KAUFMANN: From meltdown to calm down

One projected meltdown per week was penciled into my calendar. I knew that either I, one of my children, or both would potentially be overwhelmed each time. Was it a blessing that the trials were spaced out, or would it be better to suffer all at once?

Actually, the August page said something more like “Daughter resumes nursing clinicals” and “Move son to distant dorm room.” Early September included “Meet with high school staff to discuss in-person learning protocols for younger son” and “Begin new semester of teaching.”

This pandemic has us all concerned with what will happen next. Whether or not we have relatives returning to school as students or staff, there seems to be a collective sense of holding our breath. We are waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop; the other shoe, anyway. The first one already fell — hard.

As we gather in schools, and soon in gyms, following safety procedures should help keep us healthy. But there are still many smouldering “what-ifs” lingering in our heads that can ignite fires of anxiety in our hearts.

Being consumed with anxiety about the future makes us less able to cope with the present. Stress-filled pandemic months can also take a slow toll on our health. We need some practical strategies to turn our meltdowns into “calm downs.”

I did some research to find the best free, accessible, and effective stress management techniques for COVID-19 weary folks. Here is what I found:

Limit time spent checking news. We should stay informed, but sometimes too much news consumption can fuel our panic. Checking a few trustworthy sources for updates on a regular basis can be enough.

Set aside worry time. How about giving ourselves 15 minutes a day to verbalize or write down our concerns about the virus? When time is up, we can get on with the business of living today’s life. If a worrisome thought occurs later in the day, we can defer it to tomorrow’s “appointment.”

Practice being present. When our thoughts begin to race, we can practice grounding ourselves in our bodies. We ask, “What am I feeling right now?” We pay attention to the taste of food, the sensations in our fingers, the warmth of exhaled breath.

Take a few deep breaths. Simply taking slow, deep breaths for one minute can lower blood pressure and heart rate. This is my favorite go-to method to calm myself. Try breathing in deeply through the nose for a count of four and out for a count of six.

Focus on what we can control. Hand washing, mask wearing, and social distancing are all things we can do to help prevent the spread of the virus. Getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy foods, getting exercise, establishing a routine, and taking time for things we enjoy can help strengthen our overall health.

Stay connected. Last but certainly not least, we need each other. When we feel threatened, we need our community. We can stay connected through phone, text, Zoom, social media, semaphore, smoke signal — whatever it takes. If we tend to withdraw when we are stressed out, we can set up a standing appointment with a trusted relative or friend. We can check on isolated neighbors. We can meet someone else’s practical needs and, by doing so, transform their worry into a smile.

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