Methods for Building Wellness and Resilience
Thank you to Andrea Northwood, PhD, LP, CVT’s Director of Client Services at Center for Victims of Torture for this overview and introduction to wellness and resilience resources.
We recognize that this time of uncertainty can be very anxiety-provoking and challenging. Together, we are facing a truly unprecedented global health pandemic, and it is affecting all aspects of our lives, including our families and friends, work, communities, and cultures. Our hearts go out to anyone who has been impacted by COVID-19 either directly or indirectly; our thoughts and heartfelt wishes for safety and recovery are with you and your loved ones. Amidst all these changes, we want to draw on the lived experience & wisdom of CVT’s clinical family to start ongoing conversations about ways you can take care of yourself, your friends and family to cope with the new stresses we are all facing. Things you can do take care of yourself and others around you:
Mindful Breathing: Attend to your breath. Your breath is the one simple thing that is always with you, no matter what you are doing (including Zoom calls!); it is one aspect of your body’s functioning that you can always immediately influence by slowing it down mindfully. A slow, deep breath automatically changes your heart rate and triggers chemical changes in your brain without needing your thoughts or willpower involved. Simply attending to the breath changes the breath. Know when you are on the in-breath, and when you are on the out-breath (you can use self-talk to track this if needed: “Now I am breathing in….Now I am breathing out”). Under anxiety, if you can only focus on one part of the breath, the out-breath is far more important. Let the in-breath take care of itself, and try to lengthen your out-breath gently & fully.
Movement: E-motion has meaning: our feelings are adaptive signals because they impel us to move and thus to survive: fear gets us away from danger, anger moves us to set boundaries to protect ourselves, etc. Our bodies need to move to be healthy. Listen to yours and follow its directions as best you can under the circumstances.
There are many at-home stretches, work-outs, yoga practices, Zumba classes, meditation apps, etc., circulating on social media and other forums during this crisis. It can be overwhelming to sort through so many ads & offers & resources. Use your knowledge of what works best for you (including your body) & what you have enjoyed in the past to narrow any search. In a crisis, simpler is better. And, with anxiety, rhythmic repetitive motions are most effective in “regulating” our physiology & nervous system (e.g., running, dancing, biking, walking, drumming, rowing, stairs, etc).
Physical exercise is the single best medicine for depression and anxiety, often outperforming any other intervention for mild and moderate forms. If you can only do one self-care activity, exercise.
Get Nutrients & Sunshine: What we put into our bodies affects our mood, sleep and energy; it also affects our bodies’ ability to fight infection & recover well. For a layperson’s good understanding of eating for emotional health, check out the book The Chemistry of Joy, by psychiatrist Henry Emmons, MD (he has also written The Chemistry of Calm). Eating for your brain and boosting your immune system means eating healthy fats (Omega 3 & 6), vitamins (A, B, C, D, E), essential minerals, and sufficient protein. Eat as balanced as you can: lots of leafy greens, colorful vegetables & fruits, lean proteins, nuts, etc. A multivitamin (e.g., a packet of Emerg-C a day) might also help you psychologically, giving you a sense of control in doing what you can to boost your immune system and help your body recover from stress.
Sleep: We are all challenged to set new boundaries and routines during this time. “Sleep hygiene” refers to your routine for unwinding and preparing for sleep each night. A simple rule of thumb is: “the bigger the jet, the longer the runway needed,” which means that the more revved-up or anxious or stressed you are, the longer the period of time your mind & body will need to slow down and drift off into sleep. In addition to allowing enough time, making your bedtime consistent (going to sleep and waking up at the same times, including weekends & weekdays) and eliminating “screen time” in the hour or two preceding sleep are particularly helpful.
Unwind, Disconnect from News, & Laugh: This is particularly challenging, if not impossible at times, I realize. However, whether you are doing it as a family or alone or with roommates, spending time going outside or playing board games or watching silly movies/Youtube videos or doing whatever you can do to help bring yourself into the present moment, will help you relax & connect with your sense of humor. Laughter can’t be forced, but it is truly one of the best medicines for the soul, and sometimes if we are watching something silly or ridiculous we will laugh in spite of ourselves.