These last few weeks we all have experienced a change in our daily rhythm that we likely have never experienced in our lifetimes. With that change, there can be uncertainty, fear and sadness. But there can be joy, goodness and strength if we look for it. The collective human spirit is powerful and harnessing your own piece of this is within your control. I’d like to share with you some things you can do today to help alleviate some of the anxiety.
First, limit your time reading and watching media coverage of the day’s events. Try to select an amount of time, 30 or 45 minutes a day and spend the rest, reading books, listening to music or talking to friends.
Second, pick an activity that you know brings you joy and promise yourself to do it daily. It could be taking a walk, playing with your pet, dancing with your kids in the living room or cooking your mouth watering dinner. These activities release endorphins and we all need a truckload of these right now.
Third, be kind. You’ve heard this before and I’ll say it again because it bears repeating, kindness is powerful. Doing anything else has negative consequences. Kindness and it’s close neighbor, generosity, release oxytocin and activate parts of the brain that build trust, social connectedness and warmth. It also decreases your blood pressure and can have immediate effects on your feelings of anxiety. Talk to a friend who is having a hard day, help a neighbor, share your talents- your community will welcome you.
Fourth, build mindfulness whether or not you’ve practiced this before. Deep breathing has enormous benefits to your physical, emotional and brain health. Since many of us are at home, what a great opportunity to try some specific breathing techniques. I will share one with you here because I think it is easy to learn and portable, it can truly be done anywhere. It is called “4-7-8 breathing.”
Take a moment to find a quiet place and a comfortable position, sitting or resting with eyes closed. Place your tongue behind the ridge of your upper teeth so your mouth is slightly open. Rest, inhale for a mental count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7 and then exhale slowly for a count of 8. Repeat no more than 4 times. The 8 seconds it takes to exhale are the most important in this exercise. As you practice daily you will notice your heart rate comes down and your irritability will decrease. After 2 weeks you can increase the breaths to 8 a session or the frequency to two times a day.
I truly believe that we all will come through this time with new tools that we find within ourselves. Even though we are physically apart, we can emotionally lift each other up. Try watching any one of the many balcony sing- a- longs across the world. From birthdays, anniversaries and a wonderful neighborhood parade to welcome a young girl returning from her final chemotherapy.
By Prerana Sangani, MD, MPH