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It's been one year since our lives drastically changed. Schools shifted to virtual learning, many of us were scrambling to set up home offices, and some lost their jobs. Life looks somewhat different today. But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel; there is hope.

With so many drastic changes, 2020 also saw a rise in stress and anxiety. The American Psychological Association reports that 78% of Americans say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives. I'm part of that group.

As anxiety and stress increase, self-care is essential, whether that's through outdoor exercise, getting into nature, yoga, reading more, unplugging from technology, or breathing exercises. I enjoy going for a run. Being outdoors is my go-to. (In cases of extreme stress, anxiety, or a psychological disorder, seek the help of a professional.)

If we don't care for ourselves, we're unable to care for others.

There are many techniques and practices to help us navigate stress. Let me introduce you to a method that neuroscientists have found useful. You may already do this and not even realize it's an actual practice. It's called havening. Neuroscientist Dr. Ronald Ruden created havening techniques a decade ago. Havening uses gentle touch to the upper arms, hands and face, and constructive messaging to replace stressful responses with healthier ones.

Havening can be as simple as rubbing your hands together, on your face, or through your hair when you feel stress rising. You may do these simple acts without even realizing it. But neurologically, it helps your brain cope with stress.

You may be asking, how does this help? (I know I was). Havening helps boost oxytocin, a "love hormone" that is typically released through human touch and bonding. Contact is something that we've been lacking over the past few months. The hugs, handshakes and high-fives all help us destress. Havening can convince your brain that you are receiving some of this touch.

We are built for community, for relationships, and to do life with other people (in-person, not virtually). This has presented challenges for many as we balance our need to be with people and health concerns. Of course, I'm not suggesting that havening should replace personal contact and touch, but in a world where touch and close proximity is still being limited or feels uncomfortable to many, havening is a great way to calm yourself and the ones you love. It's also helpful for those who are not comfortable being touched by others.

This technique also can be beneficial for kids, especially as anxiety has risen due to online school and the lack of time with friends. If your child has been struggling with meltdowns, anger or anxiety due to loneliness, encourage them to pause, take a deep breath and wrap their arms around themselves in a big bear hug. It may seem weird at first, but practicing havening can help you feel more grounded and connected.

We have learned much over these past 12 months. We've learned resilience, flexibility, what's important and that we are made for relationships. We're made to be with other people, and our brains need that connection, along with physical touch.

As we push forward through this pandemic, continue to take care of yourself and your family. If you haven't already, figure out what reduces your stress and brings you joy. Use havening if you feel out of control or anxious. Put self-care at the top of your to-do list. And if you take up running, I'll see you out there.

Mitchell Qualls is the operations director for family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email him at mitchell@firstthings.org.

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Mitchell Qualls

 

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