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How to Manage Stress During a Crisis (like a Pandemic) 

 March 18, 2020

By  Dr. Jodie

In these crazy, uncertain times of social isolation, we are often unsure of what to do or how to act. Many of us feel an ominous black cloud of stress overhead. And most of us don’t know how to manage stress during a crisis.

One thing we need to know for sure is: How we react TO IT determines how we come THROUGH IT.

So many details and situations are completely out of our control so it’s important to handle the things we can control well.

We all know that washing our hands properly, using hand sanitizer, and limiting potential exposure (maintaining social distancing) is key during this Covid-19 Pandemic or any cootie crisis.

But I don’t need to discuss those issues as our President and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have been blowing those horns loud and clear. However, if you’ve been hiding under a rock, you can find their suggestions here.

Managing stress, which helps to boost our immune systems, is also super important but less (hardly EVER) discussed, so that’s what I’m talking about here.

And learning how to manage stress during a crisis will also help us manage it in the day-to-day, keeping us healthier overall. Fair warning… it’s a little LONG, but I have a synopsis at the end. 😉

STRESS

Being stressed is one of the worst things you can do for your immune system. And it doesn’t really matter what type of stress: emotional, mental, or physical. They all cause a drop in our immune system.

So learning how to manage stress during a pandemic or other crisis is critical. Here are some ways to do that:

Stay Grounded

Both literally and figuratively. Staying grounded helps to avoid the cortisol-releasing, stress from our innate flight or fight response. And although I’m NOT talking about avoiding the real-life, Petri-dish-type, cootie breeding grounds that our airports and planes are; that is another consideration!

Practicing Earth Grounding is what to do during a pandemic.
A woman practicing Earth Grounding at the beach

Earth Grounding

This grounding is what I call Earth Grounding. To Earth Ground stand outside in bare feet on the dirt or grass with your arms in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and look up to the sky (hopefully toward the radiant sun – if it’s not overcast – because sunbeams make EVERYTHING better!)

Next, breathe in slowly and deliberately and visualize roots growing down from your feet into the ground. Imagine the roots reaching the center of the earth. This promotes a feeling of belonging and well-being, of centering and grounding. THIS is the literal grounding I was talking about.

Earth grounding works best on any dirt, grass, sand, or even rocks. It will work, although not as well on concrete or other surfaces. Just don’t stay out too long if it’s a cold Michigan day in March! 😉

Meditation

Meditation will help you stay grounded figuratively. Don’t worry if you “don’t know how to meditate.” There are plenty of guided meditations available on apps like Headspace or on YouTube like this one.

The main focus of meditation for beginners is on your breathing. But focused breathing can be utilized ANY time or place. Even when you can’t zone out or close your eyes.

Focused Diaphragmatic Breathing

Focused breathing is not necessarily diaphragmatic breathing and vice versa. But the best breathing is BOTH! And breathing is high on the list of important things to do during a crisis. Or any time. Or… ALL the time. LOL!

Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, is the most efficient way to breathe. If you ever played a wind instrument in band class, you learned how to breathe from your abdomen. (Thank you, Mr. Matthews!)

The easiest way to practice or learn how to breathe from the diaphragm is to lie down with your hand on your belly. Take in deep breaths so you feel your abdomen rising up with each breath. Obviously you should feel it go down as you exhale.

Then practice sitting up. Your belly should still move as you breathe. If your shoulders rise when breathing, you are NOT breathing from the diaphragm.

Focused breathing occurs when you concentrate on your breathing, feeling each breath go in and out, and control the length of each inhale and exhale.

You can vary the length of each inhale and exhale but for immediate results, I do the following. Inhale deeply through the nose for a count of four. Pause for a count of three without really holding your breath. This takes some practice! Then breathe out slowly through your mouth, with your lips pursed like you are drinking through a straw, for a count of seven. Pause for another count of three. Do this for a couple of minutes and you will feel the stress lessen in your body.

Diaphragmatic and focused breathing will each cause a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol when done independently. They lower stress and increase focus, and feeling grounded. So it only stands to reason that doing both together will give double the benefits and are a prime example of how to manage stress during a crisis!

Journal writing is another great example of how to manage stress during a crisis.
Writing in my journal

Journaling

Start writing in a journal to get ALL. THE. THOUGHTS. OUT. Keeping everything bottled up inside definitely increases our stress and anxiety. So if you don’t have a confidant to talk to, journaling is an excellent suggestion for managing stress.

The easiest way to use journaling for stress management is to just write whatever pops into your head. Set a timer for 30 minutes and just write away. If you can’t think of anything else, write, “I can’t think of anything else.” over and over until something comes up. And if the thoughts are still flowing after 30 minutes, keep going.

If you have a hard time getting started, don’t worry. That’s common for beginners. Just ask yourself some questions like What is bothering me? Why am I worried? What do I think will happen? Any open-ended question(s) will do. And they will pave the way for your free-flowing thoughts to emerge. This will allow the thoughts and emotions (hello? STRESS!) to leave your head and body.

And don’t think it has to be a real paper journal. ANY kind of journaling works whether it’s on scraps of paper, on your computer, a video or verbal recording on your phone, or whatever you have on hand. Although my favorite is a pretty lined journal like this one! The inspirational quotes on the pages help with this process.

But DO NOT go back and re-read what you wrote! It only dredges up those thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Often it’s helpful to tear up the paper and throw it away or burn it or delete recordings. Burning is my favorite as you can watch the stress and negative emotions go up in smoke – literally.

Stress Conclusion

Above are just a few suggestions for how to manage stress during a crisis or pandemic which will help to maintain our immune systems. Others include practicing the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) yoga or pilates and exercising. Because during any pandemic or crisis: How we react to it determines how we come through it!

Synopsis

Stress is horrible for our immune systems so we should ALL learn how to manage stress during a crisis or pandemic which will help us during non-crisis times also. Some ways to minimize stress include staying grounded by practicing Earth Grounding, meditation, focused diaphragmatic breathing, and journaling. The how-to’s of each are explained above.

I hope you’ll begin to learn how to manage YOUR stress better. It really does affect our whole life! Because it is:

Your Life. Your Well-Being. Your Happiness.

Dr. Jodie


Dr. Jodie is a retired chiropractor with a passion for helping women live the life they choose. A life of holistic wellness and happiness.

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