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2 Exercises to Cope with Challenges in Our Lives

By Harriet Cabelly April 11, 2020 Mindset

Living in New York and watching all these pop-up hospitals open up, I feel the vibes of wartime. And it’s terrifying, feeling like a target and wondering who will be hit next.

I would like to offer two exercises I find to be great self-care tools. Right now, we need all the help we can give ourselves for our daily lives at home during this extreme time of difficulties.

Belly or Diaphragm Breathing

Humans have what’s called the parasympathetic nervous system which is in charge of keeping us calm. It helps slow our heart rate and helps with digestion by relaxing the sphincter muscles in our gastro (digestive) tract.

This is in contrast to our sympathetic nervous system, which is our fight-or-flight response. We need this to enable us to respond quickly when there’s danger.

In times of stress, danger, fear, and all of our arousal emotions, our sympathetic nervous system is on high alert. Therefore, to help us get to a place or state of greater calm, our parasympathetic system needs to be stimulated to bring us down from our heightened level of arousal.

One of the best ways to accomplish this is by slowing down our breathing. Taking slow deep breaths helps activate the parasympathetic system to begin to relax and restore our body to some calmness.

Breathing Exercise

Place your hand on your stomach as you do this breathing practice so you can feel it rise and fall.

Now, as you inhale through your nose, push/puff out your stomach like you’re blowing up a balloon. As you exhale through your mouth, pull in your belly and slowly breathe out.

Make your exhale longer than your inhale. Do 3–5 of these slow breaths at a time and repeat later in the day or as needed. This exercise provides a quick feeling of restored bodily calm as there is an immediate physiological response.

Right now, during this pandemic, we are all on high alert, and our sympathetic nervous system is running high, keeping in constant arousal mode.

We need to practice calming techniques to stimulate the opposing system (parasympathetic) and provide some restorative relaxation. And, this also helps keep our immune system strong.

The Three Blessings

There is much research documenting the psychological and physical health benefits to practicing gratitude in our lives. It boosts our positive emotions, reduces depressive symptoms, enhances our relationships, and many more. It is a major contributor to our overall wellbeing and makes for a great coping tool.

Gratitude Exercise

Every night before bed, write down three things you’re grateful for. I also refer to this as WWW (and it’s not a website!)…

What’s Working Well

Even in the midst of great challenge, we can find many things to be grateful for. It can be as simple as a good conversation with a friend, a healthy home-cooked meal, time to read… This helps shift our focus and realize that along with the bad there is good.

As my positive psychology teacher says, “When you appreciate the good, the good appreciates.”

Start doing these two easy exercises every day, and you will see a shift. Small things can make a BIG difference. We need all the help we can give to ourselves right now to keep going as well as possible.

What’s Working Well for you now? What tools/strategies are helping you manage this difficult time? Let’s have a conversation!

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The Author

Harriet Cabelly is a clinical social worker and positive psychology coach. She is passionate about helping people cope and grow through their critical life-changing circumstances, guiding them towards rebuilding their lives with renewed meaning and purpose. Visit her website, and sign up to get free chapters from her book, Living Well Despite Adversity.

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