As we’re faced with another week of social distancing, it’s natural to feel the weight of everything that’s happening at the moment.
Whether you’re feeling under pressure with the practicalities of home-schooling, confinement or getting groceries, or you’re anxious about your health and that of friends and family, there’s a lot to take in and process.
When you’re in the eye of the storm, it’s important to stop and think about what you can do to calm the waters. We’ve put together some tools and techniques to help you navigate these challenging times with a greater sense of peace.
It might seem incredibly simplistic, but your breath is the single quickest way you can impact your nervous system. Try some of these breathing techniques when you’re feeling anxious or when things are getting on top of you:
- Lengthen your exhale: count your breath, and exhale for a couple of counts longer than you inhale (e.g. breathe in for 4, breathe out for 6). This helps your body to shift towards its parasympathetic ‘‘rest and digest’ nervous system.
- Meditate on the breath: lie down or sit up straight and simply focus on the simple act of breathing for five minutes. Notice the feeling of the air in your nostrils, your throat and your chest. Observe the differences in the qualities of the inhalation and the exhalation without trying to change anything. This simple mindfulness meditation will bring you back to the present moment, and the act of focusing on a single thing will calm your mind.
- Diaphragmatic breathing: sitting up on a chair, hold tightly onto both sides of the seat underneath you and take some deep breaths. Notice how your breath descends lower into your lungs when your shoulders aren’t allowed to rise up when you breathe in. This stops you ‘chest breathing’ (which can be excitatory) and also brings you into your parasympathetic nervous system.
There is a wealth of evidence about the benefits of journaling (see our article, The Therapeutic Benefits of Putting Pen to Paper). It can be a great way to create calm, as well as helping you identify how you’re truly feeling, in order to better be able to deal with it. There are plenty of resources online for structured journaling (with specific questions to answer, for example) or you can freestyle and simply pour out whatever flows.
The Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at UC Berkeley says that “people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.” What’s more, practicing gratitude has been shown to have increasing benefits over time and one hypothesis is that the practice actually has lasting effects on the brain.
More than anything, practicing gratitude allows you to hone in on what you have rather than what you lack. The smallest of things can be blessings. If you really think about it, you might realize that there are many things to be thankful for right now: the roof over your head; the lack of commute; living in an era with the technology that allows you to stay connected to distant family and friends, despite being quarantined.
Try this simple gratitude exercise: when you wake up in the morning, write down three things that you’re grateful for in life. Try to be specific and try not to write the same things every day. You can also do this as part of your journaling, or in the evenings when you can reflect upon the day and write down three things that you were grateful for.
Perspective and Reframing
Much like gratitude, reframing can affect your brain. How you choose to interpret a situation can really affect how happy or unhappy it makes you - and the conscious effort of reframing bad thoughts into good, also stops the automatic slide down into a rabbit hole of negativity.
Here are some examples of reframing that you might try:
- ‘I hate being stuck at home’ could be ‘I’m fortunate to have a roof over my head.’
- ‘I would prefer to be in the office than working from home’ could be ‘being able to do my job from home has allowed me to stay safe where others haven’t been so lucky.’
- ‘Home-schooling is very stressful’ could be ‘I am grateful for the teachers who educate my children.’
- ‘Having the kids at home all day is stressful’ might be ‘I’m so lucky to have this quality time with my kids even if it’s not smooth sailing all the time.’
Much like gratitude, this practice can seem unfamiliar first, but you may soon find that the constant reframing helps you accept, and even feel better, about the situation you’re in.
Moving the body to still the mind
It’s well-known that exercise is a great stress reliever, but it can be hard to find the motivation at the moment. Some are finding that there are not enough hours in a quarantine day, while others are finding it hard to muster up the motivation to do anything in a day that has no structure.
It’s so important to keep moving. Not just for your mental health, but for your physical health (including your immune system).
We’ve got lots of inspiration in our Friday Favorites series: try our Online Fitness Inspiration suggestions or Movement to Relieve Stress for ways that you can incorporate exercise into the new normal. And if you’re isolating with family members, then get them involved - there’s nothing like a mid-afternoon dance party to shake off the stress of being confined together and get everyone energized for a happier evening.
You’re not alone
More than anything during this time, know that you’re not alone. This is an absolutely unique time in that most of humanity is having a shared experience of hardship, adjusting to a totally new normal. So reach out to others. Connect. Find communities online, or contact your nearest and dearest when you need support. And connect with us, too - we’re on Instagram @luv. We know that times aren’t great, but we also know that you can get through it. Stay well. Brighter days are ahead.