3 tips to reduce pandemic-induced anxiety

We’re all in this together. But it’s important for all of us ━ and especially those on the front lines of the pandemic ━ to look after our own mental and physical health. A senior medical officer at the First Nations Health Authority in Vancouver shares some ways to alleviate stress.

To help others through this time, you first have to help yourself, says psychiatrist Nel Wieman

Dr. Nel Wieman (Nadya Kwandibens/Red Works Photography)

Psychiatrist Nel Wieman is a senior medical officer at the First Nations Health Authority in Vancouver. She was the first Indigenous woman to practice psychiatry in Canada.

And Wieman has some helpful tips to mitigate the stresses brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Here are three simple ways that she shared with Tapestry's Mary Hynes, to regain a sense of calmness and control in these turbulent times. 

5-4-3-2-1 your senses

"It's an exercise that's meant to help people stay grounded when you get into that really distressed period, and your mind starts whizzing around and you start to feel panicky," Wieman said.

As she explained, you begin by identifying five things that you can see. Next, pinpoint four things you can touch, followed by three things you can hear, and two things you can smell.

"And then," Wieman said, "you [end] off by saying one good thing about yourself. So something like, 'I'm dealing with this just fine and everything's gonna be OK.' And 'I'm back in control of myself,' or something like that."

Wieman shares advice on how to alleviate stress. (Submitted by Nel Wieman)

Box breathing

"Picture a square," explained Wieman. "And so for one side of the square ... you inhale. Then you hold it for a couple of seconds. Then you exhale for a couple of seconds. And then you just hold it. So just picture going around a square. So inhale, pause, exhale, pause.

"Or just 10 really deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth."

Wieman said deep breathing is a technique she has been using for years to deal with stress ever since she began public speaking.

"I would get quite anxious and my voice would quiver. And so in order to calm myself down, I would do that deep breathing right as I was being introduced, and then that seemed to make it go better."

Count your blessings

Wieman said it can be helpful to describe your life in basic terms, to help remind yourself of the good things in it.

"You know, I'm fortunate," she demonstrated. "I have work to do. And I have a home. And I have enough food. I haven't hoarded, but I have enough. Yeah, my basic needs are being met. 

"It's not that I'm not concerned about what's happening outside. But it prevents generalizing it to everything around us," she explained.

In a time of constant change and uncertainty, it's easy to get overwhelmed, said Wieman. And that's why it's important particularly for front-line workers in the pandemic to remember to tend to their own physical and mental health.

"We're not going to be helpful to one another if we're all struggling, right? And we have to do our part to keep ourselves well. Otherwise we won't be able to function in the roles that we need to do," she said.

Wieman shared the song that's keeping her grounded through the pandemic. Hint: the tune's chorus doubles as a mantra. You can check it out at Tapestry's Soundtrack for the Soul


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