by Donna Sauer-Jones
Issue: March 2022
On any given day, we breathe, blink, digest, and eliminate. Our hearts beat, our organs function, our muscles work, our skeleton keeps us upright and we feel pretty good. But we also have a nervous system that’s meant to help us during a crisis or scary event. Have you ever gone for a walk and seen a bear? What did your body want to do? That happened to me when I was walking my dogs. Before I could think, my body froze and I automatically tightened my muscles. My heart starting racing and my eyes became big and my jaw tightened. Luckily, the bear was just as scared of me as I was of it, and he kept on moving. After what seemed like a long time, my body gradually relaxed, and I began to shake. Then, I ran home to safety. This is an example of how our nervous system will function automatically for our benefit depending on the situation. My nervous system went into a high state of sympathetic charge (fight, flight or freeze) and, when I knew I was safe, it discharged that extra energy.
What makes the COVID-19 virus so difficult is that it is invisible and we can’t see it coming so our nervous system stays “on” all the time in preparation for what could happen. When our nervous system stays in sympathetic charge, it can make us feel scared, worried, angry, and sad. Therefore, it is very important to consciously begin to form habits that will help us manage our fears, increase our feelings of safety and balance our nervous system. One way to do this is to connect with others. We are warm-blooded mammals, and mammals survive and feel safe in groups. Having responsive, caring, social interactions is very important for our well-being. During the pandemic, many people have found creative ways to stay in touch.
Another way is to challenge yourself to do something you have been longing to do but are terrified to try. While doing it, pay attention to how your body feels. Think of the delicious sensations and positive feelings you will experience after trying some of the ideas listed here without pushing yourself beyond your capabilities. Calming activities can help you not only during a pandemic but at any time during your life when you’re feeling stressed and constantly “on alert.” If you are feeling like your nervous system needs help balancing right now, reach out to community groups or religious groups or tell your provider about your isolation so they can refer you to a therapist.
Lastly, be kind to yourself. We have lived through an historic time and it has been a time of loss and sadness for many. It’s okay to give yourself permission to grieve what was lost, who was lost and what has changed.
Donna Sauer-Jones is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Psychotherapist with Hudson Headwaters Health Network.
Help your body and mind with 30 minutes of gentle exercise.
Take an online class of beginning yoga, Tai Chi or Qigong.
Watch videos of mindfulness meditation.
Look up relaxing breathing techniques and practice breathing with intent.
INCREASE PLEASURE BY FINDING SIMPLE THINGS TO FOCUS ON.
LOOK AT PICTURES
FEEL A SOFT FABRIC
SMELL A FLOWER
COOK SOMETHING NEW
LISTEN TO THE BIRDS
LOOK AT THE TREES
LISTEN TO WATER RUNNING OR THE RAIN HITTING THE ROOF
LISTEN TO MUSIC
LEARN SOMETHING NEW.
PRACTICE GRATITUDE BEFORE GOING TO SLEEP AT NIGHT.
Pick something that happened during the day that you can focus on and expand your positive thoughts. What made you think it was special, why was it good for you? Let your mind focus on gratitude for a few minutes so that it becomes memorable. Put one hand on your heart and the other on your upper belly and give yourself support and love so you can drift off to sleep feeling safe and secure.