During times of stress and anxiety, our immune systems are weakened so it is important that we spend some time reducing our stress and reducing our anxiety so that we can stay healthy for ourselves and others. Here are lists of techniques you can do to help yourself stay mentally healthy during these days. Yet, I don’t want you to do them all. Pick and choose which ones work for you.
Know Your Own Signs of Stress:
We all have different stress reactions. Some people talk louder, some people talk faster. Some people use more profanity. Sometimes we clench our jaws or fists, or we hold our tension in our neck or across our forehead. Being aware of what your stress signs are can help alert you to taking stress reducing or anxiety reducing steps.
One of them is simply inhaling for half as long as you exhale. For example, if I inhale for a count of three, then I exhale for a count of six. When we do this fifteen times, it will relax your muscles and slow your heart rate. You can breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth if you want to deepen the experience.
A second breathing technique is diaphragm breathing. Put your hand on your belly and your other hand on your chest. When you breathe in, it is like you are blowing up the belly balloon. You are pushing out your belly and as you exhale, you are deflating the belly balloon. So you are moving your belly but not moving your chest during your breathing. As you practice this technique, it sends a message to your brain that you are safe because nobody does diaphragm breathing when they are safe. It also brings a fresh supply of oxygen to your brain and gives you a sense of control.
Maintain a Schedule/Routine:
As much as you can, keep a schedule that is typical. Get up at the regular time, go to bed at the same time, eat at the same time, etc. As many of these routines as we can keep in place, the more the sense of normalcy we feel. We are going to be looking for normalcy in the next couple of days. If you find yourself at home, schedule something every hour, so you have a sense of focus and productivity.
Do Something for Someone Else:
As I do something for someone else, it gets me out of my head and it feels good to help others. It can be as simple as sending cards or letters to the nursing homes, calling your elderly neighbor and asking if they would like you to drop off food on their front porch, or calling a friend who needs encouragement. Doing something for someone else helps both us and the others.
Staying in the Present:
Much of our anxiety and/or depression are caused by going too far in the future with fears and unknowns or too far in our past with regrets and remorse. As much as we can stay in the present, the more of a sense of control and calm we are going to feel. There is a technique known as 3 – 2 – 1. Take a moment and think of three things you can see. Now, pick out two things you can hear. Now, pick out one thing you can touch. That brings us back to the moment and it shifts our focus. It interrupts our worry.
When we talk about worry, there is a difference between worrying and having a plan. If you catch yourself worrying, go back to what your plan is. Is it how you are going to structure your day at home? What supplies you have on hand? How are you practicing social distancing? Beware aware that you have a plan that should reduce the worrying.
If you find yourself obsessively worrying, you may want to employ a thought stopping technique. There is counting backwards from 100 by 7. 100 – 93 – 86 – 79 and all the rest of the numbers. It switches your focus, and it gives you back control of what you are thinking, and it is hard enough that subconsciously, you tell yourself to stop worrying because you are going to have to count backwards from 100 by 7.
If that doesn’t work, get up and move. Change your environment. You could also practice mindfulness. It is as simple as changing up routine tasks. If you usually eat with your right hand, eat with your left hand. If you usually start brushing your teeth on your left side, start on your right side. Change up which chair you are sitting in the living room or the kitchen. That helps keep things from being rote and calls you back to the moment.
Know what comforts you and employ that. It could be comfortable clothing, a healthy snack, extra rest, or watching a television show you like. Another form of self-care is eating healthy foods (avoiding excess sugar and caffeine) and getting regular sleep. Be aware of what you enjoy and do what you can during these times to practice extra self-care.
Exercise is a form of self-care that helps in a couple of ways. As we exercise, it reduces the adrenaline that comes from being stressed. As we are stressed or anxious, we produce this extra adrenaline that we used to use (in fight or flight). Exercise can help reduce that adrenaline. Even though we can’t go to the fitness gyms, we can still watch exercise videos on line or do wall sits, jumping jacks, sit ups, planks, anything that helps reduce the anxiety.
Yoga, meditation, and prayer are all calming techniques. Yoga is very good in terms of stretching and balance. Meditation helps quiet your mind. There are many free apps for meditation. Prayer helps you focus on a power greater than yourself. Therefore, increasing hope, and helping us keep from feeling so isolated.
Pick and choose which of these techniques that you want to start to employ to increase your mental health. Overall, I am going to encourage that you love yourself a little louder. Take better care of yourself and tend to yourself so that you can care for others.