Most people are a little more stressed and tense now, during the COVID crisis, than usual. Some people are a lot more distressed. Everywhere you look there are articles about how to calm yourself, how to soothe yourself and your children, and how to cope and take good care of yourself.
It is a good idea to manage our stress. When we are stressed, we are not our best selves. We are less able to make good decisions. We are less flexible in our thinking. We may be short of temper or spacey and dissociated. None of these will make self-isolating, physical distancing, or working from home any better.
We can do a lot to help calm ourselves. We can breathe more deeply, do relaxation or meditation, take a warm bath, read or do crafts. All of these can be soothing to the over-stressed nervous system.
However, you can make your self-soothing activities a lot more effective by doing one simple thing first.
Think about your body’s energy system. I’m not talking about some esoteric or cosmic energy. I am talking about that energy that you use to live. You take in food and turn it into energy that keeps your tissues healthy and growing, allows you to move and think and dance and run, even to sleep and regenerate. When you are stressed your body is recruiting your energy to be prepared for the emergency. Energy is tied up in keeping your muscles tense, your gut disrupted, your thoughts racing. Your energy is being used to be prepared.
In this case, you are prepared to fight or run away from a virus.
However, that is pretty useless. No amount of fighting is going to vanquish this foe. Running away isn’t possible either. The energy of preparation is caught up in your system keeping you stressed and distressed. This is a very real manifestation of energy being blocked from moving through your body. You can turn it into obsessive thinking, excessive news consumption, overeating, body tensions and rigidity, and irritability. It can erupt in bouts of rage or crying or excessive cleaning.
Calming that distress is needed. However, you need to free up some of this energy for your self-soothing, calming activities to work effectively. You need to create an opportunity for discharge.
Please note! I am offering these simple ways to discharge energy for you to use at your discretion. Please remember that everything isn’t useful or recommended for everyone. Be self-aware and monitor yourself as you practice. You can use these with kids, too, but remember that you’ll be monitoring yourself AND them.
Effective and easy ways to discharge
Shake Your Body
Shaking your body all over is a way to discharge energy that is simple, effective, and feels good.
Start from a grounded standing position. Stand up with both feet solidly on the ground. Feel your feet on the ground, and make sure you are standing solidly on both feet. Soften your knees, so that you can feel your whole leg from the sole of your foot up to your torso. You might need to bend and straighten your knees a few times before this is clear in your mind.
Think about your feet being deeply rooted in the earth. Just for a moment, imagine that your feet have grown a long, strong taproot connecting them way into the earth like an oak tree. Imagine that you are rooted so deeply that you may bend and sway in the wind, but you will never fall over.
From this deeply grounded place, start to shake your body. You can shake starting from your arms and shoulders, shaking your head, bouncing a little in your knees. Monitor yourself; you can do a little or a lot, and what works best for you will depend on you. Shake, shake, shake, and then shake some more. Notice any parts of you that want to shake and then shake them. Shake like you are in a big wind and then let the wind settle down into a small breeze, and finally, let your shaking come to stillness.
Check in with your body and mind. What did this discharge exercise do for you? Go to How the End Any Discharge Exercise, below. After this, move into your self-soothing and comforting activities.
Twist and Growl
Start from a grounded standing position. Stand up with both feet solidly on the ground. Feel your feet on the ground, and make sure you are standing solidly on both feet. Soften your knees, so that you can feel your whole leg from the sole of your foot up to your torso. You might need to bend and straighten your knees a few times before this is clear in your mind. (You might notice repetition here…that’s for a good reason. Being grounded helps us to discharge. Every discharge activity begins from being grounded.)
Holding a hand towel or dishtowel out in front of you, begin to twist it. Let your hands really work that towel. Hold it up at eye height, look right at it (or beyond it), and twist. Narrow your gaze and stick out your jaw. Maybe make a growling noise. Grrrr! Damn towel! Damn coronavirus! Damn working from home! Allow yourself to think and say whatever angry thoughts might come to mind. Damn stress!
What else could you do with that hand towel? Shift your feet so that one is ahead of the other, shift your grip on the towel so you are holding one end, and use the towel to hit a bed or couch. Really get into the swing of it, using your whole arm, and keeping your eyes and jaw focused outward. Try it with the other arm. What is that like for you?
Then drop the towel and shake out your arms, your jaw, your neck. Let everything shake.
See if your body wants to do another round. If you are finished, head to How to End Any Discharge Exercise.
Stompa Your Feet
Start from a grounded standing position. Feel your feet on the ground, and make sure you are standing solidly on both feet. Soften your knees, so that you can feel your whole leg from the sole of your foot up to your torso. You might need to bend and straighten your knees a few times before this is clear in your mind.
Now stamp one foot. Just smack it into the ground. Notice what that feels like.
Stamp the other foot and take a moment to notice what THAT feels like. Similar? Different?
Now try stamping your feet one after the other. Really PUSH those feet into the ground, feeling your legs all the way up.
Check in and see what your hands want to do. They might want to form into fists, or even if they don’t, you can try that. Stamp your feet and shake your fists.
Now take a moment to rest, breathe in and out, and notice what you are noticing in your body and in your mind.
This might be enough discharge for you. You can check in on yourself and notice. Does my body want a little more of this? If so, continue. You can always stop whenever you want to.
To continue with discharge, re-engage the stamping and fists. This time stick out your jaw and narrow your eyes. You can say or think something like, “I don’t like this!” *
Depending on your level of privacy and how this exercise is sitting in you, you can go to town. You can stamp and shake and shout as much as you like. You can also do it just a little to try it out. Either way is effective and you are in charge.
How To End Any Discharge Exercise; forward bend
This exercise allows your body to integrate and assimilate what has been happening, and gives your mind a chance to catch up. See if you are able to stay attuned to body sensations before letting thinking overwhelm your body experience.
You will stop, rest, breathe and take in your experience by doing the forward bend. Keeping your feet planted, allow your body to hang over, letting your head hang loose, arms not quite touching the ground, and breathe into your belly there. Stay in this position as long as it feels right. When you decide it is time to come up, push your feet into the floor and allow your spine to straighten very slowly with your head coming up last. This way you minimize the likelihood of getting dizzy.
Once you come back up to a standing position, take a few moments to notice how your body and mind are doing. You may be more agitated, or angry, or you may have uncovered some sadness, or you might notice a different lightness in your shoulders and arms. Whatever you notice is your body’s response to the exercise.
Now is a good time to engage your self-soothing activities. Try lying down on the floor and letting your body rest deeply. You can use your hands to gently stroke your face, shoulders and arms, saying soothing things, or you can just let yourself be. Notice how your body naturally lets down after discharge. You may feel the impulse to turn on your side and curl up; follow that impulse, watching your body’s response. This time is about settling in and settling down.
* An important postscript about vocalizing and verbalizing while doing discharge work
It is okay to make sounds or shout out words: this is a way of discharging energy. Stomp your feet, shake your fists, stick out your jaw and narrow your eyes and say the words you want to say about this situation.
People often struggle to say out loud some of the things that they are saying in their minds. They judge themselves for the words that they say. Vocalizing is a helpful way to discharge. Use your discretion if there are other people in your house.
What should you say? Well, only you know what is in your mind, but if you want to discharge, here are some tips.
Short, declarative statements work better than long explanations. (“Stop it!”) (“Get out!”)
Stretching out the sound helps you to breathe more deeply. (“Stooooooop!”)
A long, drawn-out, loud “Nooooooooo!” will make you breathe more deeply.