If I hear the phrase, “these uncertain times” or anything close to it one more time… I just may scream! Yes, we are all impacted by how vast and quickly the COVID-19 (aka Coronavirus) has spread. Yes, most of us have never lived through anything like this before. Pandemic was not part of our everyday vocabulary just two weeks ago. Yes, there is real reason for concern! Like a really, for real reason!
And… can we find words other than “uncertain,” “challenging” or “trying?” I’m even getting tired on the word “unprecedented.” I mean, is it possible to choose words that will evoke fierce determination over fear? What about words that would stimulate creative solutions and intentional and safe connection, rather than toilet paper hoarding? Any ideas? Any? Yeah, I’m struggling too.
We have witnessed some positives over the past few weeks too. Things like, homeschooling parents offering tips to parents who now find themselves charting new territory. DIY recipes for cleaning supplies and sanitizer now infiltrate our feeds. Then there is the tried and true methods like washing our hands and taking our vitamins that seem to pop up everywhere. People once ridiculed, like the Preppers and Hippies, are now the ones we look to for sage advice as we navigate these… weird times (yeah, let’s go with weird for now).
Thankfully, more and more are realizing the dangers of information overload and are following suggestions to take time to breathe. Just breathe, they say. At the same time, we are inundated with images of people wearing face masks. Just breathe… but not this air!
It’s true, COVID-19 has made us aware of things we previously let go by unnoticed. On my brief and infrequent trips to the grocery store, I notice more people making eye contact. Some are giving dirty looks to those who cough or stand too close. Yet, I have also noticed more who look and smile and seem to be saying, “I see you and we’re going to be okay.”
Now for Introverts like myself, alone time is not only welcomed, it is energizing. Yet, given that we are social beings and can accomplish more when we work inter-dependently, it is important to stay connected and work together even if we are apart. See, another pet peeve I have with language used to describe this time in history, is the word “isolation.” Isolation, different from solitude, can be an unhealthy place for those with debilitating thought patterns.
In isolation, we can find ourselves playing out “what if” scenarios. What if I lose my job? What if that leads to not being able to pay my rent? What if that means me and my family will be homeless… And the rabbit hole deepens. Then there are those who the company didn’t let go; those who survived the layoffs. If left alone with their thoughts, they may find themselves struggling to feel grateful because of overwhelming guilt.
Solitude offers time for intentionality. Rather than focus on all the possible negative outcomes, we can be intentional and create solutions. We can, on purpose, change out thought patterns, thus improving our ability to think rationally and positively. Staying present and mindful of now, keeps our thoughts out of the dreaded and unknown future. My daughter said it well; instead of allowing anxious thoughts to overtake us, we can spend a day creating a plan for sustaining us when times are… weird, then get back to living. Solitude allows for moments of deep breathing, deep thinking and making plans for thriving.
Scientists show that when we are stressed, we do not breathe deeply enough. This can lead to fatigue, pain due to inflammation, digestion problems and high blood pressure to name a few. When we are stressed for prolonged time periods, the body produces a stress hormone called cortisol. While cortisol is a good thing for immediate tasks like exercise or giving birth; too much for too long can lead to weight gain, moodiness, brain fog and even osteoporosis.
Mine, like most businesses, decided to do most of its operations remotely. This means I had to find creative ways to stay connected to the teens we serve. The one devotional I sent to the girls that received the best response was a simple breathing exercise. I shared:
- Take a few deep breaths and relax your shoulders
- Now, inhale through your nose for five counts
- Hold for five counts
- Exhale through your mouth for five counts
- Repeat 2-3 times while noticing your body relax
- Repeat throughout the day as needed
Intentional deep breaths are one way we can combat the impact of stressful situations. Taking time to connect with loved ones and enjoying activities that encourage self-care and reduce stress can still be done while living in “lock down.” Being respectful of other’s preferences and their reactions to what they are dealing with is not an excuse to forgo any boundaries you have previously honored. Boundaries to enforce could even include reducing your exposure to images and information related to COVID-19. It’s a start anyway.
Taking time to breathe includes exercises like the one I shared with the teens but can also mean taking breaks from media. Sitting with pen and paper in silence or with music playing in the background… is breathing. Walking your dog, hiking or riding your bike, while practicing social distancing of course… is breathing. Enjoying online time with family who live in another state… is breathing. Eating healthy and getting enough sleep… is breathing. Just breathe.