By: Marygrace Lomboy, MSN, CRNP, ACHPN, CWCN, Hospice & Community Care
Marygrace is a Certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 30 years of nursing experience who has completed a teacher training program in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
As a nurse practitioner, feeling the heartbreak of seeing patients in nursing facilities feeling very isolated, some confused and alone, and an MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) teacher, trying to manage my own anxiety in this pandemic, I thought I would reach out and share some anxiety reduction tools that may be helpful during this most difficult time. There is a ton of anxiety in the world right now, uncertainty, stress, and fear…worrying about our families, how to protect our children, parents, our patients, coworkers and also ourselves. I feel the anxiety within myself—this constant hum in the background of everything I’m doing, which is my nervous system completely revved up.
We are all experiencing a global state of anxiety and stress right now. The fight or flight response is chronically activated—that’s the sympathetic nervous system response in our bodies that signals danger. With that activation, pumping out adrenaline and cortisol in our bodies, along with the collective grief—the loss of our safety, the social distancing resulting in loss of touch, and major challenges in delivering care to our patients, and separation from our families, it’s no wonder our bodies are taking the hit.
No other time has been like this, but this is a time we can all pull together and care for ourselves as well as others. I’m trying to reframe this moment in time as an opportunity to listen deeply, to come back to myself, to open my heart to what’s here right now, and to offer compassion to myself and others.
Here are some steps we can offer ourselves to help to calm the nervous system and to practice inner stability, and activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest response):
Each time that we feel like we are heading down that distress highway of the past or the future, catastrophizing of how things may be, we can catch ourselves. This is about learning how to rest in the unknowing and letting the fear and unrest just be. Being with what is right now in this moment, without trying to change it or push it away. Naming the emotion or layer of emotions that we are feeling in this very moment…this is fear, this is anxiety, this is uncertainty. Pull out the welcome mat for all the emotions you are experiencing without pushing them away. Observe the emotions, name them to tame them…creating some space between you and your emotions.
Come back to your breath…that sacred breath that you were born with, that breath that accompanies you each moment of your life until your last breath. I call it “home base”, and it’s available to us anytime. Simply by inhaling to a count of 4, holding the breath slightly, and then exhaling to a count of 8 helps to activate that parasympathetic nervous system response, calming the body, and decreasing the cortisol levels quickly. Repeat the cycle of breath 5 to 6 times, and practice this regularly throughout the day. Coming back to your breath is grounding and calming…
Give yourself some self-compassion: Placing a hand on your heart and one on your belly, closing your eyes, and breathing in deeply, saying to yourself “This is a difficult time right now.” Being kind and gentle to yourself…practice taking in the good around you, go on a walk around your neighborhood, notice the birds singing, the flowers blooming, and receive the healing effects from nature.
There is no fighting what we are all in right now, but being with what is…and somehow allowing and accepting all of it, helps to decrease anxiety and calm us during this time. I will leave you with this poem by Danna Fauldsthat I think sums all of this up.
There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
Containing a tornado.
Dam a stream and it will create a new channel.
Resist, and the tide will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry you to a higher ground.
The only safety lies in letting it all in –
The wild and the weak: fear, fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of the heart, or sadness veils your vision with despair,
Practice becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your known way of being,
The whole world is revealed to your new eyes.