How to cope with stress and anxiety in times of war

The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas has taken a toll on the mental health of millions of people. Many are feeling anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed by the constant threat of violence and uncertainty. How can we find some peace and calm in this chaotic situation? Experts share some tips and techniques to help us breathe in and breathe out.

The importance of breathing for relaxation

One of the simplest and most effective ways to relax our body and mind is to focus on our breathing. Breathing for relaxation is an ancient practice that has been used in yoga, meditation, and mindfulness traditions for centuries. It has also been proven by modern science to have positive effects on our psychological and physiological well-being.

How to cope with stress and anxiety in times of war
How to cope with stress and anxiety in times of war

Breathing for relaxation can help us manage anxiety and depression, according to a study by the Emory University School of Medicine. It can also reduce our resting heart rate and lower our blood pressure, according to a review of existing studies published in the American Journal of Cardiology.

But how does breathing affect our mood and health? The answer lies in the connection between our breath and our nervous system.

The breath and the nervous system

Our nervous system consists of three branches: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), and the enteric nervous system (ENS). The SNS is responsible for activating the fight or flight response, which prepares us to deal with perceived threats. The PNS is responsible for activating the rest and digest response, which restores us to a state of balance and calm. The ENS is responsible for regulating our digestive functions.

When we are stressed, our SNS kicks in and increases our breathing rate to allow more oxygen to enter our body. Our heart also beats faster and stronger to pump more blood to our muscles. This helps us defend ourselves or escape from danger.

However, when we are constantly exposed to stressors, such as war, our SNS can become overactive and cause us to feel anxious, tense, and restless. This can also lead to various health problems, such as high blood pressure, insomnia, and inflammation.

To counteract this, we need to activate our PNS, which slows down our breathing rate and calms our heart. This helps us relax, recover, and heal.

How to practice breathing for relaxation

There are many different types of breathing exercises that can help us relax, but they all share some common elements:

  • They involve slowdeep, and rhythmic breathing.
  • They focus on inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
  • They encourage us to pay attention to our breath and let go of distracting thoughts.

Here are some examples of breathing exercises that you can try at home or anywhere:

Diaphragmatic breathing

This is also known as belly breathing or abdominal breathing. It involves using your diaphragm, a large muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen, to breathe deeply.

  • Lie down on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. You can also place a pillow under your head and knees for comfort.
  • Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose, feeling your stomach rise as it fills with air. Your chest should remain still.
  • Breathe out slowly through your mouth, feeling your stomach fall as it empties. Your chest should remain still.
  • Repeat this for 10 minutes or as long as you feel comfortable.

4-7-8 breathing

This is also known as the relaxing breath or the tranquilizing breath. It involves inhaling for four seconds, holding your breath for seven seconds, and exhaling for eight seconds.

  • Sit up straight with your back supported and your feet flat on the floor. You can also lie down if you prefer.
  • Place the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth and keep it there throughout the exercise.
  • Breathe out fully through your mouth, making a whooshing sound.
  • Breathe in quietly through your nose for four seconds.
  • Hold your breath for seven seconds.
  • Breathe out loudly through your mouth for eight seconds, making a whooshing sound.
  • Repeat this four times or as many times as you feel comfortable.

Alternate nostril breathing

This is also known as nadi shodhana or channel cleansing. It involves alternating between breathing through your left nostril and your right nostril.

  • Sit up straight with your back supported and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Use your right thumb to close your right nostril and breathe in through your left nostril.
  • Use your right ring finger to close your left nostril and breathe out through your right nostril.
  • Breathe in through your right nostril, then close it with your thumb and breathe out through your left nostril.
  • Repeat this for 10 minutes or as long as you feel comfortable.

Other tips to relax in wartime

Besides breathing for relaxation, there are other things that you can do to cope with stress and anxiety in times of war. Here are some suggestions:

  • Drink water: Water helps flush out toxins from your body and hydrate your cells. Aim for two to two and a half liters per day.
  • Take rest intervals: Take breaks from watching or reading the news, scrolling social media, or helping others. Give yourself time to relax, lie down, listen to music, meditate, or talk to someone close.
  • Make sure you sleep: Sleep helps your body and mind recover from stress. If you have trouble sleeping, try using natural remedies, such as chamomile tea, lavender oil, or melatonin supplements.
  • Get in motion: Physical activity helps release endorphins, which are natural painkillers and mood boosters. Go for a walk, do some yoga, dance, or exercise indoors with music.
  • Don’t forget to touch: Touch can soothe your nervous system and make you feel more connected. Touch your feet, hands, shoulders, head, neck, or chest with gentle pressure. Hug, massage, or cuddle with your family, friends, or pets.
  • Create a support system: Talking to people who understand and care about you can help you feel less alone and more hopeful. Reach out to your loved ones, join a support group, or seek professional help if you need it.

Remember that you are not alone in this difficult time. There are many people who are going through the same thing as you and many who are willing to help you. By taking care of yourself and practicing breathing for relaxation, you can find some peace and calm in the midst of war.

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