We are in the midst of a marathon of emotions.
These strategies aren’t a cure – instead, they can help decrease how intensely you may feel overwhelmed, allowing you to more effectively deal with the challenges you face.
Each only takes a few minutes but can make a big difference in the moment to help you reset your emotions.
You can regulate intense emotions by lowering your body temperature. For example, you could create a mini-plunge pool for your face by filling a bowl with ice water and submerging your face for 15-30 seconds (or as long as you can hold your breath!). Other techniques include walking outside and focusing on the breeze across your face, splashing your face with cold water, sticking your head or hand in the freezer, or holding an ice pack to your face. The coolness will slow your heart rate and help blood flow more easily to your brain. This turns off the fight, flight, or freeze response of your sympathetic nervous system which is activated when you’re intensely distressed. So cooling off your temp brings down the intensity of your emotional arousal and jars you out of being overwhelmed.
Pace Your Breathing
Adjusting your breath is something you can do whenever you’re feeling stressed out to reduce that stress. Paced breathing helps communicate to your amygdala and your nervous system that you’re not in any current danger, so it flips off the fight, flight or freeze response and activates rest and digest. It’s physiologically impossible to panic if you’re doing this correctly. Two parts to do this correctly – slow your breathing pace and initiate breath from your belly. Square breathing is one example to do this.
It’s normal that when you’re in a crisis to spend a lot of time ruminating and experiencing distressing thoughts. So instead, stop. Step back. Take a deep breath. Physically center yourself by digging your heels into the floor to ground you in reality. Then take a moment to observe – what am I thinking? What am I feeling in my body? What am I doing? Then ask yourself if your response is helpful, aligns with your values now or if it’s stuck in the future or past. Taking that moment to step back to decide if our thoughts are helpful can get us out of rumination.
Focusing on relaxing sounds reduces stress. One study compared a group who listened to Weightless or prescribed a benzodiazepine. The music was nearly as effective in easing patient anxiety as the medication, with no side effects. Explore your music options and tastes. Make a playlist of songs that you find comforting when you need a break, and aim for the songs that lift you up (rather than those that mirror your feelings of stress or loneliness).
Run in place, do jumping jacks, climb several flights of stairs, or put on music and dance. This can burn off nervous energy, help clear your brain and can be especially helpful when you’re experiencing emotions that are overwhelming and you feel numb. Movement can help you start feeling sensation in your body again.
Take some time to reset when you’re overwhelmed.
For further mental health support, call CAPS 24/7 at 919-966-3658.
This blog was based on the NY Times article 5 Minute Coronavirus Stress Resets