We are almost six months into varying stages of community quarantine, and every one of us has felt its effects, even without contracting the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
While there are some who have started and sustained good habits during the lockdown, such as creating a routine, eating healthy food, getting sufficient sleep and exercising regularly, the majority of us, to cope with stress, have resorted to unhealthy snacks, erratic sleep schedules and an even more sedentary lifestyle than we previously had.
This is understandable given the uncertainty we all face and the limitations on our normal outlets for relief.
Simple joys such as meeting with friends, eating in restaurants and even working out at the gym are either restricted or forbidden.
During the stricter quarantine, many of us also lost our personal space, finding ourselves cooped up in our rooms and homes. I myself did not realize how it affected me until I was able to finally step out of my condo and work from my home in a nearby province for a breath of fresh air.
The simple act of breathing has taken on more meaning during this crisis. COVID-19 affects the respiratory system, and we are told to watch for symptoms of coughing, breathlessness and even losing our sense of smell.
We hold our breath waiting for our loved one’s test result to come back, and we breathe a sigh of relief when it turns out negative. And hopefully, we are surrounded by acts of kindness that take our breath away even during the worst of times, reminding us that there is hope despite the bleak situation.
To breathe is the best thing we can do to cope and manage our stress—to take a breather, a break. We need to take time to catch our breath physically, mentally and emotionally to recharge and see the crisis through and beyond.
Physical. If there is any awareness that the pandemic has brought, it is the importance of physical health and a strong immune system. Hand-in-hand with nutritious food and enough rest is exercise. Any sustained movement done regularly—from going up and down the stairs, walking the dog, to doing household chores, and of course, exercising—strengthens not only the muscles, but also the heart and lungs. A mere 30 minutes a day, five days a week of moderate activity is enough to achieve health benefits.
Specifically for strengthening the respiratory system, breathing exercises engage and strengthen the diaphragm, allowing the lungs to increase oxygen levels in the body and increase its capacity for exercise and more strenuous activity. Two of my favorites are pursed-lip breathing and diaphragmatic or belly breathing:
• Pursed-lip breathing: Simply take a deep breath through your nose and then breathe out slowly through pursed lips for twice as long as it took to breathe in. Repeat.
• Diaphragmatic breathing: Relax your neck and shoulders, take a breath through your nose, and watch your belly rise as you inhale. Breathe out through your mouth at least twice or thrice as long as your inhale, and watch your belly fall as you exhale.
Aside from breathing exercises, interval training is also a good way to train the respiratory system by alternating between short periods of intense activity and rest or relief. It’s a great cardio workout that improves aerobic capacity and increases our capacity to exercise for longer or at more intense levels.
Mental. For those of us fortunate enough to be working during these times, it can be a very stressful period. Many of us are still working from home, balancing the needs of our home and work lives within the same space.
Work demands have also likely increased, depending on the industry you’re in. Many of us are working hard, perhaps even harder than before the pandemic, because we are in a business-unusual phase. This means more mental effort to manage and help our coworkers, staff, clients and partners with the support and resources they need.
What works for me is taking a midday break instead of waiting until the end of the workday, which may last into the evening. I have lunch with family, and then take some time to take stock of the first half of the day, while preparing for the rest.
Although I don’t do this as often as I should, what’s recommended is a small break each hour to step away from the work area. Even simply resting the eyes for a few minutes while taking deep breaths has been shown to boost productivity and keep you more focused.
Emotional. The toll the pandemic has taken on all of us is no joke, but there is one medicine that will help anyone get through anything—laughter. Not only is it a stress reliever, but laughter has actual physical effects in the short term. A good laugh immediately increases oxygen intake, raises endorphin levels, stimulates circulation and aids in relaxing muscles.
Laughter also has positive long-term effects. It improves the immune system, relieves pain and improves mood by releasing neuropeptides and hormones that help fight stress and potentially even serious illnesses. For me, no matter how stressful a situation, there is always a way to find the funny. This could be with the benefit of hindsight, or even simply sharing the story with a humorous twist. It’s not a truly complete workday without some laughter even in the middle of a crisis.
As we collectively take a deep breath, it helps to take stock of how far we have come and how much we have accomplished together to get through the pandemic. We have a long way to go, but we are optimistic that we are stronger together when we move together toward a common goal—to survive and prevail with our physical, mental and emotional health intact. —CONTRIBUTED INQ