Everything feels very uncertain at the moment, in a way I have never experienced before. It is incredibly unsettling and, well, scary. For now, the world is different.
Fear is hanging around us draped over our new realities like a thick blanket. It is everywhere. On our phones, in our ears, reading the news, at Tesco. I see it in the isles and on the purged shelves, it has made the air thick. The news is constant and loud, confirming our fears at every opportunity.
Some people wear the anxiety on their faces. But, I believe it has also made the community around me friendlier; a gentle smile here, a “let me pass you that” there and a “how you doing” on the way past. People are softer somehow, kinder and less insular. I see people donating and buying gift cards to support small business, offering elderly neighbours help or driving someone in need to the supermarket. The current environment is scary but also incredibly life-affirming.
What a shame it has taken a pandemic to create this.
A lot of people are feeling anxious, understandably. Yet, anxiety is not new to me. I carry it with me every day like a little monster living inside my head. But that kind of anxiety is mine, I experience it, viscerally often but it is rarely reciprocated. This new anxiety is collective and we are feeling it at a community, country and global level.
In one way life is the same. I can still hear the birds outside, cars driving past and the heating clicking on. But, it is very different too; the streets are quiet, things, events, games, gatherings are being cancelled and folk are self-isolating.
I ask myself regularly, how do we navigate these times?
We scale down our lives, for now. We are kind to our neighbours. We find moments of joy in our daily lives. We are grateful for what we have. We practice empathy and care. We hold our loved ones close.
For me, now and in all moments of acute fear, anxiety and uncertainty I return to the same thing; my breath. It is one of the most powerful ways to reconnect to our bodies and away from our minds. When we are anxious we breathe in the top part of our lungs rather than using the lungs full capacity.
My therapist taught me a great breathing exercise that I return to again and again and I want to share it with you here in the hope it will help you too. It is easy straightforward and almost instantly grounding, which is what we all need right now.
1) Start by placing your right hand on your heart and your left hand on your lower ribs. Breath through your nose. If you feel comfortable to do so you can close your eyes. Take a moment to notice which hand moves first as you inhale, is it the top or the bottom hand? Deliberately send your next breath down to the lower part of your lungs, the bottom hand. Inhale through your nose to the bottom of your lungs first, then the middle and then the top. Exhale fully.
2) Next, keep sending your breath to the bottom of your lungs. Continue to inhale through your nose but start to exhale slowly through your mouth as though you were blowing gently through a straw. Continue for a few breaths like this.
3) Then you start to count. Inhale for a count of 4, hold for 1 and exhale for 6. So in, 2, 3, 4, hold, out, 2, 3, 4. Repeat. If you need to change the count this is fine just make sure the exhale is longer than the inhale. Continue like this for a few breaths or as long as you like.
4) Lastly, return your attention to the breath and take a moment to notice where it is now going, is it to the top or the bottom of your lungs?
This is such a nurturing exerciser to do and the more you repeat it the more your body will remember during times of anxiety or stress.
I hope this helps.
Please look after yourself and those around you, hand-washing, calm and kindness is key.