Mindfulness Practices That Soothe Stress and Anxiety

Woman sitting by lake

By Andrea D'Asaro

It is normal to be scared and even paralyzed in the midst of so much uncertainty around the Coronavirus (COVID-19). That’s where simple mindfulness practices can help us stay grounded and connected despite recommendations for social distancing. Deep breathing and mindful movement can slow anxiety, stave off depression and stabilize the nervous system. Reaching out to others can boost our sense of connection, increase oxytocin (the love hormone), and maintain our equilibrium so we can help others along the way.  

1. Come back to the moment with five mindful breaths

With so much worrisome news about the virus, the rational part of our brain can spin into survival mode - fight, flight, and freeze. Instead, whenever you notice yourself ruminating, worrying, or feeling overwhelmed, try five mindful breaths.  

Sit in a comfortable seat with your feet on the ground (lying down or standing are also options). Breathe slowly in through the nose and out through the mouth. This in and out sequence is one full breath. Count five breaths, feeling your nervous system progressively slow down. Pause at the end and check your body and mind to see if anything is different. Continue with 10 or 20 breaths, as you wish. You may want to count your five breaths on your fingers, tracing each digit while taking one breath as an additional grounding with the body. 

2. Boost belonging with a self-hug

In this time of the elbow bump, we are advised to avoid hugging. No worries, the self-hug also increases oxytocin, giving you a warm sense of comfort and connection.

Open your arms wide as you take a breath in, then cross them over your chest as you breathe out. Gently grasp your upper arm with the opposite hand and give yourself some kind squeezes. Close your eyes and bring to mind your personal “circle of caring.” Imagine the faces of those people or pets (living or decreased) who care deeply for you, envision them smiling tenderly. Or bring to mind your favorite happy place like a fireplace or a cozy bedroom. Remember to hold your hug for 20 seconds or longer for the best benefits.

3. Try mindful walking in nature

Being in nature, even if that’s your yard or a tree-lined street, can bring multiple benefits. Try a practice of mindful walking.

Bring your attention to each step and the movement of each foot against the ground, quietly saying “heel, ball, toe” as you walk. Enjoy your slow walking and remember: there’s no wrong way to bring yourself back to the present.

4. Strengthen basic self-care

Mindfulness is all about paying attention on purpose. This means observing how you feel, what your body and mind are craving and how you may best care for yourself. Instead of reaching for social media, a new video, or a less nutritious treat, consider the healthiest way to nurture yourself - what you might recommend to a good friend.

You might choose one or two new self-care or mindful practices to maintain your equanimity and psychological well-being at this time. Keep in mind, giving yourself kindness allows you to extend it to to others who are struggling at this time, too.  

Learn more about Andrea D'Asaro and her classes, Mindfulness Meditation for Stressful Situations and Self-Compassion: A Transformative Workshop

In the meantime, you can try a short, guided mindfulness meditation with Andrea in this video.