News about the Coronavirus has been making headlines everywhere. How many new cases have been reported this week? What can I do to protect myself and my family? In unprecedented times like these, it is essential that you learn to relax your mind and reduce stress as much as possible. If you’re finding that hard to do, you’re not alone.
With immense uncertainty on the rise, it is natural to feel a spike in fear and anxiety. The “what-ifs” begin to take over and before you know it, you’re spiraling down a rabbit hole of panic.
So how exactly do we navigate fear during times of uncertainty and support our mental health at the same time?
The Polyvagal Theory
The polyvagal theory developed out of experiments with the vagus nerve, an integral part of our parasympathetic nervous system. In the human body, our autonomic nervous system consists of two parts: the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. Our sympathetic nervous system controls our “fight-or-flight” response, and inevitably acts on overdrive when we are feeling stressed or fearful.
When the body is not under stress, the vagus nerve sends commands that slow breathing rates and increase digestion. Our heart rate variability also increases, which helps us to think clearly and stay calm.
It makes sense that optimal functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system is integral to our well-being. So, what are some things that you can do to support it and in turn relax your mind?
Meditate & Breathe
With productivity being the “key to success” these days, meditation has been treated as a recreational activity rather than something that is integral to health. Studies show that meditating for as little as five minutes a day can have a positive effect on your mental health.
Meditating is one way to disrupt the connection between racing thoughts in your mind and what is actually happening around you.
When you meditate, you relax your mind by bringing awareness to your body. Fearful thoughts that were once your reality become exactly what they are: thoughts. We can learn to acknowledge them, and then let them drift away.
Focusing on your breathing is another way to relax your mind and reduce stress. Deep breathing and relaxing forms of breathwork help to regulate the vagus nerve.
One way to practice breathwork is to try something called diaphragmatic breathing. Try inhaling to the count of six, pausing to the count of two, and finally exhaling to the count of four. Your breathing rate will come down, heart rate variability will increase, and your body will return to self-regulation and healing.
Curate Your Newsfeed
Another important way to support your mental health and relax your mind is to curate your digital newsfeed. During times of uncertainty, it is imperative that you create the type of social environment that helps you rather than hurts you.
Ask yourself the following question: What is it that I want to gain from flipping on the news or tuning into social media right now? Am I looking to be informed, inspired, and empowered? Or am I choosing to put my energy into accounts that are alarmist and fear-based?
One thing that could specifically help you to relax your mind is to proactively schedule one or two times throughout the day to tune into the news. Those times aside, keep the news off and limit time spent on social media to better support your mental health.
Tap Into Your Spiritual Side
You’ve probably heard about the importance of following your intuition: that internal voice inside of your head that’s meant to guide you when you are faced with choices. Did you know that listening to your intuition can also help you to relax your mind?
When you really tap into that feeling inside your gut, a positive chain reaction occurs. You begin to separate your thoughts from reality, which helps minimize fear and worry. Those “what-ifs” become less threatening as we learn to trust the messages our body is sending us.
In Eastern spiritual traditions, one way to honor your intuition is to take refuge in the dhamma, or a higher purpose in life. The same traditions honor the sangha, or the community around you, as well as the buddha, which is simply an expansion of awareness from reactive responses. Honoring all three of these can help you to relax your mind and stay centered.
Get Out Into Nature
Nature and the outdoors are free, accessible ways to lower anxiety and relax your mind. Studies show that immersing yourself in nature helps to decrease worry and rumination and may even reduce the risk of depression.
Additionally, simply getting outside heightens our senses in a way that helps to combat anxiety. In one study in particular, participants spent time “forest bathing,” or spending short amounts of time visiting a nearby forest. They were asked to use their senses (touch, smell, and sight) to take in the atmosphere around them. Saliva samples were taken prior to forest bathing and after forest bathing.
Not only did forest bathing have a positive effect on the immune system of the participants, but scores on pre and post surveys show that it had a similar effect on mood and stress levels. Participants felt calmer and happier after getting into nature.
Tap Into Gratitude
Practicing simple acts of gratitude are also scientifically proven to lower anxiety.
When you take a few minutes each day to recognize the things you are grateful for, it can help to relax your mind by allowing you to access the present moment. Anxiety feeds off of future fear and speculation; the more we can stay connected to the present moment, the less we lead with fear. In turn we are more relaxed and can think more clearly.
Other than contributing to feelings of relaxation, having a daily gratitude practice can also help you feel more aligned. Ask yourself what is truly important to you and what you appreciate each day. You are bound to feel a sense of gratitude, which has been shown to help relax your mind and increase happiness levels.
Even though we cannot make this virus disappear, we can proactively take steps to relax our minds and calm our brains. When our minds are more relaxed, we have the power to navigate uncertainty whenever it may arise.
Interested in more tips to keep your body and mind healthy? Visit the TelMD Upstream Blog!
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