In this time of global quarantine, with anxiety high and social support, well, distant, I’ve got a few strategies for coping with the coronavirus quarantine that I’d like to share. I want to remind you that humanity is a wonderful thing. We, homo sapiens, took over the planet because we are the only animal with brains that could so easily problem solve and quickly adapt to new environments and conditions. Take solace in the fact that your veins course with the blood of your ancestors, the ones who traversed unknown terrain, crossed oceans, and survived during harsh harvests. You are here today because you carry the genes of some serious survivors. Take a deep breath folks. It’s time to activate those magical brains.
First, let’s Talk About Stress.
When we experience stress and the anxiety that comes with it, we often experience physical reactions. Our heart rate and blood pressure may increase. Our breathing may become quicker. Out cortisol levels rise. This is our body priming us for survival, and how we think about stress can impact how we manage our stress response. Stress can hurt your health but it can also make you more powerful. Watch one of my favorite Ted Talks by Health Psychologist, Kelly McGonigal called: How to Make Stress Your Friend, and you’ll feel much better about your physiological reactions to this current health crisis.
Next, we need to Reframe Things.
While some people buckle under the weight of anxiety’s symptoms, others seem to rise to the occasion and go into happy problem solving mode. True, some of the lines of hoarders at grocery stores are coping with the coronavirus quarantine by imagining the end if the world, and that can actually increase stress because it exposes them to people who carry something far more contagious than Covid19 is — fear! I want you to do something different. Imagine that you are simply being given the gift of time. The world has stopped. You’re not missing anything. You can now find the time to get to all those projects you’ve been wanting to do. And best of all, you have the people you love the most around you to do it with. So instead of worrying, teach your children your grandmother’s favorite recipe, do a DIY project in the garage, complete a family jigsaw puzzle, stage a family movie night complete with popcorn and movie tickets. Heck, while you’re at it, clean out closets, re-arrange the furniture, and plant some garden pots on your deck. This time is a total windfall. Use it productively. You’ll never get this time back.
About Your Breath
When we experience stress, we often fail to breath deeply and allow the relaxation response activated by the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve on the body and and it connects your brain with your muscles, heart and lungs. There’s a quick way to activate the relaxation response of the vagus nerve and it’s practiced by many pro-athletes right before a stressful competition. Take three super deep breaths in, all the way to your belly. Each time hold the breath for three seconds and then exhale even slower than you inhaled. A good count might be, inhale for five seconds, hold for three seconds, and exhale for seven seconds. And, most important, make a big sound as the air rushes out of your lungs. AHWWWW. Nice. Do this three times whenever you feel anxiety get the best of you and you’ll find some instant relief. Here’s a great article by Jordan Fallis at the University of Ottawa called How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve for Better Mental Health.
The recipe for coping with the coronavirus quarantine is a a little mind over matter, with a dose of homebound industriousness, topped off with a sprinkle of patience. Remember, this too will pass. And some people will wish they had appreciated this time more.