Taking control of the pandemic fallout

submitted by Dr. Maria DiDonato, D.Ed. Psychologist, Achievement & Wellness Center,

As many have seen with the last coronavirus crisis, stress can be very destabilizing.

Whether the force is from a singular powerful stressor or an accumulation of ongoing stressors, significant physical and emotional dysregulation can occur.

It is possible to take control of the destabilizing forces that are present in our daily lives by learning a seemingly simple but powerful practice.

A look at the bodily mechanism that responds to stress indicates two powerful neutral pathways: the stress response and the relaxation reflex. These two pathways originate in the brain and have exactly the opposite effects on the ability to self-regulate.

Even though every organ and system in the body is connected to and responds to both pathways, there are five noticeable external manifestations or factors.

They are heartbeat, breathing, muscle tension, mental focus and hand/feet temperature.

These five factors are connected to each other like the fingers of a hand, so that by changing one they all change, automatically.

In addition, these five factors are under immediate conscious control and their changes are more readily noticeable than the deeper physiological responses.

In the stress response, regardless of the stressor, the body mobilizes to face the danger/stressor.

The heartbeat speeds up, breathing becomes rapid and shallow, muscles become very tense, mental focus is on the singular stressor and hands and feet become colder.

Fortunately, a stabilizing force, the relaxation reflex can restore balance. But the relaxation reflex is shut off during a stress response.

So, to end the stress response and engage relaxation reflex, a change in one of those five factors is necessary and the others will change, automatically.

To begin, pick the easiest one. You are correct if you chose breathing. The process of relieving the stressor is as easy as lying down.

By lying down with a book on the abdomen and breathing in by letting the abdomen go up slowly to the count of four and breathing out slowly to the count of six the relaxation reflex is engaged.

Doing this for approximately 10 minutes by breathing only by raising your abdomen not your chest.

Changes in muscle tension, calming of mental focus, hand temperature and many other positive internal changes will occur.

Practicing this breathing frequently during the day can have a long- lasting calming effect with improved cognitive flexibility and focus. With daily practice including, practicing while sitting or standing, become less affected by stressors and gain empowerment.

So relax, breathe abdominally, and begin enjoying peace of mind and clearer thinking.

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