Feeling stressed about the current Coronavirus pandemic? You’re not alone. A third of Americans are showing signs of clinical depression or anxiety, according to Census Bureau data from May 2020.
Many of us are facing a whole new level of stress as we deal with health worries (is my sore throat reason enough to get a test or is it allergies?), rising unemployment numbers, lack of contact with extended friends and family, cancelled travel plans, disproportionate impact of the virus on communities of color, anxiety about kids going back to school, and much more.
Stress can show up in many ways in both the mind and the body. Yes, there’s depression and anxiety, but there are smaller signs too such as headaches, trouble staying focused, physical aches and pains, and insomnia.
Psychiatrist and neuroscientist Judson Brewer of Brown University’s Mindfulness Center says that when you feel anxious, one of the best things you can do is slow down and focus on your breath. Here’s a simple and effective breathing exercise he recommends to engage multiple senses and cut through anxiety.
To start, place your index finger of one hand onto the outside base of the pinky finger on your other hand.
As you breathe in, trace up the outside of your pinky finger.
As you breathe out, trace down the inside of your pinky finger.
As you breathe in, trace up the outside of your ring finger.
As you breathe out, trace down the inside of your ring finger.
As you breathe in, trace up the outside of your middle finger.
As you breathe out, trace down the outside of your middle finger.
Continue as you trace your entire hand, and then you can reverse the process going from your thumb back to your pinky.
The Science Behind It
Five-finger breathing activates several of your senses at the same time, says Brewer. You are watching and feeling your fingers while you are paying attention to your breath. This focused attention helps crowd out anxious thoughts.
In fact, the exercise influences the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, Brewer says, which is responsible for short-term memory. When you are feeling anxious, you might have a harder time remembering something someone just asked you because worry is literally taking up space in your brain. Mindfulness practices, like this one, can help release that worry and get your brain back to optimal functioning.
You can use the five-finger breathing practice throughout the day to release stressful thoughts and find more balance. It’s great to do on your own, but it works for all ages, so you can share it with your family, too.
© 2020 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies