To say the Coronavirus pandemic is increasing stress levels on a global scale would be an understatement. Not only are we dealing with the ongoing fear of contracting the virus – and the threat of complications and death if we do get infected – many of us are also facing unemployment, severe drops in income, looming bills, “cabin fever,” and in some cases, grief from losing a loved one.
That said, allowing stress to become a chronic presence in your life can open doors to a wide range of additional physical and mental complications – including heart disease, eating disorders, depression, and even PTSD symptoms.
You don’t necessarily need medications or psychiatric treatment to mitigate these increased levels of stress, though. There are some things you can do in the safety and comfort of your own home to reduce the effects of stress and anxiety in your body and mind. Let’s look at some common holistic techniques you can use to manage Coronavirus-related stress.
Try square breathing to relax your mind
Sometimes referred to as “breath focus,” square breathing is a simple exercise helps center your mind by focusing its attention on a small thing – in this case, your own breathing.
Here's how it works: Breathe in for four counts, hold for four, exhale for four, hold for four. Repeat a few times, as needed or helpful.
This exercise works well for acute attacks of anxiety and stress, for two important reasons:
- It disrupts the mind’s cycle of panic by focusing it on one thing
- It increases oxygen levels to the brain and the blood, which helps relax both mind and body
Ease into relaxation with a body scan
Another popular relaxation technique, a body scan trains your attention progressively on different muscle groups throughout the body, and consciously tells them to relax.
Proceeding methodically from head to toe, or vice versa, focus your mind on one area of the body. It might help to imagine a feather tickling the area. Mentally release any sense of physical tension as you "sweep" your body before moving onto the next.
Remain curious about any sensations you might feel – such as buzzing, tingling, hot, or cold. You can then release your attention intentionally before moving on to the next part of your body.
Most people can feel a physical release of stress by doing this exercise. This makes it a very useful tool anytime you feel exceptionally tense, or for relaxing the body and mind at night to help you sleep.
Make yoga or tai chi part of your new routine
These differing ancient physical arts are widely valued for their body-mind connection. Both, in their own unique way, are excellent forms of exercise that help relieve both physical and mental stress.
You can join a 30-day yoga challenge or practice some poses you’re already familiar with in your living room.
Tai Chi is often done in groups, but social distancing rules make this unadvisable right now. You can do it on your own if you’re familiar with the movements, or follow an online class if you’re new to the practice.
Engage in mindfulness meditation
Similar to deep breathing and body scans (and sometimes incorporating these practices), mindfulness meditation is the practice of training the mind to focus only on the present moment, setting aside both regrets of the past and fears of the future.
Successful meditation is a practice learned over time. Taking time each day to practice everyday can go a long way toward keeping stress at bay.
Try these additional stress relief tips
- Eat right. A healthy diet can help mitigate stress. Focus on green veggies, proteins, and foods with Omega-3 fatty acids, like fish. Avoid fried foods, which may cause inflammation and add to your stress.
- Exercise. If yoga and tai chi aren’t your thing, any form of exercise will help relieve stress. Use exercise equipment in your home, turn on a dance video, lift weights, or go for a walk around the block.
- Get plenty of sleep. Getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night helps your subconscious reset and your cells to regenerate. It also helps rid the body of stress-inducing toxins.
Consider connecting with a therapist if helpful
If these techniques don’t do enough to ease your stress, it might be time to talk to a licensed therapist to help you process your anxious thoughts.
Fortunately, many therapists (including those here at Manhattan Mental Health Counseling) now offer online therapy, which can be done from the comfort of your home in place of in-person sessions. You can find online therapists in your state here!