The Wider Picture – Managing Stress and Anxiety during and post-CoVid-19
We know when we are anxious & stressed. Whether we are conscious of it or not, our sympathetic nervous system is on high alert. That means that we’re not breathing fully. We’re not expanding our lungs, our heartbeat is going too fast, our blood pressure’s elevated, and we are releasing those stress hormones. Our sleep and our digestion may be affected. But we can take that overactive, sympathetic nervous system dominance and balance it with our parasympathetic nervous system.
One exercise I like is this. One hand over your belly button, one hand just around your heart. If you take a slow, slow, deep breath in through your nose, very, very slowly, and make sure that your belly button extends, diaphragm breathing first. Slow breath in and then fill out your lungs or fill up your lungs, and hold your breath for three seconds. Then breathe it out through the mouth like you’re breathing out through a straw for as slowly as you can. Some people call it the 4 (seconds) – 3 (seconds) – 7 (seconds) exercise, or slight variants on that. Some people like to imagine they are breathing in a white or golden light, or the scent of roses – use whatever works for you!
When you do that six times, it can calm the circuits. What it does is it deactivates that stressful part of your brain, and it activates that ability to be calm so you can respond in a calm, responsive way.
Another exercise is A-I-A, which stands for Awareness, Intention, Action. Be aware of, “What have I been thinking?” or, “What am I thinking?” Awareness of your thoughts, first, then look at your feelings and emotions, are they constructive, are they destructive? Are they empowering you? Are they confusing you?
Do this in a state of awareness without any judgment, blame, shame, guilt or justification. Why? Because we know that if we can be mindful, without labelling or giving any judgment on ourselves or what’s happening, then we can set an intention.
Eg: My intention is to be calm while this is all going on. My intention is to stay focused, my intention is to be healthy, my intention is to ——-. Take one small action step towards your intention. For instance, if your intention is to improve your physical fitness, then schedule a 20 minute walk each day; or if you want to learn something new (Italian?) then do 10 minutes on an online course every day. You don’t need to invest much time or money with these small steps for good changes to take place! By doing this, we’ve deactivated that fear centre in our brain. We have deliberately shifted over to the genius part of our brain that can observe, and direct, and command, and be in control. This will empower us in an environment where we have little or no control (Covid-19 and the lockdown) versus allowing a disempowering pattern, whether it’s thoughts, emotions or behaviours, to reinforce itself and become a habitual destructive pattern.