We’re all feeling a bit stressed right now. Most of us are working or studying from home and life feels like it’s turned upside down.
Going shopping for food, carrying hand sanitizer, and maintaining a safe distance from others is the new normal – but of course it really doesn’t really feel “normal’ for anyone.
Even washing your hands 10 times a day or meticulously disinfecting your phone or the doornobs in your house everyday feels pretty strange. And the news on TV or in your social media news feeds is fully of worrying statistics.
So, while you’re doing your best to follow all the rules to stay safe, you might be experiencing some coronavirus anxiety and it’s totally natural to feel that way.
And that’s exactly why it’s so important to have some solid self-care tools at hand along with science backed tips to eliminate the anxiety.
Here’s a list of some really easy things to so that will help you feel more relaxed right away.
9 Best Science-Backed Tips to Eliminate Coronavirus Anxiety
1. Conscious Breathing
If you’re feeling anxious, sometimes it can feel pretty physical. The rapid heartbeats and sweaty palms let you know that your sympathetic nervous system is hard at work.
Your sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight or flight” feelings we are hardwired with. These are the feelings causes us to be ever vigilant, looking out for tigers chasing us.
But, the good news is, that by just controlling your breathing, you can instantly change how you feel to a more positive state. And the reason is that two cool scientific things are happening at once to make you feel totally relaxed.
First, doing conscious breathing kicks your parasympathetic nervous system into gear. This is the system that helps you feel calmer.
What you’re actually doing is stimulating your vagus nerve, (the longest one in your body running from your brain to your abdomen), and it contains parasympathetic nervous system fibers.
Second, when you’re doing conscious breathing, you’re slowing your brainwaves into the alpha and theta range, and that makes you feel better too!
So Here’s How to Breathe Consciously and Feel Relaxed Immediately
It is called the 4-7-8 technique.
You inhale through your nose slowly for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7, and then exhale slowly through your nose for 8 seconds.
That’s it, and the more often you do this whenever you feel even just a tinge of anxiety, the better you’ll feel.
You can also breathe in and out slowly through your left and right nostrils. Breath in for a count of 4, hold for 4, then breath out for a count of 4. Breathing through alternate nostrils relaxes your whole nervous system and enhances both sides of your brain.
Deep conscious breathing also helps reduce the activity of your brain’s amygdala, which I’ll talk about just below.
2. Temporal Distancing
I know, it’s a weird sounding name, but wait till you see the immediate benefits!
Temporal distancing is kind of like looking in the rear view mirror and making your anxious feelings get smaller and further away from you.
So, here’s what’s happening. Instead of focusing on your anxiety, you’ll create an image of a more positive future.
Scientifically, temporal distancing boosts the feel-good chemical in your brain called seratonin.
Here’s how to visualize a positive future.
Get a very strong and positive mental image in your mind of how the future will look when the corona virus is a thing of the past.
Imagine things like the reunion party you’ll have with your friends and loved ones, places you want to travel, books you want to read, a work project you want to roll out that holds excitement for you or any other thing you know you’ll love when the crisis is over.
Make a mental movie of your future – just like you’re a movie director and you’re watching your own movie on the big screen.
Add color, lots of movement and attach as much positive emotion to your image as possible.
Move your eyes to an upward position, focus them above your head literally, and visualize how wonderful your future will be once things return to normal.
Visualizing a positive future establishes long-term temporal distance and boosts your mood, thanks to the uptick in serotonin in your brain from the positive images.
And another quick way you can minimize your stress right now is to give yourself some positive goals with self-imposed deadlines.
This allows you to focus on them and get some more temporal distance from what is happening right now.
Again, you’ll be focusing on the future and how good you’ll feel when you accomplish your goals with the deadlines you attached.
Having specific goals to meet redirects your brain’s focus from the anxiety of not knowing what the future holds to something more productive. It could be as easy as learning one new thing that you’ve been wanting to do for a long time.
Because you’re focusing on a concrete “big picture” and all the positive gains it has to offer, you can quickly eliminate coronavirus anxiety.
