Whoa, there! Even if you are fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, don’t be so quick to toss the masks and abandon social distancing – or as I prefer to call it, healthy distancing. Just when we thought (or at least hoped) we were near the end of this COVID saga, it has reared its ugly head again. From alpha to delta to mu to the current Omicron – the science isn’t fully collected on this one yet, so exercise extra caution – and all the variants in between, the prolonged interruption of life has tension at an all-time high. All the questions, concerns, mandates and recommendations are testing our patience and resolve to remain civil, let alone in good physical health.
Hearing that COVID is not exiting stage left with the rapidity we all hoped for isn’t the news you want when schools, jobs, and seemingly the world are swinging their doors open and inviting you to crowd inside. It can be a little scary or downright frightening to get up close and personal again, especially with people who have not been in your social bubble. But not all is lost. Please know it is normal and reasonable to feel some unease. That said, how do you keep your behaviors and responses to it all from becoming unhealthy? I have a few tips (or holistic prescriptions) to help you maintain your calm and find comfort while navigating a world where COVID is still a very real physical and mental health threat.
Breathe. It may sound simple, but taking a deep breath can take the edge off what feels like an overwhelming moment. Learning a quick breathing technique can be the difference between a full-blown panic attack versus a few jitters. Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique developed by Dr. Andrew Weil:
- Inhale through your nose to the count of 4.
2. Hold the breath to the count of 7
3. Exhale fully through your mouth to the count of 8.
4. Repeat four times to regain your composure.
Meditate. Forget the stereotypes. You don’t need a mat, you don’t have to sit, and you don’t have to be still for a long period of time. Keep it simple and find a favorite mantra, word, or prayer. Then, find a quiet space, or place to walk, and repeat your chosen personal affirmation. It can take five or 45 minutes – it’s up to you. There are also some great apps like Calm and Headspace to guide you to a peaceful breakthrough.
Go slow. You don’t have to jump into crowds or gatherings with both feet; stick one toe in at a time. If you are vaccinated and feel comfortable being unmasked (remember the effectiveness of the current vaccines against Omicron is not known at this time), start with places and events where there are only a few people or that are being held outdoors. Reunite with people who are vaccinated. If you must be in mixed company (meaning vaccinated and unvaccinated people), continue to keep your distance and follow best practices such as washing your hands for 20 seconds and cleaning and disinfecting high-touch areas. Err on the side of caution. You have nothing to prove and shouldn’t be hesitant to protect your health.
Don’t take the bait. To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? Avoid engaging in conversations that will probably lead to undue stress. Be mindful that whether or not you agree, we all have the right to make our own choices. However, if you read the room and have information that might inspire someone to roll up their sleeve to vaccinate, by all means, share without badgering.
Facts not fiction. Cozying up with good fiction can be relaxing, but when it comes to COVID, unverified stories can leave you on pins and needles. Vet what you hear or read with a reliable source before becoming alarmed. There is so much information coming at us about COVID and the vaccine, and information can change with new expert findings. Speak with your health provider for the best guidance. And remember to use that breathing exercise when you find yourself overwhelmed.
Be flexible. Recommendations from wellness professionals are made for the greater good. Sure, they may infringe a tad on your boundaries, but they are not all permanent. They are not targeted at you. Don’t take it personally if it isn’t personal. There is a new normal in the world and some things won’t be going back to the way they used to be. You will need time to adjust. Give yourself some grace.
Therapy and medication. Sometimes the best laid plans do not work and anxiety sets in. There is no shame in talking with your doctor about getting extra help, especially if COVID has triggered other mental health conditions. Therapy and medication may be appropriate. It does not commit you to a lifetime of treatment. Instead, conversations with the right therapist could be just what the doctor ordered to ensure your anxiety is kept in check.
It has been almost two years since the COVID-19 pandemic changed our world. From the shut down to the partial reopening, it has been a nail-biter. We still aren’t in the clear to go back to life as we knew it and likely never will be. To cope with that, use these hacks to give yourself breathing space to help you keep your cool – and stay safe.
Dr. Bernadette Anderson is a family physician with 20+ years of experience in health and wellness, the founder of Life in Harmony LLC, and author of her upcoming book, “Fulfilled. 52 Prescriptions for Healing, Health, and Happiness.” Her home base is in Columbus, Ohio, but Dr. Bernadette can also be found online at LinkedIn and Instagram.