Practicing what she preaches, NC's Margot Rossi wanders in the NC woods. Margot Rossi
Practicing what she preaches, NC's Margot Rossi wanders in the NC woods.

Feeling overwhelmed with coronavirus and election stress? Yeah, we are too. Here are some tips on how to unplug and breathe.

If you’re anything like me, thoughts race through my mind like a Class V whitewater rapid

In a recent study, researchers at Queen’s University in Canada determined the average person has about 6,000 or more thoughts a day. If that’s true, the bulk of those thoughts for me these days are focused on COVID-19, politics, and the election. 

Stress can do a number on us. Well-respected entities such as Harvard University, The Mayo Clinic and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have published numerous articles on the capacity for stress to contribute to health problems ranging from high blood pressure and diabetes to depression and anxiety. 

Even after the election, politically-induced stress and the coronavirus aren’t going away anytime soon. Since the triggers aren’t going anywhere, we thought it’d be helpful to figure out what we can do about the stress. 

Margot Rossi, a Burnsville-based acupuncturist, yoga instructor and mindfulness educator offered some easy tips.

Just Breathe

Conscious breathing, according to Rossi, is one of the easiest ways to reduce the negative physiological impacts of stress. 

“We know when you take a breath and let it out slowly, as if humming or blowing bubbles, that slow release benefits the nervous system and shifts your stress response. Pushing against a wall creates a similar effect. When you feel the pressure, your body relaxes naturally.” 

A hug does the same thing, although Rossi realizes the COVID-19  pandemic has made that difficult. “Even if you can’t hug someone, you can hug yourself,” she suggests.

Margot Rossi

Pay Attention 

“Noticing” is another way to reduce stress. “If you find yourself in a tizzy, use your eyes to notice things you see and then name them,” Rossi says. “For example, I see a car and it’s silver with a North Carolina tag.” 

According to Rossi, you can achieve the same results detailing what you hear. 

“It’s important to be specific about the details you name. That shift to our senses while naming what we notice helps us regulate the left and right sides of the brain and come back to a place of greater ease.”

One common concern exacerbated by both the pandemic and the election, according to Rossi, is the fear of losing one’s safety. “If this is true for you, ask yourself what gives you that ‘safe’ sense? When we’re relaxed, we feel safe, and vice versa. Instead of getting riled up, think of what will help you relax. I highly recommend getting out in nature – walking, fishing, cycling, golfing, etc.”

Spending time with people in places where you feel safe also affords ample benefits. 

“Even if we’re among people we don’t know, in a park for example, there’s an understanding that simply being in their proximity offers great benefits to our nervous system.” 

Rossi notes that if you can’t spend time in-person with people you feel at ease with, online conferencing also does the trick. Watching videos of soft, cuddly things like kittens, puppies or happy babies can also have a soothing effect.

Since stress, according to reports published through organizations such as the NIH, can elicit an inflammatory response, Rossi recommends anti-inflammatory foods such as green leafy vegetables. As easy as it is to turn to alcohol and sugar for comfort, she says it’s important to partake in moderation. “If you’re eating chocolate, eat higher quality, darker chocolate.”

Unplugging To Relax

A social media and news diet can also contribute to more ease. “The first thing to ask is why are you tuning in to social media or the news today? What will it do for you?” Rossi said. “If the answer is connectedness, what quality of connection are you looking for?”

Some people, she offers, may be looking to get fired up, some may be looking to complain, and others may be looking for good news. “Notice what you value,” she says. “Be mindful of what you allow to draw your attention and how and if you choose to respond. Do you want to respond by getting angry and upset, or is there a way to address a post with compassion?”

Timing is everything. “If you’re going to dive into social media or the news, it’s best to do so in the morning or early afternoon, where, if you want to respond, you have the time and space to do something like writing your senator, making a donation, or reaching out to a friend in need.” You also have time to reset through exercise, a yoga class, a breathing practice. 

“Think of information like food,” Rossi adds. “You don’t want to eat a big meal before bedtime because you can’t do anything with that energy except store it.”

She suggests paying attention to your thoughts, and choosing those that serve you best as part of a balanced diet. 

“I believe if we ignore social media after dinner, we’ll sleep a lot more restfully. Noticing our thoughts, choosing which ones serve us best and leaving the rest on the pantry shelf, is also part of a balanced diet.”

This is one diet I am ready to embrace.