Here Are 5 Ways to Ease Tension in the Midst of a Pandemic

Here are 5 Ways to Ease Tension in the Midst of a Pandemic

“I have too many emotions to count,” I told my therapist a few days ago as we sat looking at each other’s faces on the screen.

“For good reason. Start with these then, and name any you feel,” she said as she showed me the list of seven words hanging on the wall behind her. I identified my three main ones.

Lonely? Check.

Anger? Yep.

Fear? Oh yeah.

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As I write these words, the state of our world feels upside down and a bit surreal. With each passing day, alerts flash across my cell and emails land in my inbox announcing more national and local closures of borders, businesses, schools, and social gatherings. Our hearts mourn for the lives lost, and they cheer for the medical and healthcare individuals bravely working around the clock to help humanity.

As more institutions shut their doors, social outings diminish, and regular schedules fly out the window, the obvious isn’t too far-fetched: stress and anxiety are sitting at heightened levels for many of us. The following words are for the average woman, who like myself, was living a vastly different life a week or two ago and who is trying to sort through a myriad of emotions.

Here are a few ways to clear your mind and ease tension during this challenging and unprecedented time:

Deep breaths.

Without realizing it in the moment, I tend to take shallow breaths and even hold my breath entirely when I’m tense. Then my jaw, neck, and shoulders go stiff as anxiety seems to sit in the top part of my body. But a deep, cleansing breath remedies the tension almost immediately. Want to try? Inhale through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven, and exhale slowly for eight counts. Do this four times. Do you feel a little better? Deep breathing is one of the easiest ways to experience momentary calm and it can be done anytime, anywhere. If you want to make this a regular practice by incorporating guided breathing exercises, prayers, or meditations, check out apps like Calm, Headspace, Abide, or Insight Timer or try these breathing exercises.

Keep connections alive.

Several of my friends have expressed feeling lonely, and I’ve been experiencing the same as well. But just because we’re practicing social distancing doesn’t mean we need to isolate ourselves entirely. A perk to living in such a technologically connected society is being manifested before our eyes right now. So, while we may have to exercise the call to love others well by not spending time together in person, we can still maintain connection by having daily virtual coffee and cocktail hours, at-home yoga or sweat sessions, 12-step meetings, and semi-playdates with kids. As life slows down, there are more opportunities to reach out to a person you’ve been meaning to contact or check in on the elderly widow who lives down the street. People need your friendship and vice versa!

Practice the power of presence.

None of us knows exactly what will happen with COVID-19 and that can be an unsettling headspace to live in. Give yourself permission to feel what needs to be felt, the thoughts that must be verbalized, the processing that needs to be done, or anything that helps you acknowledge the fear or stress that’s eating away at you.

But after you’ve done that, begin to recognize the power of staying in the present moment by focusing on what is right before you. A few days ago, I was outside with my daughters half-watching them run around while I found myself getting sucked into the vortex of fear and all the “what ifs:” how was I going to homeschool them while staying on top of my own school studies? What if we get sick and there aren’t hospitals or supplies? What if I lose my parents? How long will everything be shut down?

My mind started to go all over the place until I was jolted back into the present by the sound of my daughter’s voice.

“Mom, will you jump rope with me?”

So, I did and as I jumped, I began to notice the varying shades of brown in her hair, the way her brows furrowed in concentration with each jump, the sound of our shoes hitting the cement as the rope skidded underneath our feet, and the humidity hitting my skin. I was instantly reeled into the present moment and as I used my senses to connect with the world around me, the anxiety behind the “what ifs” began to fade away.

Consider shifting your outlook.

Find more assurance durance these times, here.

A few days ago while on Instagram, I stopped my scroll when I read a graphic that stated the following:

“When the Great Plague of London was going around in 1665, Cambridge University shut down and Isaac Newton was forced to stay home. During this time, he invented calculus, parts of optic theory and allegedly, while sitting in his garden, he saw an apple fall from a tree that inspired his understanding of gravity and the laws of motion.”

Okay, sure, so maybe Newton didn’t have kids at home, or maybe the social distancing and lack of restaurant options didn’t faze him, but the underlying point is that there are countless opportunities hidden within this unusual and difficult time. There is time to learn something new and expand ourselves. We can read the books on our TBR lists. We can create, design, write, paint, invent, or embrace the slower pace and allow ourselves to be inspired. One day in the future, we could look back on this time and remember it as the catalyst that propelled us into greater personal growth. The hidden blessings and silver linings are there—it’s all about shifting our mindset and outlook.

Nourish your well-being.

If you already prioritize your overall well-being, please don’t neglect it now. If you’ve been wanting to practice better self-care, there’s no better time than now with figuring out what that looks like for you. This could mean creating regular routines or rituals, like making sure you move your body throughout the day, journaling, quoting daily affirmations, stretching, (lots of) dance parties, praying, meditating, virtual therapy sessions, documenting your days by taking photos, or drinking a cup of tea at night. Even giving yourself just 10 minutes a day to focus on your needs will make a huge impact on your mental health.

As we seek to live our lives in the midst of a pandemic, remember we are all in this together. We’re sure to encounter some really tough days ahead, but there have already been sparks of beauty and goodness in the midst of this craziness (google footage of citizens of Italy singing together to boost morale, or the dolphins swimming in the clear waters of Venice canals, or Brother Richard Hendrick’s poem, “Lockdown”). And maybe one day, we’ll be fortunate to look back at this unusual time in our lives and remember all we learned about ourselves, our loved ones, and about humanity. Stay well and take good care of yourself, dear one.

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