We’ve reached yet another division in our country. Depending on who you talk with, the pandemic is either over or it most certainly is not. Some say we need to remain vigilant, while others are booking their tickets to the now-fully-open Las Vegas. Who’s right? Well, we all are, because it’s a matter of how your brain perceives the risk.
There’s a great article from Psychology Today called, “COVID Hysteresis: It Takes a While to Feel Safe Again” by Dr, Steven Reidbord. In it he describes beautifully a state that we are all experiencing, it's called hysteresis. Different than hysteria, which is the exaggerated or uncontrollable emotion of a group of people, hysteresis refers to the lag time needed to adjust to a new change of input. Psychological hysteresis explains why so many of us are reluctant to change our behaviors around previous COVID protocols. We don’t want to give up our masks, we still aren’t going inside restaurants, and we continue to keep our distance from others. All of this is still happening despite the science saying it’s no longer necessary, and the CDC guidelines have completely opened up for vaccinated folks.
It makes sense that we are having trouble on this side of the pandemic, because our brains are wired to keep us out of danger. At the beginning of the pandemic, we had a much easier time changing behaviors quickly because we were facing danger. Fight or flight is real, and we always respond to our environment in order to preserve ourselves. But, when the threat is over, we may be much slower in adapting. There’s a serious psychological lag time in believing we are safe again, especially after a year of trauma and generally not feeling safe.
Luckily, we yoga practitioners have some tools in our yoga tool kit that can help us emerge out of fight or flight and return to a state of relaxation and feeling safer. We move, we feel, we notice. We allow the thoughts to come and go, recognize the feeling of discomfort in our bodies and start to recognize our state of mind. After all, the mind creates the hysteresis (not that it’s not real, it is, but it is a reality created in the mind), so the mind can create our peace.
In order to help your mind create peace, I recommend the following practices that are meant to calm down your nervous system.
1- Practice gentle and/or restorative yoga asana (poses). Put your legs up the wall (shown in picture above), or just lie on the ground and breathe. There are also many videos online about restorative practices. If you only can commit to 5 minutes a day, great! Start there and do it every day for at least 3 weeks. Consistency is key.
2- Do some pranayama (breathing techniques). Box breathing is a simple and effective way to calm the nervous system. Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Inhale as you mentally count to 3, hold the breath in to the count of 3, exhale to the count of 3, hold the breath out to the count of 3. You don’t have to use the count of 3. The number to which you mentally count should simply be easy and comfortable on all four parts of the breath, and their should be no sense of strain. Just use the 1:1:1:1 ratio to complete your box breath. Practice 6-10 rounds, or more if time allows.
3- Use a mantra (word or sound repetition). Mantra can be repeated silently, as a whisper, or out loud, depending on your comfort and the situation. I use mine when I notice my mind starts spinning through unhelpful thoughts. A simple mantra is to repeat the sound “Om”. Om is said to be the first sound created with the universe, so it can help you to reconnect with the things around you. Another simple mantra is the natural mantra of the breath, “Soham.” When we connect the mantra with the breath, “So” mentally vibrates as you inhale, “Ham” mentally vibrates as you exhale. You can use English words, too, like inhale “love,” exhale “peace”.
The most important things about our emergence from pandemic-life is remembering to be kind and gentle with yourself, and compassionate with those around you (even strangers). We are all making it through this hysteresis at different rates, but we will all go through. Life is waiting, and it may even be better than before.