Here in Saskatoon we’ve been practicing social distancing for nearly three weeks and it’s unclear when things will return to normal. How are you supposed to stay grounded during these unprecedented times? One moment you can feel hopeful, composed and grateful. The next you can feel anxious, scared and irrational. COVID-19 is real and there is real risk, but you likely know how to behave to significantly mitigate these risks and yet, fear can still creep in. It can be difficult and confusing to stay level, leaving you doubling down on your toilet paper stash, sourcing out an alternate power supply, or filling your bathtub with water—just in case.
In our modern society, we have become disconnected from the wisdom of our bodies, often being preferential to the thinking part of our brain. The COVID-19 pandemic we are living through has the potential of risk, but those are all “what if” and “maybe” situations that aren’t happening, and may never happen. The sympathetic nervous system is meant to keep us safe in the present moment, and emanates from the oldest, reptilian part of our brain. It doesn’t have the capacity to use logic or reason and can spark a fight or flight response in the body, regardless if the threat is real or imagined. Once activated, we have limited access to our higher thinking brain and are unable to effectively make sense of things or make rational choices. AND IT’S EXHAUSTING. One thing that may help calm your system and let your body know it’s not being threatened is to pay attention to what you can sense. What we can see, touch, hear, smell, and taste allows our body to assess and interpret the safety of our present moment experience.
So how do you do that? It’s easy as 5-4-3-2-1
Simple Daily Rituals to Keep Calm During COVID-19
- LOOK at five things you can see. Go slow, take longer than you want to. Look all the way to the right. All the way to the left. Up, down.
- TOUCH four things in your space. Identify to yourself what it is that you are touching. Notice how it feels. Notice the texture, temperature, density. Be curious, take your time.
- LISTEN to three things you can hear right now. Just pause. Open up your awareness and allow the sounds of your current environment to seep in.
- SMELL two things you can perceive through your nose right now. Or, grab something scented and inhale deeply. I recommend lavender, lemon, or vanilla!
- TASTE one thing. This can be something as simple as noticing the fresh minty taste after brushing your teeth, or as delicious as a chocolate brownie. Be mindful. ENJOY!
Mitigate Anxiety, Practice Mindfulness
These practices can help deactivate your sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight) and engage the parasympathetic nervous system (rest/digest) , mitigating anxiety and bringing a sense of ease. This series of rituals will also help you be mindful in everyday, non-pandemic times.
Practice, practice, practice. Once a day. Multiple times a day. Every time you catch yourself caught in a fantasy worst case scenario and you feel panic setting in. Who knew being sensual could be so useful and accessible?! You could also try digging into your creative self to reduce anxiety.
Want to know more?
If you’re feeling geeky and want to know more about neuroscience, read on about the Triune Brain Model! The Triune Brain is comprised of three parts: the brain stem, which governs digestion, reproduction, circulation, breathing, and the execution of the “fight or flight” response; the limbic circuits, which govern emotion, the expression of emotion, instincts, and motivational drive; and the neocortex, which governs language, cognition, reasoning, and voluntary movement.
Our brains became more complex as we evolved from reptile to mammal to human. Traditional psychotherapy attempts to override the mammalian emotional centre (limbic circuits) in order to engage the human rational brain (neocortex) to reason your way out of distressing emotional states and in turn settle the reptilian brain (brain stem), from the top down. Somatic approaches to psychotherapy are increasingly popular and offer a different approach, from the bottom up. Making use of your five senses is a simple somatic activity that has the potential to calm our whole nervous system. Our very primal five senses serve as a connection from the outside world to our inner world.