Updated: Aug 11, 2020
First, rest assured you are not alone. It is natural to feel stress, anxiety and worry as we face this time of uncertainty. If you are someone with cancer or other chronic illness, COVID-19 is likely only amplifying already existing feelings of worry and ambiguity. Anxiety typically occurs when we believe we are unable to predict what will happen or control stress. Remember you are not alone. Smile when you pass someone. Make small talk in the elevator. You will be amazed what these small acts can do to lift your spirits (and those around you).
Set time aside to breathe. It may seem silly, but when we face anxiety, our body activates our sympathetic nervous system, which prepares us to fight, flee or freeze. This can be helpful in the short term when there is a clear and present danger, such as being diagnosed with cancer or facing a novel pandemic. A healthy “burst” of the sympathetic nervous system may help you prepare for something like surgery and/or improve health behaviors like hand washing and social distancing. However, feeling constantly overwhelmed can lead to negative physical consequences like hypertension and increased pain and mental consequences such as anxiety and depression.
Setting aside time to practice deep breathing—slow breaths in through the nose counting to four and exhaling for 4 counts—can be the easiest way to reduce what we call a “sympathetic burst” and physically activate a self-soothing response by inducing the parasympathetic nervous symptom. Think of it as a way to recharge your batteries so you can have more “emotional bandwidth” to manage the inevitable stress ahead. It also allows you time to be in the present moment, taking a break from what might happen in the future or thinking too much about the past. We suggest doing this for 10 minutes at least three times throughout the day. Visit our Facebook and Instagram pages for more ideas on ways to de-stress.