It’s the Spring of 2020, and these are unprecedented times. In the span of a few short months, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has been characterized by the World Health Organization as a pandemic, which is a global outbreak of disease. As COVID-19 is spread by person-to-person contact, social distancing has become the new normal. At the time of writing, more than 150,000 cases have been reported worldwide with at least 5,700 deaths from disease. These numbers continue to rise. The outbreak has harmed communities, disrupted schools and slowed economic activity in many countries. On a less visible level, the rapid spread of COVID-19 has led to a global state of anxiety and panic. As a world lockdown is beginning to take hold, it’s more important than ever for us to practice grounding techniques for managing and calming our anxiety.
This virus not only takes a physical toll on those affected, but it also mentally and emotionally affects most of us, who must now navigate the stress of uncertainty. So what can we do? In addition to washing our hands regularly, refraining from touching our faces and socially distancing ourselves from others (especially those who are sick), we have the power to significantly mitigate our own risk of illness by reducing our stress and anxiety.
Below are six grounding techniques for calming anxiety that you can immediately adopt to protect your overall health. Following these health habits will aid you in keeping your immune system strong and healthy, which, in turn, will help to combat anxiety along with your vulnerability to disease or illness.
When we are stressed or fearful or hear bad news, we often gasp — inhaling sharply and then holding our breath. These breathing patterns can activate the sympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the “fight or flight response.” Have you ever heard the advice to “just breathe” when you’re stressed? Although a well-known cliché, it’s true. Deep breathing is one of the best grounding techniques for anxiety. Slow, deep breaths engage the abdominal muscles and diaphragm instead of the muscles in your upper chest and neck. As such, deep breathing can bring you back from the emotional brink in even the worst situations. Deep diaphragmatic breathing supports the parasympathetic nervous system and activates the “relaxation response,” which reduces stress and its negative effects on the mind and body. As a result, you gain greater resilience in the face of adversity, and your mind can become less cluttered and frantic. Here’s how to do it:
Deep diaphragmatic breathing technique
Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down. If you’re sitting in a chair, bend your knees and relax your head, neck and shoulders. If you’re lying down, place a small pillow under your head and bend your knees.
Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your belly, just below your rib cage. Inhale slowly through your nose to a silent count of three so that your abdomen moves out against the hand on your belly. The air going into your nose should move downward and you should feel your stomach rise. Also, the hand on your chest should remain as still as possible. Be sure to hold your breath for a count of three and then exhale through slightly pursed lips to a final count of three. The hand on your chest should remain still throughout this process.
When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts and moves downward, which allows your lungs to expand. When you exhale, your diaphragm muscles relax and move upwards, which drives air out of your lungs through your breath.
Try this technique for three to five minutes several times per day. It should help you to manage anxiety and to maintain a state of relative calm.
Moving is one of the most important grounding techniques for anxiety. You’re homebound for the foreseeable future. One of the things NOT to do is just sit. Too much sitting or lying down throughout the day can lead to chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and even some cancers. Further, too much sitting is correlated with a negative effect on mental health.
The simple solution is to keep moving your body throughout the day. Movement has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep and enhance self-esteem.
What can you do when you’re homebound? Here are a few examples:
- Take a walk
- Ride a bike
- Do simple yoga poses
- Clean your home
- Work in the garden
The bottom line: keep moving.
3. Eat well
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The government recommends having a two-week supply of food on hand in the face of the pandemic. Many of us are already stocking up on groceries to the extent that store shelves are barren in some regions. But stocking up doesn’t mean that you should buy an abundance of canned soup, rice and beans, alcohol, chips and cookies.
Your ‘coronavirus kitchen’ does not need to be unhealthy! Nor do you need to subsist on snack bars and soft drinks. Consider purchasing:
- Whole grains such as barley, quinoa and amaranth
- Shelf stable non-dairy milk such as oat milk, soy milk or almond milk
- Frozen vegetables
- Nuts and nut butters
- Frozen fruits (these make great smoothies)
- Frozen fish, chicken breasts and lean beef
- Canned tuna or sardines
- Foods that support a healthy gut flora (such as kefir, yogurt and kimchi)
Don’t forget to frequently wash your hands, especially when preparing food, and to keep your kitchen clean. Also, be sure to wash any lingering dishes, empty the sink, clear the counters and wipe everything down often.
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Drink plenty of water, at least eight 8-ounce glasses per day, which equals about two liters. Hydration helps alleviate possible symptoms of dehydration. Healthy hydration levels help maintain the integrity of the mucous membranes of your nose and mouth, which can support you in fighting infection. Keep in mind that soft drinks with a lot of sugar like sodas or sports drinks aren’t good choices for combating dehydration, as they are not designed for rehydration. Other rehydration drinks you may want to consider include Pedialyte, Gatorade and coconut water.
Another one of the grounding techniques for anxiety is sleep. Adults typically need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Lack of sleep weakens your immune system.
Ways to facilitate restful sleep include:
- Going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning (including on weekends)
- Making sure your bedroom is quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature
- Removing electronic devices, such as computers and smart phones, from the bedroom
- Remaining physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night
- Don’t eat a large meal prior to going to bed
6. Shift your mindset
Remember, you’re not in this alone. It’s important now to shift your mindset from “I” to “We”. Think about how your actions may impact others. Stay home when you are sick. And if you’re not sick, keep a “social distance” from others, especially those who might have been exposed to or are infected with the coronavirus.
Consider your family, neighbors and friends – check in with them frequently by text or by phone, keeping up with their needs and health status. What about those who may be out of work now? Can you donate supplies or money to support those who are less fortunate than you? Are your local restaurants closed except for takeout? Help to keep them in business by ordering a meal and/or purchasing a gift card for future use.
Sometimes, you just have to adapt to a new normal. So stay informed and don’t panic. Take care of yourself. Support others. Stay connected. Distance yourself from others physically but not emotionally. Hopefully, these grounding techniques for managing anxiety will help. However, regardless of which steps you choose, make an active effort to stay positive; you will get past this difficult time and thrive.