3. Deep Sleep
In this section, you’ll get some very specific tips on what to do in order to sleep better which helps reduce your stress while improving your health and brain function also.
When you get deep restorative sleep, your body responds with all kinds of benefits.
During deep sleep, your brain consolidates your memory, you relax completely and feel good the next day.
When you are anxious and not sleeping well, due to the uncertainty of the times, the poor sleep quality or lack of sleep interferes with the functioning of the brain, including your amygdala.
The amygdala is an almond-shaped nucleus in your brain that is effectively your brain’s emotional epicenter.
It plays a huge role in consolidation of long term memories, as well as managing fear and anxiety.
If your amygdala is overly active, it means you’re likely experiencing greater negative emotions.
So, as discovered in the previous section, deep breathing is one way to calm yourself and it helps your amygdala inhibit anxiety and stress as well.
How to Get More Restful, Restorative Sleep
At least an hour before bed, turn off your devices so the blue light does not disrupt your circadian rhythms (i.e. your wake and sleep cycles).
Stop reading or watching the news at night right before bedtime because that consolidates in your memory and creates more stress in your brain and body.
And finally, make sure your room is completely dark, with no light coming in.
Again, make sure you leave your devices off because they also emit EMF (frequencies) which have been shown to be disruptive to the human body.
Your body needs to disengage from as much emf as possible during sleep.
Here’s the best scientific tip I’ve found to help you sleep better.
Since I started using it, it’s worked wonders. It is based on slowing your brain waves into that theta state by using your brain’s ability to follow patterns and sequences.
This comes from a musician, Jim Donovan, the former drummer of Rusted Root who used it after a near heart attack to regain his ability to sleep well.
And it’s all aligned completely with brain science.
Sit on the side of your bed.
With your hands, begin a 1, 2, 3, 4 alternate tapping sequence on the left and right upper part of your legs. Count 1, 2, 3, 4 like a ticking clock and keep doing this for about 3-4 minutes. (It’s called brain entrainment).
Breathe deeply and slowly as you do this. You’re slowing down your brain waves to help you fall asleep.
Then, slow the rhythm down significantly but still keep the 1, 2, 3, 4 pattern. Remember your brain is following this sequence.
Soon, you’ll feel drowsy, and can fall asleep, getting that restorative sleep you need to relax.
4. Stay Fit
If you’re staying at home, you may not be as active as you’d normally be. Clearly you’re not stopping by the gym a couple of times a week so you need to spend extra time keeping fit.
Not only is it essential for your overall health, but exercise will help you eliminate coronavirus anxiety as well!
Exercising releases endorphins and stimulates the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
These give you a mood boost and get your brain working in a more productive, focused way.
Scientists find exercise helps reduce the size of your amygdala – which in turn, helps control feelings of stress, anxiety, and worry!
Exercise also helps you sleep better at night because you work off your excess energy.
So if you can, get in a run, or even do whatever possible inside your home if you need to in order to get some type of exercise. Yoga and pilates can easily be done at home too and you can find youtube videos for free on both of these.
And, there’s lots of streaming free exercise classes the YMCA is providing and even some of the private gyms are streaming them too!
5. Listen to Music
Music has been long proven to have remarkable brain and body benefits. Just thinking about your favorite song, or even your wedding song, can improve your mood quickly!
So, why not listen to music every day, or add it to your workout routine?
Also, you can head over to Youtube and and combine music and humor with things like Carpool Karaoke or Karaoke Cab. Here’s one with Gwen Stefani, George Clooney and Julia Roberts. Listen all the way through to where they sing “we are the champions” at the end.
Music is scientifically proven to give you a dopamine boost! Same is true with humor! So be sure to consciously include music and humor in your life every day during this unusual time.
Studies show that within just a few minutes of listening to your favorite music, you experience a spike in dopamine levels.
Your brain’s sensory pathways become active, countering your pain pathways.
As a result, your focus shifts to the enjoyment you get from listening to music and you feel better.
