Wednesday, April 29, 2020

B.R.E.A.T.H.E. - Dealing With Stress In The Age Of COVID-19



 Our world is riddled with fear and anxiety. Finances. Aargh! How will we pay the rent/mortgage or have money to pay for food when we're out of work? We're lonely and miss the times when we could be with our friends and family. If we have kids, we agonize over what kind of impact the lockdown is having on them, and if we’ll survive home-schooling and 24/7/365 childcare. And then there’s the very real possibility that we or our loved ones might come down with the virus.

When our brain is hijacked by so many strong emotions, it may seem that there is nothing we can do to diminish our fear or anxiety. Yet, there is a way to manage how we feel. To start, just breathe. Not only physically breathe, but use the B.R.EA.T.H.E. technique, as described below.

Breathe

Take three deep breaths, focusing purely on your breath as you inhale (through your nose if you can) on a count of 4, hold for a count of 3, then exhale (through your mouth if you can) on a count of 4. This technique is called a “pattern interrupt.” Whenever an anxious thought creeps up, by focusing on your breathing for only a few moments, you will interrupt the pattern of panic or fearful emotions just long enough to calm down your racing mind, and your body’s over-active flight/fight response.

Deep breathing relaxes your heartbeat and steadies you so you can get back to constructive thought. You know, the problem-solving variety, as opposed to the “Chicken Little the sky is falling” variety. So, the first step to control anxiety is to take three, slow, deliberate deep breaths whenever the need arises.

Reclaim Your Relationships

Reclaim your relationships with your family, your significant other, your children and your friends. If you're with your kids at home, see it as a positive even if they're loud and demanding sometimes (OK, always). Appreciate this "forced togetherness" and view it as a unique opportunity to grow close. The internet is full of ideas and resources that can help you cope with being together intensely under one roof.

In addition, make the effort to call, text and set up Zoom gatherings with extended family and friends. You need their support, and they need yours. Connection is more vital now than ever. Be creative. This is not a time to ignore the relationships that matter to you.

Express Your Emotions

Find a safe person, someone you can trust with your emotional life. Finding such a person and interacting with them regularly can be a critical way of easing your anxiety. This can be a counselor, a minister, or a healthcare worker, for example. It’s tempting to unload on your BFF, but a professional is better equipped to deal with your fears and anxiety on an ongoing basis.

A good alternative - or adjunct - is to express your emotions in a private journal. Journaling gives you the opportunity to express your innermost feelings. It's your safe and private place to talk about the stresses you're feeling. Journaling can be cathartic since you're no longer holding your feelings inside. You don’t have to be a writer to journal. You can scribble nonsense on a pad, rage all over your keyboard, and be as ungrammatical as you like. Journaling is a release, not an exercise in either penmanship or prose.

Aim Your Focus

When we're in the midst of a crisis, the tendency is to allow our focus to drift back to the cause of your anxiety again and again. It keeps you up at night. All night. Not good for your health! Besides, rehashing your troubles endlessly only succeeds in making you more anxious, more stressed, more out of control.

Deliberately, purposefully aim your focus. When you find yourself drifting into useless worry or questioning, take charge and do your best to problem-solve. Be a MacGyver, get intrigued by what you can accomplish with what’s at hand, here and now, rather than sweating over what you can’t, obsessively.

Transform Your Negative Thoughts

Closely related to aiming your focus is transforming your negative thoughts. Be alert to when your thoughts veer into negative thinking. Reframe them into more positive statements.

So, for example, “I’ve been laid off, it’s horrible, how am I ever going to survive this?” can be reframed to “I’ve been laid off, OK, I’m not the only person experiencing this. I’m good at what I do, I will bounce back. I've applied for unemployment. That will help.”

Above all, be sincere. Don’t lie to yourself “Oh, it’s all going to be fine,” may eventually be true, but if that’s not what you believe in the here and now, don’t say it. One of my favorite reframes is “We’re one day closer to normal.” That, for me, has the ring of truth.

Heal Your Body

Pay attention to the physical manifestations of anxiety or stress. Stick with a healthy routine. Don't overeat or over drink. Don’t let the refrigerator or the drinks cabinet be your “go-to” when really you’re simply bored. Boredom is much better alleviated with exercise, or reading, or some kind of productive work than with munching your way through the day.

Make sure you are getting enough sleep, since good sleep is one of the body’s best restorative tools. Given that sleep can be difficult when you’re stressed, consider using one of the calming meditations readily available online, usually for free, to help lull you into sleep.

Get rid of your anxious thoughts before you turn the lights out: toss them into an imaginary wastebasket. Follow that up with writing down a list of everything you were grateful for that day, and let those be the thoughts you carry with you into slumber.

Exercise        

You love working out at the gym—but the gym is closed. You look forward to your weekly game of tennis with your friends—but the gate to tennis courts is locked. Don't make the excuse of not exercising because exercise options are no longer available. Exercise at home—there are multitudinous YouTube exercise videos of all kinds. I’ve found enough ballet barre videos to keep me going for quite a while! Exercise is not only good for your body, it releases endorphins that help you get into a more positive, calmer, less anxious frame of mind.

In Conclusion

Wash your hands, observe social distancing, wear that mask, and B.R.E.A.T.H.E.! Hopefully we’ll all meet together on the flip side of COVID-19, having weathered this challenging time successfully.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Your Attitude's Impact On Mind & Body During COVID-19 Crisis


 
My front window gives onto the street, and every day I see people walking their dogs. Maybe a half dozen folk in all, giving their pups some exercise. But over the last week, since California went on “lock-down,” I’m utterly amazed by the number of people walking. With dogs, without dogs, with children, on their own, pushing strollers; it’s a wonder to behold, because along with the benefits of fresh air and exercise, these walkers are stimulating their immune systems.

