It is so important to prioritize self care always, but especially during this pandemic.
BELLY BREATHING. Belly breathing is a great exercise that both children and adults can practice to feel calm. Did you know that this type of breathing can actually reduce heart rate to trigger a relaxation response? Here’s what to do: sit or lay in a comfortable position; with your mouth closed, breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds; breathe out for four seconds or longer; and pause. Repeat as needed.
MEDITATION. Meditation is a simple practice that can be used to promote relaxation and help with stress reduction. It has been shown to help with multiple disease processes including: anxiety, chronic pain, depression, hypertension, headaches, and insomnia.
There are many different types of meditation, with the three most commonly used techniques being mantra meditation, guided meditation, and mindfulness meditation.
Mantra meditation uses a word or phrase that individuals can repeat silently to minimize distracting thoughts. One of the most commonly used words is “aum” or “om.” Guided meditation involves using imagery, and encourages individuals to imagine places or situations that they find relaxing or to which they have positive associations. Examples include the ocean, one’s room, mountains, other scenes of nature, etc.
Mindfulness meditation focuses on individuals being in the present, more aware of their thoughts and emotions, accepting these thoughts, and letting them pass without any judgement.
STAY CONNECTED. Loneliness can be detrimental to our physical and emotional health. And during this pandemic, many have grieved being with family and friends. It’s so so important to stay connected! Reach out to a friend or family member to schedule a phone call or video chat. Use this time to connect with old friends to whom you’ve been meaning to reach out. If you are a parent, schedule a virtual play date for your children. And most importantly, in all of these interactions, please try truly to be present and connected. Time is valuable and irreplaceable. It can be such a blessing to use this time to develop and foster relationships.
EXERCISE. Did you know that exercising 3 to 5 times a week for 30 minutes at a time can reduce depression and anxiety symptoms? Exercise directly affects the brain. It increases blood flow to the brain and can stimulate new brain cell growth. Being active in this way releases “feel good” chemicals called endorphins which can enhance an individual’s sense of well-being. What is your favorite type of exercise?
JOURNAL. When an individual writes in a journal, it can be so helpful for s/he to put on paper some of the many thoughts that are preoccupying his/her mind. Just “releasing” these thoughts from the confines of the mind can help one to overthink things less.
According to Dr. Pennebaker, a social psychologist at UT Austin, journaling, or “expressive writing” as he calls it can promote a stronger immune health; lead to better sleep habits; improve mental health; regulate blood pressure; and reduce pain caused by chronic diseases. He says, “One of the brain’s functions is to help us understand events in our lives. Writing helps construct a narrative to contextualize trauma and organize ideas. Until we do this, the brain replays the same non-constructive though patterns over and over and we become stuck. Writing about grief and trauma helps achieve closure which tells the brain its work is done. This closure frees us to move forward.” To begin an expressive writing practice, try to write for just 15 minutes a day for three days about a single issue to wish to address. Some questions to consider: Why are you feeling what you are feeling? Does this relate to any life events? What is the significance? What makes this feel better or worse?
POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS. Do you ever wonder about the origin of emotions? Why do we feel what we feel? This is exactly the question that led me to want to pursue a career in psychiatry. Human emotions and behavior patterns are fascinating! The answer to my questions is complex but the simple gist is that we feel what we do because of our thoughts. The principles of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) suggest that our thoughts influence our emotions, and our emotions influence our behavior. So why is this relevant? Because positive affirmations are positive thoughts that you repeat about yourself, how you want to be, how you want your circumstances to be, etc. It’s a whole lot of positive thoughts! So based on the principles of CBT, if you think these positive thoughts, you will feel more positively, which will reflect in your actions/behavior. Totally makes sense, doesn’t it? What are three positive affirmations that you will repeat today?