In last week’s blog we talked about how the Coronavirus pandemic has collectively and individually thrown our equilibrium off, our nervous systems are probably freaking out, and why it’s important to understand what’s happening in our bodies physically, mentally and emotionally. If you haven’t had the opportunity to read part one, you can find it here.
It’s a lot, I know.
But good news- there’s hope. An amazing thing about how God has created us? Just as He made our bodies to alert us when there is a threat, He also gave many of us the capacity to regulate and calm down.
Our body is feeling the effects of our circumstances, but there are things we can do to calm ourselves down and improve our quality of life even while things are still up in the air.
So, let’s dig in to how to regulate our bodies, minds and emotions in the midst of a very dysregulated world.
A few caveats to start:
I want to start by saying that some of my suggestions won’t be different from others you’ve seen all over the internet in these Corona-days (although some will). It won’t be the first time you’ve read that exercise is important or having fun is important. The goal here is to give more information on “why” and “how” these things can impact you and give some insight as to which you may want to try. But please don’t read this as “things you should be doing to be a successful human in quarantine”. Remember that as our mind and body is processing, our capacity may feel different. These suggestions are intended to be fluid and helpful guides as you do the best you can to work toward balance in the midst of unsettling circumstances.
Additionally, many of you are not living a quarantined life with endless amounts of time to spend on “selfcare”. You are on the front lines in some capacity, with the same amount of time or less than you had on a normal day before. I’m thinking about you too, and hopefully adaptations can be made to many of these tips to accommodate your world right now.
Lastly, if you are struggling with clinical anxiety, depression or other challenges, while these tips may be helpful, you should still speak with your doctor or clinician about options for managing your health.
Practical Ways to Regulate & Calm Down
Numbing is not the answer.
Unpopular opinion… you might need to watch less Netflix. There, I said it… As the days and weeks get longer, our activities are more restricted and our endurance for this pandemic wanes. Numbing and distraction are likely a welcomed escape. When we’re overwhelmed, it may be okay to set the emotional work aside for a little while, but emotion doesn’t evaporate without being addressed. Eventually we need to bravely choose to walk forward in processing or working through what we’re feeling. I’m not saying you’re doing it all wrong if you’re watching shows with your family after dinner. But you know how the saying goes, too much of a good thing… If you’re dysregulated (meaning your physical, mental, or emotional systems are out of sorts), your body is demanding your attention. Numbing is not the answer. So what can you do?
Calm Your Nervous System
We talked last week about how our body releases a different kind of hormones as the brain sends signals of a threat (in this case COVID-19) to the rest of our body. When our nervous system stays continuously activated in response to this prolonged stress, it begins to affect other biological functions like our immune system, emotional regulation, blood pressure, nutrient absorption, etc. Continuing to leave these physiological responses unaddressed is going to lead to outcomes you almost certainly don’t want. This is where some of the things you’ve seen floating around about habits to implement during quarantine come in. Some ways you can try to calm your nervous system include:
- Breathe. This is the first thing I do when I notice I’m worked up, and it only has to take a minute. (like literally 60 seconds) Breathe. You can also try splashing cold water or holding an ice pack to your face. Both begin a very tangible process of calming your body’s physiological responses. Put your feet flat on the floor and sit up. Then take a deep breath across 6 seconds (the kind that fills up your stomach, not your chest). Hold the breath in for at least 6 seconds. Then release the breath over the span of 6 more seconds. Repeat the breath multiple times.
- Regular exercise. Go for a walk twice a day. Do a 30 minute yoga video on youtube. It doesn’t need to be high intensity. In fact, if you’re already overwhelmed then strenuous exercise may not feel achievable to you. That’s okay. Listen to your body! Movement provides a natural outlet for stress hormones (like cortisol and adrenaline) as well as creates hormones that elevate mood and focus (endorphins). Personally, I’ve been doing these low impact full-body workouts if you’re looking for a recommendation.
- Eat well. I know it’s so tempting to give in to your cravings right now or to grab the most readily available meal. A treat here and there is probably not going to be the end of your balanced diet. But our food affects our body more than we give it credit for. If your body is already struggling to regulate, then an unbalanced diet only sends your body further into overload as your systems are forced to work harder and with lower capacity. What you eat can and probably will affect you physically, mentally and emotionally. Focus as well as you can on whole, fresh foods- less sugar and preservatives.
- Sleep. With your schedule all out of whack, you probably have more freedom to go to bed and wake up at different times than usual. That’s fine- take advantage of the slower pace! But if you’re having trouble sleeping, that makes sense. Sleep is naturally affected by an over exerted nervous system and adrenaline raising hormone boost. So, if you’re struggling to get 8-9 hours, it may be time to buckle down on your sleep habits. Get in bed at your normal time, put your phone aside, do things that help you relax, and keep your bedroom for sleep time only. Adequate sleep is essential to regulating your body’s systems.
As adults we wildly underestimate the power of play. It’s especially important in circumstances like these, when things are heavy and stressful. When we play and laugh, our cerebral cortex (a part of our brain) is activated. Some researchers argue that play is actually an essential need for humans; similar to the needs we discussed in Maslow’s Hierarchy last week. When we play, the stress activators in our body are calmed. Play can look different for different people and circumstances. It may be a more traditional idea of play with your children, goofing off with your coworkers if you’re on the frontlines, playing music really loud while you sing, or whatever your idea of something fun feels like to you.
Process Your Feelings
Sometimes we’re unaware that we’re stressed and our body has to tell us. If we don’t know that those signals are being sent off in our body, it’s hard to work back toward health and combat them. So put some bumpers in place to help you process what’s going on with you emotionally. Some ideas:
- Ask a friend to talk once a week and start the conversation with both of you asking the other “how are you feeling right now?”
- Write “What am I feeling?” at the top of a piece of paper and set a timer for 10 minutes. Jot down whatever words come to mind.
- Spend 30 minutes before fixing dinner journaling and praying about what’s going on with you that day.
- Sit outside with your lunch by yourself without any distractions. Don’t look at your phone or do a project- just sit still with your thoughts and see what comes up.
Set reasonable expectations for yourself and others.
We’ve talked about a lot over the past two weeks, and this last point is just as important to remember.
We can’t and won’t do this perfectly.
Remember that none of us have done this before. When you’re disappointed with the way you or someone else is responding or handling a situation, find graciousness and empathy, as we are all trying to navigate a new reality together. Be honest with other people. Tell them when you’re overwhelmed, tired or struggling. Find the vulnerability to ask for grace and you might be surprised by how it is returned to you. Don’t lose sight of the fact that we are all managing a lot. During this time we may have to learn how to use our resources differently. Figuring out how to regulate and process requires a lot of practice. Put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. You don’t have to get it all right today. The Lord will give us our daily bread. Find comfort in Him.
Want a little help exploring and finding new ways to regulate? Feel free to email Rachel at [email protected] with questions. If you’re looking for a space set aside to process and work through your personal experiences during COVID-19, then good news! We’re offering video or telephone counseling sessions for 30- or 50-minute increments. Give us a call at 225-341-4147 to set up an appointment.