And what, along with following the CDC and WHO guidelines, does the most to protect you from COVID-19? Strengthening your immune system, which--in a nutshell--is your body’s defense against disease. We already know that the coronavirus is deadliest among those with compromised or weakened immune systems. Maintaining/developing a strong immune system can go a long way toward our staying healthy.

That being said, you can only walk so much in one day. Gyms are closed, both my dance studios are closed, soccer games and other group sports are canceled. Working out at home to YouTube videos is great, but again, limited by how much “no pain no gain” one is willing to endure.

But here’s the good news: there are 2 things you can do right now in the privacy of your own home to significantly improve your immune system.

1. Institute The 5-minute Pity Party.

I don’t know about you, but my first response to my finding out my ballet and ballroom classes were shut down indefinitely was to call my BFF and whine. Loudly. For a good 15 minutes. Poor woman, I’m surprised we’re still BFFs. Oddly enough, when all my work canceled, I didn’t have a melt-down, because at that point I still had dance to help me keep my sanity. But once the dance classes went, that’s it, I lost it.

That’s when I knew I needed to institute the 5-minute Pity Party. The 5-minute Pity Party is when you acknowledge that you need to rant, rave, whine and generally have a FIT over whatever aspect of your life has just been nuked by the coronavirus. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your job you can’t go to, your child who now relies on you 24-7 for all education, entertainment, maintenance, etc., or your gym/church/class you can’t go to, it’s time for a release of your anguish. Fine.

Set a timer for 5 minutes. Have at it! In the safety of your shower, bathroom, parked car, wherever you have maximum privacy, let it all out. Scream if need be at the injustice of it all, wail your despair at what seems to be a hopeless situation, and cry out your woe-is-me to your heart’s content. But when that timer dings, you’re done. Pick yourself up off the floor of misery and regroup. Move on to step 2.

2. Value What You Can Today For A Better Tomorrow.

There are actually 2 parts to this step. One is how you think/feel, the other is what you do.

A. Think/feel

Look around you. What can you appreciate about your life right here, right now? You still enjoy running water and electricity, you still have a roof over your head. Don’t let thoughts like “Yeah, but for how long?” intrude. You still have whatever health you enjoy. You still have your friends/family. You have endless access to resources via the internet. Dwell on whatever you can find to appreciate, to value and be grateful for, because that single action will have a dramatic, positive impact on your immune system.

You see, when we think/feel negativity, our immune systems suffer. And when our immune systems cease functioning optimally, our health can rapidly decline. So bolster your positive thinking as much as you can. Turn yourself into an optimist. Because optimists thrive—and so should you.

B. Do

Get creative! What’s the best possible use of the time you now have? Many are finding that with a little creativity they can continue some or all of their business using online platforms mostly from home. There are always projects we let go by the wayside for lack of time, how about picking up some of those now?

Make daily (realistic) lists of what you want to accomplish, and check off items as you get them done. You will feel productive, like you’re not just spinning your wheels, and with that, your immune system will benefit. In the long term, so will your life.

In every crisis, there is opportunity for new growth, new inspiration. Let’s keep our moments of dark despair as brief as possible and amp our times of appreciation as much as possible so that we come out of this challenging situation stronger and better than ever.


Thursday, February 27, 2020

What's Your Next Right Move?



 Something Oprah Winfrey said in an interview I stumbled across recently really hit home with me: “What is the next right move?” She was talking about how to handle disappointments, even failures, and the point she was making is how useless it is for us to dwell on whatever-it-was, but rather to point ourselves in the direction of the next “right move.”

I love that! A mantra that can be applied to the little annoyances in life, as well as the oh-my-gosh flops/falls. My latest rescue puppy, during the first couple of months with us, would get so excited about FOOD!!! that the second he’d inhale the contents of his dish, he’d race over to my older dog’s dish and with the excitement of possibly locating the merest lick of MORE FOOD!!! would pee, right there on the kitchen floor. Needless to say, “Mom,” aka me, was not happy. He had learned that his bathroom was out there in nature, so it wasn’t an “I’m not sure where to go” issue, it was truly food-excitement.

I had a choice. I could get myself in a snit over his unwanted behavior, hash and re-hash it, etc., but fortunately, I had come across Oprah’s “next right move,” and sat myself down for a good think. I came up with first making sure that according to the vet, my new “boy” was getting proper nutrition. That being done, I decided that the instant rescue-baby had finished his meal, I would zip him out the puppy door and into the yard for a pee. Phew!

Problem solved. Now, a couple of months later, he just zips out that door by himself right away, and we haven’t had an indoor pee since.

This may seem minor to you, but then, most of the stuff that gets us all annoyed is minor!  However, when we  have to deal with the heavies of life, we can use the “next right move” just as effectively. A dear friend of mine is suffering from a health condition that her physicians and various specialists cannot yet diagnose. So they keep giving her treatments in hopes something will alleviate her pain. What an unfortunate predicament! Yet my friend inspires me by her decision to continue with as much of her regular life as possible, keeping herself firmly on the track of “next right move,” rather than on the oh-so-seductive “woe is me” track.

We all somehow know what a “right move” is, even though that “move” will be different for every situation. It is, always, the move that keeps you on a positive, upward path. A move that leans in the direction of solutions and away from lamenting your misfortune.

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been rejected for a job, by a spouse, or lost your savings in some unfortunate occurrence, as best you can, howl briefly over the injustice/pain, and then follow Oprah’s excellent advice, “What’s my next right move?”