Here we are, slowly easing our way out of lockdown ..back to some sense of normality 4 months after we first went into lockdown. For some this is a welcome celebration and for others it comes with its own challenges.
For some people (myself included) coming out of a bubble of protection feels a little scary and daunting. Its easy for the mind to start running a million miles an hour especially when we are bombarded with news and statistics everywhere we look.
Throughout my life I've experienced periods of anxiety where i've felt overwhelmed and allowed that little voice inside my head to take the drivers seat. Negative self talk is pretty destructive for our emotional and physical health but there are ways to counter those feelings by replacing them with positive emotions that benefit our wellbeing.
To help address this, lets take a simple look at a branch of our nervous system. The autonomic nervous system works mostly subconsciously to regulate our bodily functions such as respiration, digestion, heart rate and arousal. When working effectively it works well in opposition to create appropriate physiological and emotional responses. Think of these two oppositions as 'flight or fight' and 'rest and digest'.
When we experience prolonged periods of stress, one branch of the autonomic nervous system gets 'stuck' in the 'flight or fight' response. When our bodies are in a heightened state of anxiety, the signals throughout our nervous system are telling us that we are in danger.. all the time! So, in order to bring about balance and to feel less anxious.. we can use simple solutions to bring about 'rest and digest' responses.
Breathing & Meditation
The practice of meditation doesn't have to be intimidating. You don't have to be a 'guru' or a yogi to meditate... in fact you don't even have to call it meditation if thats too far out for you. Think of it as just sitting still... simply you and your breath. That's all!!
A practice can be 2 minutes or it can be 20 minutes.. it can be guided or silent. It can be whatever you need it to be.
When we are in a state of anxiousness our breathing pattern can become rapid or shallow which leads to inefficient exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen during the inhale and exhalation. There are a few breathing strategies we can reach for to help improve this exchange and make the process more efficient whilst recalibrating our autonomic nervous system, leading to deeper relaxation.
- Diaphragmatic breathing is a well know breathing technique to assist with relaxation. Watch the video here.
- Alternate nose breathing is a yoga practice which is also a great tool for helping to calm the nervous system. Watch the video here.
Getting Into Nature
Believe it or not, one of the simplest things you can do to alleviate feelings of anxiety is to take yourself out into nature. A study by the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter found that people who spend at least 2 hours spread over a week in natural spaces such as parks, beaches or woodland report improved health and psychological well-being compared to those who don’t.
In Japan, the practice of forest bathing is used to improve overall feelings of wellbeing by lowering heart rate and blood pressure, reducing stress hormone production and boosting the immune system.
Just taking yourself in to your local park or to the nearest waters edge could do wonders for your mental health.
Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve
Have you ever heard of your Vagus Nerve? This nerve is the 10th cranial nerve and originates in the brain stem and weaves its way down the neck, into the abdomen and eventually makes its way into the colon. It's often called the 'wandering nerve' and is the longest nerve in the autonomic nervous system.
Because of its connection to the vocal chords you can stimulate the vagus nerve by singing, humming, chanting and gargling. This leads to a decrease in your 'flight or fight' responses with an increase in 'rest and digest'...slowing the heart rate and blood pressure and generally improving that feel good factor.
So when you feel your stress levels start to kick in... why not put on your favourite music and starting singing your heart out!!
Aromatherapists have been using plant oils for thousands of years to improve physical and emotional post wellbeing. Essential oils are made from essences found in the flowers, leaves, roots, peel, resin, seeds and bark of some plants.
Lavender is a wonderful oil that contains organic compounds known to depress the central nervous system, helping with anxiety, sleep disturbance and improving an overall feeling of wellbeing. Using good quality oils that are steam distilled and organic will improve the quality of your experience. A few drops in a warm bath or in water diffuser is a wonderful way to benefit from this form of complementary therapy.
If the use of essential oils interest you, why not explore which ones could be useful here
Engaging in healthy human contact with friends, loved ones or our partner can have a hugely positive effect on our wellbeing. Hugging also increases the oxytocin hormone which is often called the 'love hormone' due to it being released when people bond socially.
In times when we are unable to socially bond with our usual family and friends to the same extent as we once did, reaching out via a phone call or text or to someone you share a connection or bond with is as important to our mental health.