The impact of the current circumstances, combined with the unknowns about the future, has had an impact on our underlying state of fear and anxiety. Initial studies are not surprising at all, suggesting that many Americans deeply feel the impact of Covid-19 in more ways than one.
And that impact primarily pushes our fear buttons. We express this with comments like, ‘I am stressed’ or ‘I feel more anxious’ or even something like, ‘I am not myself right now.’
Not More. Not Less.
It is critically important to notice the reality of how these circumstances are affecting you, right now, this moment. How is your mind responding to all this? What does your body feel like right now? And then, anytime you pause for a moment, just notice how your mind is working and how your body feels. Perhaps even rate your level of perceived stress at that moment, on a scale from 1-10.
Why is this important? Because some of us are accustomed to taking our experiences and adding more to them. The ‘story’ then sounds like this ‘Oh, I am stressed to the max…I am at a 15 on a scale of 10.’ The mind might then add, ‘this is too much.’ In this case, the mind takes the anxious, uncomfortable experience and adds a layer of interpretation that makes it much worse.
Why do I say that? Because if I say to myself, ‘this is too much,’ what is the mind now to do with this? It is stuck in a corner and concludes…it must be too much! How do we process ‘too much?’ We really can’t. And that makes it all the more scary and stressful. This is an example of adding more than what is reality.
On the other hand, many of us were taught and conditioned to never acknowledge our feelings. Thus, we grow up with little awareness of how our bodies are doing and report we are ‘never stressed.’ During these times, all feelings get pushed away, and our increased irritability, lack of sleep, and angry outbursts are not seen as a function of anxiety or fear. This is an example of a story that is in denial, so our egos are protected from seeing our own weaknesses.
I am suggesting that accuracy in self-assessment is useful. Just notice if your thoughts are fear-based thoughts, and how those affect you. Or, notice if you have easeful thoughts that affect you pleasantly. Just notice…where are you right now?
This accurate self-assessment is important now because if there is an element of fear or anxiety, I invite you to reduce or eliminate it by using the process below. The more accurate your assessment is before an exercise, the more you can determine the value of the process based on how you feel after the exercise. The process below will bring about a reduction in your anxiety and fears. And the only way that you will persist with a new habit is if you notice the powerful impact of using this tool.
The Ultimate Tool for Tough Times
In recent years, study after study has revealed a remarkably simple tool that has a profound effect on our mind and body. The tool is called Heart Rate Variability Breathing (HRVB).
It is a fancy term for a very specific breathing approach that unlocks a specific turn of events in the body, and then the mind. Here’s the short version of what we know. Most of us learned, and it was the understanding for years, that the brain informed the heart about what is happening. We thought all the information flowed from the brain to the heart through nerve pathways.
Oops. We were wrong. As it turns out, there is perhaps more information flowing from the heart to the brain than the other way around. Now we know, that the brain and heart are in a loop, each informing the other about the ‘state’ of things in our lives. This is critical to understand.
Why? Because when the brain thinks fearful thoughts, we get anxious, and the heart beats faster. The loop begins. And then this looping process just makes things worse, activating more of our stress response using what is called the sympathetic nervous system in the body. We almost always feel this as stress or fear. It’s a pretty yukky feeling, speaking clinically, of course. It is the classic ‘fight or flight’ response we feel.
Here’s the good news: The wisdom of the universe has also included a counter-part built into our bodies, and it is designed to calm things down. This is our parasympathetic nervous system. It must be in control, for example, for us to relax and feel calm.
There is a very complex back and forth between these two systems, and that complexity is not important. What is important is having a tool that helps you and your children activate the parasympathetic system. When you can do that, your body and your mind will calm. Study after study supports the power of heart rate variability breathing to accomplish this. And here’s the cool part; when you breathe in this predictable manner using HRVB for 10-15 minutes, you directly influence your heart rate in a unique manner. Your heart rate variability actually increases, which then signals the brain that you are in a good state. The heart begins to inform the brain, ‘Relax now…everything is okay.’ And guess what? The brain does respond to this, and relaxation unfolds very gradually.
The manner in which the body responds to a few minutes of HRVB is quite remarkable. We can easily measure and prove this shift, with one session of practice. The response is predictable, and the impact is almost always robust. But again, it does require a few minutes of sustained effort, retraining your body to breathe with ease and allowing the impact to unfold gradually over 10-15 minutes.
You might be wondering if this requires some big investment. It does not. Simply go to YouTube and search ‘HRV breathing’ and you will find several examples of a simple visual that you can watch, and breathe with it for ten minutes, with no distractions. Personally, I like the video that contains a green bar that goes up and down, and you simply breathe in with the bar going up and breathe out with the bar going down. Simple, as in very simple.
You don’t have to trust me on this one. Test it. Do this twice a day for a week, and notice how you feel. HRVB will shift things in your mind and your body, but it does require a tiny bit of discipline to do it a couple of times a day. However, if you are feeling stressed, then this profound tool is worth you investing your time in. I have some more about this on my neurofeedback website.