Tips to help reduce anxiety to ease overwhelming thoughts or feelings

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased stress for many people in various ways, and an expert with tips for coping believes it’s important to have someone to reach out to for support when feeling triggered or overwhelmed.

“It is absolutely important for us to have identified people in our lives that can serve as a human lifeline,” said Diana Hendel, an executive coach and leadership consultant.

Hendel is a former hospital CEO and co-author of “Why Cope When You Can Heal?: How Healthcare Heroes of COVID-19 Can Recover from PTSD Trauma to Triumph.”

Hendel said a person’s lifeline doesn’t have to be present; you can have the conversation with the person in your mind, as if they were there. Imagine they’re completely listening and lovingly holding and encouraging you; feel their love and belief in you, she said.

“As corny as that might sound — that kind of mental pep talk with a person who — unfortunately isn’t available or in the moment, but you can make available — can really be incredibly valuable and important in those moments of extreme stress,” Hendel said.

When feelings of anxiety begin to accelerate, Hendel recommends what’s called “box breathing.”

“What’s incredibly important and based on a lot of research is that one of the most important things we can do when we’re deeply stressed is elicit the power of deep breathing,” she said.

Box breathing can help your body begin to ease your mind.

“Stress and anxiety and traumatic stress in particular very much resides in our bodies, and it is a biological reaction,” Hendel said.

How to do box breathing:

  • First, exhale through your mouth for four slow counts.
  • Consciously focus on clearing all the oxygen from your lungs.
  • Inhale through your nose for four slow counts.
  • Hold that breath for four slow counts.
  • Exhale through your mouth for four counts, then hold the breath for four slow beats.

“Repeating this box count of breaths in, holding, exhaling, pausing — that can really begin to turn the tide of the body’s experience of anxiety and fear and upset,” Hendel said.

Once someone who’s feeling anxious has reestablished calm breathing, the next step would be to take a few minutes to get “grounded” to help ease anxious thoughts or feelings.

Listen to more of Hendel’s tips below.

Hendel on the 'powerful' combination of getting grounded after box breathing

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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