THE LAST CHAPTER OF THE COVID-19 pandemic era, many of us hoped. Now, as many of you are, I am uncertain. Stress abounds, and in that context, I want to discuss three evidence-based approaches I use to manage anxiety.
I live in Seattle, the most anxious metropolitan area in the United States. As the rise of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 makes us even more uncertain and anxious, I want to share three ways I cope with stress.
In his 1915 book “Bodily changes in pain, hunger, fear, and rage,” American physiologist Walter Bradford Cannon first described the fight or flight response. He observed that when threatened (by a predator, for example), animals release the hormones adrenaline/epinephrine.
This hormonal surge leads to body changes, including increased heart and breath rates. The consequences of these changes are increases in the oxygen and energy flow to the muscles.
Have you heard about the fight or flight response? This response is an automatic physiologic reaction to something frightening or stressful. When you perceive a threat, you activate your sympathetic nervous system.
This sympathetic nervous system activation leads to an acute stress response that prepares you to fight or flee. Such a response is an evolutionary adaptation that increases our probability of surviving a threat. When stress is chronic, it can lead to numerous medical problems.
Are you stressed? Do you have muscle achiness not attributable to exercise? Or a headache that persists? When I get alarms of anxiety or stress, my go-to approach is to turn to a quick-acting relaxation technique.
There are many great approaches to breathing for stress reduction. I prefer box breathing. Here’s a primer on what to do:The One Habit That Profoundly Changed My LifeBox breathing makes me calmer and improves my mood.
Another approach is to lie on your back. Place one hand on your chest and a light book (or the other hand) on your abdomen. Next, breathe in so that the book moves a maximal amount as you keep the hand on your chest still. Try doing it for seven minutes or more, and remember to keep focusing on your breathing.
Neither of these practices is easy for me — my mind wanders, and I have to nudge it back to the task at hand. Do it, though, and you are likely to feel calmer afterward.
Walking is my number one go-to for stress reduction. A walk, particularly outside in nature, can be magical.
Despite the barrage of information about the COVID-19 pandemic, I try to keep things in perspective. Pivot from the worst-case scenario and turn to the most-likely one. You can better center yourself by visualizing how your current concerns may seem a month or a year from now.
Another way to gain distance from the current stressors is to speak about yourself using the third person. Sounds odd, but it can allow you to zoom out and gain some much-needed perspective. Here’s what you need to do:
Use pronouns such as he, she, or it. Give names to your different parts when talking to someone else (or yourself) about an unpleasant or harmful part of you: “My activator is busy today. She wants me to bite off more than I can chew.”
That’s it for today. Would you please share what you do to deal with the quotidian stresses of life? Thank you for joining me today.