Finding Moments of Wellbeing Amid the Stress of COVID-19
I have been so impressed with my colleagues and clients throughout the sector who have shown extraordinary stamina and a positive mental attitude in the face of the global pandemic. Still, there are a number who are feeling the darker side of the effects of this isolation. It isn’t a character flaw. For some, it’s just a reality of trauma or unfortunate biochemistry.
In times of isolation, as many of us are alone “sheltering in place,” our fears and anxieties can become magnified. They can pulsate in our bodies and throb in our minds. Our sense of self might falter, as well as our faith. At times we might wonder if it will ever end—or if we will ever recover. If we will ever again feel comfortable with our world. Our thoughts might become dark when our anxieties rage… and our bodies can ache from the constant stress we feel.
Breathing is the Gateway to Mental Resilience
For those who feel a bit lost in this time of great uncertainty, we must first recognize that we might be vulnerable to a downward spiral. Our outer life has become unhinged by something beyond our control.
When my son died a few years ago, I found a few simple practices to help me find my footing and sense of wellbeing. One of the simplest and most profound is breathing.
Breathing is the connection between our mind–and some say spirit—and our body. Breathing animates our life. Without our breath, our heart is useless because it cannot circulate this spirit of life to the cells that form each and every organ. Breathing in is inspiration, breathing out is expiration. Every moment we need to take in a new breath of fresh air.
Few of us are taught about the extraordinary power we hold in the simple act of breathing. How we breathe affects our minds, our emotions, our bodies, and our health. In these troubling times, mindful breathing can pull us out of the doldrums, offer us peace, and even lift our spirits.
In any moment, in whatever frame of mind you are in, you can give yourself the gift of mindful breathing. Take a moment right now. Place your non-dominant hand over your navel and your dominant hand over your heart. Now, take a breath by just letting your stomach relax into a paunch. Feel your non-dominant hand move gently out through a count of five. Hold it for a moment and then gently release your breath for another count of five as your stomach gently moves inward. Do not force. Allow. Your body wants to breathe. While you are doing this, pay subtle attention to your dominant hand to ensure that your chest does not expand or contract; only your stomach. In just a few moments your mood will improve, your mind will calm.
This is a basic breathing exercise and there are many others that you can learn to manage your mind, emotions, and physical health. There are breathing exercises for sleep, for meditation, for inspiration, even for alternate states of mind. Managing your breathing is the simplest and most powerful tool you have to help you feel better. If you are feeling particularly stressed, practice this exercise as often as needed. There are absolutely no harmful effects.
Ground Yourself through Your Conscious Observer
The other practice I would like to offer is another type of mindfulness. Some call it the inner witness. I like to call it my conscious observer.
We have an ability to observe our thoughts, rather than get lost in them. When worry, doubt, and anxiety threaten to overwhelm, we have an ability to take a moment to step back mentally and comment. For example, saying to oneself, as if talking to a friend, “I see that I have anxiety and I am imagining all sorts of fears. I see them appearing in my mind.” You can even name them, call them out. By taking this simple action of observing, you can maintain a centered mindfulness, emotionally detach from the cascade of negative thoughts that come to mind. By doing so, you have created your own inner counselor who has your best interests in mind.
Now combine this practice with your breathing exercise. Breathe in for a count of five, pause, then out for a count of five. As you do this, you might say: I just had a thought that evoked panic. It happened when I wondered how I would pay my bills. As I breathe, I can release these feelings. I can breathe them out of my body. I’m watching the panic subside as I breathe. I now can think more clearly. I’m okay right now and that’s all that matters.
If calming images come to mind, focus on them and inhale those calming sensations into your body, releasing the troubling thoughts as you exhale.
When I was much younger, I was in a play titled “Forty Carats.” One simple line from that play sticks in my mind, “All we really ever have is now” How powerful is that! The past is gone and the future is not yet here. Even though we can’t live in either, they are usually the sources of our fears and anxieties. So, cut yourself a break and let them go. Give your attention to the present and manage the moment. You will find you have what you need to deal with it successfully.
In these most challenging times, we have access to these simple, wonderful abilities to tune into positive emotion and supportive thoughts. Be kind to yourself. Love yourself. Take care of yourself and you will be better able to care for others who may need you.