Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Washington State Employee Assistance Program’s April 2020 Newsletter
Here are a couple of strategies you can try right away to help all of us be our better selves and work together through the COVID-19 outbreak, adapted from the Greater Good in Action and Center for Healthy Minds websites:
Maintain a calm, stable presence
We know that maintaining a sense of calm presence is better for us, our families, our workplaces and our communities. And, we’re human, so sometimes without realizing it we suddenly find ourselves caught up in anxiety and fear – maybe we feel our racing heart, or hear our irritated voice while talking to our child or partner or colleague.
How can we regain our sense of calm? In addition to taking a walk or talking with a calm friend, another way to find a sense of calm is by shifting your breathing pattern so your out-breath extends longer than your in-breath. This activates the vagus nerve, the major channel of the parasympathetic nervous system that helps us to “rest and digest.” Following stimulation of the vagus nerve, your heart rate slows down, your blood pressure decreases, your muscles relax and your body calms. The vagus nerve communicates your body’s new sense of calm to your brain, so the brain relaxes as well, and you experience a sense of peacefulness. To try this practice, breathe in through your nose for 3 seconds and out through your mouth for 6 seconds. Start with 6 cycles, which will take about 1 minute.
Remember our common humanity: combat stigma and cultivate loving kindness
Throughout human history, marginalized groups have been scapegoated and blamed for disease outbreaks and other crises. During the current COVID-19 outbreak, news reports have continued to show people of Asian descent across the US being attacked, harassed, shunned or otherwise victimized because the virus appears to have originated in China. In addition, some political leaders and media influencers have referred to COVID-19 by names that encourage stigma and bias, such as “the Chinese virus” or “Kung flu.”
What can we do? We can speak up to combat racism and stigma, refer to the virus by its official names of “COVID-19” or “Coronavirus”, model acceptance and compassion to our children and take other anti-racist actions. In addition, we can consciously practice loving kindness. Studies show that a loving kindness practice is one of the most effective ways to increase empathy and compassion for others and potentially decrease bias towards stigmatized groups. And, when people feel more connected to others, they feel a greater sense of personal happiness. Try this 15 minute loving kindness practice.