Home Healthcare Tips – Creating Calm
There is a lot of fear present right now. Not just because of the Covid 19 virus itself but because of all the ways in which it has impacted our lives and for so many of us, turned everything completely upside down. Fear can manifest in many different ways including anxiety, anger, irritability, an inability to focus and an inability to be present in the moment. That feeling of being frozen, like a deer in the headlights, unable to move/respond/react appropriately, or the sense of struggle to adapt and find a new routine. There is nothing unusual about any of these responses. In a fear response, the biology of the body changes to put energy into escaping a sudden and immediate threat. This is our protection system and has evolved to protect us from external threats, which historically has served us very well. Our protection system however is not designed to deal well with the primary stresses that humans deal with in the present day, especially mental stress. This daily stress we experience still triggers the same primitive protection responses i.e. to fight or flee, but we are not able to physically flee these stresses.
Do you ever feel like you are living in a constant state of stress response? Most of us do – 24/7- and for most of us this is not new. Things like jobs, finances, relationships and past traumas are stressors that trigger us constantly . Now, with the arrival of an invisible but very real threat that not only threatens our physical health but has added greatly to all the other stresses that were already there, we have gone into stress overdrive.
Stress is the major cause of dysfunction in our body systems. The really important question then becomes, ‘Can you do anything to change this constant stress response?’ and the answer is, absolutely, Yes! Here are three simple and relatively quick ways to achieve this:
1. Engage your prefrontal cortex
This is the part of the brain that can dampen down the protection system – it’s like having a calm parent that reassures us that there isn’t really anything to be afraid of right now. Our prefrontal cortex is engaged when we use logic and facts. Educating ourselves and dealing in facts rather than gossip and hearsay, has immediate results and keeps us from spiraling into a stress response.
Meditation is a simple and very powerful way to bring yourself into the present moment. In our modern day, a lot of what stresses us out are the “what ifs” and our brains getting caught up in all of the negative possibilities and reacting as though that is reality. Meditation focuses on bringing our attention into the present moment.
There are many ways to meditate and there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of meditations online that can be either purchased or download for free. Google and You Tube are great for free resources. Other options include Apps like ‘Calm’, ‘Headspace’ and ‘Insight Timer’ which are all ones I’ve tried and liked. With meditation you can create a state of calm and as you develop your practice you will be able to achieve this state of calm more quickly and with longer lasting effects. In the beginning it is great to use a guided meditation because as much as we all crave a bit of peace and quiet, generally there will be a fair bit of mental chatter and the goal of meditating is to quiet that or eventually and ideally turn it off. For most of us, that will take some practice. To read more on the incredible and proven benefits of meditation, follow this link to an article by the May Clinic.
Focusing on our breath is another way to bring ourselves into the present moment. It also helps to interrupt the stress response. When we are in a fearful state of mind, our sympathetic nervous system, our fight or flight response system, causes our breathing to become more rapid and shallow. When we slow our breathing down, it helps to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, which is our rest, digest and more calming response system.
There are many different styles of breathing for relaxation. My favorite is ‘Two to One Breathing’. I like this style of breathing for two reasons. Firstly, the counting helps to give your mind something to focus on. Secondly, it promotes breathing through your nose which delivers the air deeper into the lower lobes of the lungs due to the turbines inside the nasal passages. Breathing into the lower lobes of the lungs is preferred because that is where 60-80% of the lungs blood supply receives its oxygen delivery and gas exchange. In addition to this, the receptors of the parasympathetic nervous system, our calming system, are concentrated in the lower lobes of the lungs and deeper and fuller breaths help stimulate them. Nasal breathing helps calm our state of mind.
To practice Two to One Breathing’ first place one hand on your abdomen to feel your abdomen gently rise and fall with your breath. Slowly breathe in through your nose, all the way down into your abdomen to the count of 4, then breathe out slowly through your nose to the count of 8 and feel your abdomen gently lower down towards your spine. Repeat this cycle for several minutes or for as long as you have time for and until you feel your breath calming and your body relaxing.
Change is not comfortable for most humans but add to this living in stress, fear and anxiety, it becomes very uncomfortable and challenging. It is good to know that we have the capacity to change the way we respond to these stressors and it costs nothing. All it requires is that we devote some time to ourselves each day. It probably won’t feel easy at first to quiet our busy minds but with practice the benefits are well worth it and will help to manage our fear and anxiety and create a better sense of calm in both our minds and our bodies.