything is just as it should be. Take a little time to relax, reconnect, and make plans. I know there isn’t a magic wand to make this all better, but just for a moment we can imagine. Cue Aerosmith.
Namaste, my friends.