Seeking Calm in the Storm

The shocking onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and global economic crash has left us all reeling. We’re unable to imagine what might come next or how this will eventually be resolved. We shelter in place to slow the spread of the virus, yet the tempest rages outside and anxiety inhabits our homes. How can we find calm in this storm?

Your stress response is activated by this situation especially because the threat is amorphous. Though we’ve all seen the red sunburst image, you can’t really spot the coronavirus to protect yourself from it. You might have the virus without symptoms or be interacting with a seemingly healthy person who could infect you. Naturally, this leaves us all on edge.

Calm your body and mind by slowing your breathing, thereby activating your parasympathetic nervous system. Experiment with extending your exhalation and observing the soothing effect. On your next out breath, make a Sssssss sound. Picture all of the air squeezing out of a balloon, then inhale with ease. Next, make a gentle Shhhhh sound as you exhale all the way out. For your second Shhhh exhalation, place your hand on your heart and imagine patting the back of a sleepy baby resting on your shoulder. Allow your anxiety to feel comforted by this affection, Shhhh. Then inhale with ease. Notice your throat, chest and abdomen as you do this sequence again, Sssss, inhale, then Shhhh, inhale. How do these sounds feel different in your body? Now try an exhalation with an Ahhhhh sound. How are the body sensations of that sound different yet again? Where do you feel each of these exhalations? Sssss, Shhhh, Ahhhh. Practice these breathing strategies regularly to release the anxious pressure within you.[*]

Soothing your body will calm your anxious thoughts. Quiet your mind further by looking to the horizon. When stressed, the primitive part of your brain is vigilantly scanning for threat, thinking it can spot the virus coming. Create a collection of photographs with tranquil vistas on your phone or computer to review for a calming break. If you have a pleasant view from your home, sit at this window and practice your Ssss, Shhh, Ahhh exhalations. Focus on being safe in this moment.

In preparation for whatever lies ahead, we need emotional shelter from this storm now so that we can conserve our energy, clear our minds and emerge ready to do the work that will be required to rebuild.

Photo credit: Adonis Villanueva

[*] I’m grateful to Gigi Willett LMT for teaching me this pressure release practice.

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