Shortness of breath can be a sign of coronavirus, but also panic attacks. The shortness of breath associated with coronavirus can be an incredibly scary experience, and can lead you to feel panicked. The feeling of panic can trigger the fight or flight response, which in itself can induce breathlessness. It is imperative therefore to adopt grounding techniques when struggling with coronavirus in order to slow your mind, take control your breathing as best as you can, and prevent a snowball effect.
Grounding techniques aim to anchor your focus to the here and now to bring you calm, and they often involve paying attention to the five senses. They help you to switch off the “fight, flight, freeze” response, and to send signals to the body that you are safe. By bringing your attention to the present moment, grounding techniques bring yourself out of your mind and the stresses present there.
There are two distinct types of grounding techniques: physical and cognitive. Physical grounding techniques that focus on getting out of your mind and in to your body, whilst cognitive grounding techniques focus on distracting your mind. It is important to understand however that cognitive grounding techniques are not for the purpose of avoiding the issue altogether, but bringing your mind back to the present so as to come back to the issue at a later date. Different grounding techniques will be beneficial at different times therefore, and it may take some trial and error to find the techniques that work best for you. Once you find your grounding techniques though, implementing them can be invaluable. So take care and keep trying!
Physical Grounding Techniques
- Breathing Techniques
Abdominal breathing – when we are anxious we often take short, shallow breaths in from the chest, which can make any breathing already compromised by coronavirus even more difficult. Place on hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Breathe in to your stomach so that you feel your belly rise but not your chest. Take 5 deep breaths. Repeat.
4-7-8 breathing – breathe in through the nose for 4 seconds. Hold the breath for 7 seconds, then purse your lips as if to whistle, and blow out with a “whoosh” sounds for 8 seconds.
Boxed breathing – close your eyes and imagine that you are drawing a box or a house in your mind. Breathe in for 4 seconds as you draw your first line. Hold your breath for 4 seconds, before breathing out for another 4 seconds as you imagine yourself drawing the next line. This can be helpful with any image you may wish to draw in your mind.
NOTE: Breathing techniques may feel difficult at first, and may leave you feeling light headed initially. Start small and gradually build up the length of time.
- 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Where you are, try to identify 5 different objects that you can see, 4 sounds you can hear, 3 textures, 2 smells and 1 taste. You may find that there are objects that you find particularly helpful, and many people find it helpful to keep these close by in the form of a “mental health first aid kit” so to speak. It may be that there are certain smells that you find relaxing such as perfumes or essential oils. Others may find a warm drink comforting, perhaps one that reminds them of feeling safe and comforted in childhood such as hot chocolate, or warm vimto. Consider compiling together a tool box of things that you find comforting or distracting, e.g. tin foil for texture and to hear the crinkle, a comforting smell, a pack of mints or sweets to taste. Preparing these when you are relaxed may provide reassurance when you do need to use them, as you know that they are there to hand. Just the knowledge of this can help to slow the panic before you have even implemented them.
- Pay attention to your senses
If you struggle with the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 technique then pay attention yourself to your surroundings in a different way. Perhaps note all of the objects around you that begin with a certain letter, count how many different colours you can see. This forming of groups can be particularly helpful. What sounds can you hear? Are they inside the room or outside? Count how many cars you hear, or how many times you hear birds tweeting. Are you sitting, standing, laying down? What materials can you feel? Clothing? Bedding? Cushions? Are they textured? Are they patterned? Follow them, draw the patterns with your eyes. Pay attention to where you exist in that moment, and take in all of the information your senses are giving you.
Even if you are not well enough to move around to stretch, try stretching your toes or your fingers. Tense your body, and then feel the release when you stretch. Pay attention to the sensation, and picture your worries and your stresses being released with each stretch.
Cognitive Grounding Techniques
- Express yourself
Even if you are too unwell to journal/paint/whatever you would normally do to express yourself, then talk. Even to yourself! Talk out loud to yourself, talk on the phone to a friend or to a support line such as Samaritans. If you can look at your phone/a laptop, listen to music that expresses how you feel. Download apps where you can colour/draw/get creative without having to move more than your finger.
- Re-orientate yourself
Re-orientate yourself in the here and now. Ask yourself where you are, what day is it, how old are you, what season is it. Questions that remind you of the present day
- Interact with a pet
If you have a pet and are able to interact with it, then do so. Stroking your pet has been proven to have calming effects, including lowering blood pressure and regulating your breathing. Feeling their unconditional love can also help you to feel safe, loved and not alone.
We know that this is not always easy, but even listening to guided meditation on your phone can be very grounding when your mind is racing and you are struggling to take control of your thoughts. Even if it only initially grabs your attention for a few minutes here and there, it is a start, and it is respite from what you were otherwise going through.