2 Exercises to Cope with Challenges in Our Lives

Living in New York
and watching all these pop-up hospitals open up, I feel the vibes of wartime. And
it’s terrifying, feeling like a target and wondering who will be hit next.

I would like to offer
two exercises I find to be great self-care tools. Right now, we need all the
help we can give ourselves for our daily lives at home during this extreme time
of difficulties.

Belly or Diaphragm Breathing

Humans have what’s
called the parasympathetic nervous system which is in charge of keeping us
calm. It helps slow our heart rate and helps with digestion by relaxing the
sphincter muscles in our gastro (digestive) tract.

This is in contrast
to our sympathetic nervous system, which is our fight-or-flight response. We
need this to enable us to respond quickly when there’s danger.

In times of stress,
danger, fear, and all of our arousal emotions, our sympathetic nervous system
is on high alert. Therefore, to help us get to a place or state of greater
calm, our parasympathetic system needs to be stimulated to bring us down from
our heightened level of arousal.

One of the best ways to accomplish this is by slowing down our breathing. Taking slow deep breaths helps activate the parasympathetic system to begin to relax and restore our body to some calmness.

Breathing Exercise

Place your hand on
your stomach as you do this breathing practice so you can feel it rise and

Now, as you inhale
through your nose, push/puff out your stomach like you’re blowing up a balloon.
As you exhale through your mouth, pull in your belly and slowly breathe

Make your exhale
longer than your inhale. Do 3–5 of these
slow breaths at a time and repeat later in the day or as needed. This exercise
provides a quick feeling of restored bodily calm as there is an immediate physiological

Right now, during
this pandemic, we are all on
high alert, and our sympathetic nervous system is running high, keeping in
constant arousal mode.

We need to practice
calming techniques to stimulate the opposing system (parasympathetic) and
provide some restorative relaxation. And, this also helps keep our immune
system strong.

The Three Blessings

There is much
research documenting the psychological and physical health benefits to practicing gratitude
in our lives. It boosts our positive emotions, reduces depressive symptoms,
enhances our relationships, and many more. It is a major contributor to our
overall wellbeing and makes for a great coping tool.

Gratitude Exercise

Every night before bed, write down three things you’re grateful for. I also refer to this as WWW (and it’s not a website!)…

What’s Working Well

Even in the midst
of great challenge, we can find many things to be grateful for. It can be as
simple as a good conversation with a friend, a healthy home-cooked meal, time
to read… This helps shift our focus and realize that along with the bad there
is good.

As my positive
psychology teacher says, “When you appreciate the good, the good appreciates.”

Start doing these
two easy exercises every day, and you will see a shift. Small things can make a
BIG difference. We need all the help we can give to ourselves right now to keep
going as well as possible.

What’s Working Well for you now? What
tools/strategies are helping you manage this difficult time?
Let’s have a conversation!