Anti-Covidanxiety Toolkit #5
This is a tough time, whoever you are, whatever you are doing, or if you're not doing what you normally do. Whether you are on the front lines or just (JUST!) dealing with the major anxieties of life during a pandemic. Because of all the stress and uncertainty, with threats seemingly everywhere--but invisible--it's likely that all of us, adults and kids, are on more of a hair trigger in regard to our fight-flight systems. More adrenaline. Accelerating heart rates. Muscles tensed for action. GI track put on hold. Communication becoming more difficult. The ability to focus on mental tasks, on any task, going out the window. Does any of this sound familiar? That's what the body does to prepare for fight or flight.
So this toolkit is about helping ease those hair triggers. About slowing down...being kind to ourselves...relaxing...even having a little fun. Part of my slowing down this week? I am only including four tools in this toolkit.
Take a break. Ahhhhhhhhh...be kind to yourself. (Have I said that before?) Step back for a few seconds. Take a deep breath. If you are thirsty, drink some water or make a cup of tea. Go outside and feel the breeze. Hold your own face in your hands, gently and tenderly, as you might do for someone you love.
Stop wearing your shoulders as earrings. That's what my massage therapist told me, many years ago. When our fight/flight response gets triggered, our muscles tense up, so we can be ready to flee or to fight. We stiffen our necks, hunch our shoulders up--way up there sometimes. These responses are usually pretty automatic. However, just as our brains send messages to our bodies (e.g., danger ahead, tense up those muscles so you can fight or flee), our bodies can also send messages to our brains (e.g., it's okay, the danger is not immediate, you can relax a little). We may not be able to stop those body responses to stress, but we can become a little more aware of them when they happen. And we can make decisions to move our bodies in ways that send calming messages to the brain. So, if you're wearing your shoulders as earrings...drop them down a little...and see if you can relax a bit. And maybe take a minute to go get a heating pad, or one of those rice or bean bags you can heat in the microwave. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh......
Turn Your Head. If you've had the chance to watch an newborn infant in what is known as the "quiet alert" state, you may have noticed that they will sometimes s-l-o-w-l-y turn their head from one side to the other and then, perhaps, back again, quietly looking around, taking in that it is safe. That's what this exercise offers. Try turning your head very gently from one side to the other, more or less parallel to the plane of the floor, but not at all stiffly, as far as you can reach without straining. You can look around some too, just do it slowly and gently. Take maybe 7-8 seconds to go from one side to the other, though you could do it more slowly if you want. Keep it there for a couple of seconds, then go back all the way to the other side, resting for a few seconds, then moving back to center again. Gently observe as you go. Is it safe right here? Is my life okay, just for this moment? You can do this once or a few times, but always pause between. No need to rush.
None of these guidelines are rigid. Choose a safe time and space to do this--it doesn't take very long so you could even do it during a bathroom break. Notice the safety, gently remind yourself of it. Allow it to rest inside of you.
You can also experiment by moving just your eyes, slowly and gently, from one side to the other. Then pause when you reach the other side, without straining, and wait until you feel a subtle shift towards a bit more ease. Take that in, gently. Then go back the other way, and wait again. Pause and rest. Then come back to center. If it hurts, or feels strained, don't do it.
Why does this help? Perhaps in part because there is a component of the multifaceted vagal nerve that is the foundation of what I call "ease and release" (also known as the ventral vagal system). Branches of this aspect of the vagal nerve run to and through muscles of the neck and upper back (specifically, in case you're interested, the trapezius [back of neck and upper back] and sternocleidomastoid [diagonal across the side of the neck from back to front]). Branches also go to the muscles around the eyes. Perhaps the slow gentle movement helps engage this system, allowing you to return, at least partially, to the "quiet alert" state that well cared for infants experience at various times during the day. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh......
Wash 'n dance. It seems to help those sometimes interminable 20 seconds of hand washing go by more easily when I dance. Plus I end up smiling, which is definitely a good thing these days. Maybe you're already doing this? Or getting your kids or grandkids to do it? You can also try marching, or playing around with different rhythms. A waltz perhaps? It turns out that two verses of "The Hokey-Pokey" take just about 20 seconds. I'm sure there are plenty of other songs you can dance to. Have fun!
Now put your right foot in,
Put your right foot out,
Put your right foot in,
Then you shake it all about.
You do the hokey pokey
and you turn yourself around.
That's what it's all about. Hey!
Wishing all of us peace and ease as we walk through these extraordinary days.
Until next time,
Noorulabdeen Ahmad, unSplash (cover photo)
Mikell Darling, unSplash
Rob Mulally, unSpalsh
Gabby Orcutt, unSplash