You can also listen to other types of music that are slower, where the beat syncs to about 60 beats a second. That helps your brain produce more alpha waves which help you feel more relaxed and clear-headed.
In fact, one study found that a music track, Weightless, (a collaboration between the British Academy of Sound Therapy and the band Marconi Union), can reduce anxiety by 65%.
It begins with the 60 beats per minute frequency, and then slows down to 50, helping you relax and unwind.
So take advantage of all the benefits music has to offer and you’ll feel better in no time!
6. Avoid the Sugar Rush
OK – I know it’s intuitive, but this one had to be part of the mix.
Right now, it might be pure instinct at this point to reach for that tub of ice cream or a slice cake to help yourself feel better.
But sadly, the short-term sugar rush you experience is only a temporary dopamine hit.
In fact, if you recall feeling awful and lethargic after that sugar-high passes by, it’s because, in the long-run, too much sugar actually creates a dopamine deficit.
So the bottom line is that too much sugar can can spike your feelings of anxiety, distress, and sadness.
Alternative – try grabbing some fresh fruit instead.
For instance, if you grab an orange, the citrus scent all by itself helps reduce anxiety, and berries helps your body fight off free radicals. Both will stimulate those feel good chemicals in your brain – dopamine and serotonin.
Another food hack…you know how you feel at Thanksgiving after a big turkey meal? That’s because the tryptophan in the turkey, makes you feel relaxed and sleepy.
I just cooked a whole turkey the other day because there are so many different meals you can make with it, and ways to use the leftovers.
Bottom line – try and get more protein during this time, add the fresh fruits and limit the sugar.
7. Reduce Caffeine Intake
If you’re used to regular cups of coffee, it can be a bit tricky to reduce your caffeine, but on the flip side, consuming too much coffee can also contribute to anxiety.
A much better, healthier alternative is to try organic, ceremonial grade matcha tea.
It also contains caffeine, but has an amino acid called l-theanine, which relaxes you and stimulates dopamine and serotonin without giving you the post-coffee jitters.
8. Minimize Alcohol Consumption
It might be tempting to reach for a glass of wine to help you relax and eliminate coronavirus anxiety – but this might actually make it worse.
While it’s true that alcohol is a sedative and can help you feel more relaxed, this is very short-term relief.
Once the effect wears off, you’re likely to feel more anxious and the effects are definitely disruptive to your sleep.
This is because alcohol impacts the production of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and can aggravate feelings of anxiety.
So, instead of risking excessive drinking, which can translate into long-term damage to your cognitive functioning, memory, and general health, opt for some of the other ways to relax on this list and go light on the alcohol.
There are countless scientific studies about all the ways meditation is beneficial for you, and of course, one of them is anxiety reduction.
By meditating, you center yourself in the present, focusing inward and removing yourself from external troubles and worries.
As a result, your brain diverts attention away from the things making you feel tense and stressed out.
Conscious and deep breathing is usually a central part of meditation and you already know that stimulates your vagus nerve to calm you immediately.
As you meditate, you stimulate your vagus nerve, and break the anxiety cycle.
If you’re not used to meditation, now may be the best time to try it out. Check out YouTube for lots of videos on how to meditate.
Also, here’s another quick tip to relax by stimulating your vagus nerve.
Put your hands on the sides of your neck, breathe in deeply and exhale making a humming sound.
This stimulates your vagus nerve along with the parasympathetic nervous system, making you feel immediately relaxed!
By keeping relaxed and positive using any or all of these tips, you can anticipate a better future while making the most of your present!
Pat Wyman is the CEO of HowtoLearn.com, best-selling author of over 15 books, and America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert. She personally helps learners succeed with her Learning 2.0 and Career 2.0 Brain Advantage Programs. The power combination of learning and career assessments along with her How to Learn Anything 100% Faster Program empowers learners with the most competitive learning advantages in every situation.
If you would like to apply to have Pat show you the benefits of life-long learning strategies for school or in your career, contact her at fasterlearning (at) gmail.com