Friday, May 1, 2020

Pandemic Anxiety - 3 Techniques to Find Some Relief

Whether you’re an essential worker, or have joined the ranks of the unemployed, or are lucky enough to be working remotely, the threat out there is real and the body feels it – and it’s coming in from all sides (virus threat, rent/mortgage and food worries, close proximity to family or roommates 24/7, uncertainty about the future, knowledge that US political leadership is incapable of anything but chaos…the list is endless...). Because of these real threats many of us are experiencing high levels of overwhelming anxiety.

For most of my life I have had PTSD, and so am very familiar with many of the symptoms that result from the nervous system being overwhelmed (heart palpitations, panic, sensations of terror, powerlessness, inability to concentrate, shortness of breath, muscle tension, racing thoughts, intrusive images and/or thoughts, a sense of intense isolation, etc.), which eventually leads to shut-down and the body going into "freeze" (numbness, sense of things not being real, etc.).

So I’ve posted three simple practices below (along with some helpful videos) that I’ve used with success to help switch my nervous system from the grip of being in fight or flight (the sympathetic nervous system), to homeostasis and a calmer state of being (the parasympathetic nervous system).

2:1 Breath

This is very simple. It consists of exhaling at twice the duration as the inhalation. So, you inhale slowly through your nose, gently, for a certain count (make sure the count is comfortable) and then exhale slowly through your mouth (gently pursed lips) for double that count.

Let’s say you gently inhale through the nose for three counts (1 – 2 – 3), then you will exhale slowly through gently pursed lips for 6 counts (1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6). Continue this for several minutes and you will probably begin to feel calmer. I have also found that it is more effective when I also relax my shoulders as I’m releasing the breath.

The reason this works is that the breathing technique activates both the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic system. The sympathetic helps the body gear up for physical activity and fight/flight response. The parasympathetic nervous system does the opposite. It prepares the body for rest, sleep, digestion. Inhalation emphasizes sympathetic activity (exercise/stress response) and exhalation stimulates the parasympathetic activity (the relaxation, rest, and digestion branch). This breath ratio emphasizes parasympathetic activity over sympathetic.

Here is a good video on the 2:1 Technique


This is another simple process that you can do, not just when you are feeling anxious and overwhelmed, but any time during the day for clarity of mind and relaxation. It was developed by the folks at the Heartmath Institute. They found that heart electrical signals have a significant effect on brain function. Their thesis is that during stress, when the heart rhythm pattern becomes erratic, “a corresponding pattern of neural signals traveling from the heart to the brain inhibits higher cognitive functions. This limits our ability to think clearly, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions.” ( )

One: shift your focus to the area of your heart. This could be the center of your chest or the actual area of where your heart is located – whatever feels comfortable and right to you.

Two: imagine your inhalation and exhalation is moving in and out through the area of your heart. So, you take a breath into the area of your heart, then you exhale through the area of your heart.

Three: breathe slowly and deeply. In through the heart area, out through the heart area.

Four: once you have established an easy rhythm of breathing through the heart area, imagine something or someone or some place that you love, or that gives you joy, or comfort, or a sense of peace.

Five, continue to breathe through the heart area while you re-experience that love, joy, comfort, or peace.

Instructional video for Heartmath


The third technique doesn't work quite as well when you're nervous system is already overwhelmed, but it's a great way to find relief when the symptoms of anxiety are just starting to build: Laughter.  The laughter - like crying or shaking - helps discharge the sensation of being overwhelmed.

For me, this means dark humor.  Enjoy.