3 Simple Ways to Calm the Body

Fear serves a useful biological function.

If we look back over the course of our lives, if we hadn’t reacted with appropriate fear to a threat we might have been hurt or injured, or worse, died.  Feelings of fear initiate our response to protect ourselves from danger: to jump out of the way of a moving car, to grab a child before they touch a hot pot on the stove. Fear is a normal and necessary survival response to danger.

We are living with fear in our battle with Covid-19.  Many of us are fearful about catching the virus and have disquieting thoughts about death. We are uncertain about our financial futures and have profound concerns about our friends and families. These are sobering concerns which deserve careful thought.

Living in a state of fear, however is debilitating psychologically and physically. So what are our options? How do we self-regulate when we are exposed to bad news daily? How do we muster our energies and not succumb to fear if we have been physically exposed to the virus in order to fight it mentally and physically?

It is difficult to orient and manage fear in the face of an unseen threat:

The fear we may feel facing Covid-19 has real causes.  Fear is manageable when we can orient to the threat, like avoiding the growling dog;  but this is a threat we cannot see, smell, hear, or touch, which has lethal potential for a few of us.

Think about scary movies- many revolve around a lurking danger, with chilling music announcing the presence of a menacing force. Hollywood knows what neurologists know, our   fear is heightened when we feel vulnerable to an invisible threat.  We don’t know how to fight or flee from an airborne virus any more than the heroine knows how to get away from the movie-ghost.

In response to these fears, it is normal to experience emotions as sadness, helplessness, intense irritability, weariness, distrust, loneliness, and fear of dying. At time these feelings may be overwhelming.

Turning off the Fear Response

Fear is experienced in the body as well as the mind. For this reason we need to find ways to calm our bodies in order to help quiet our thoughts. Stated differently, if we can calm our body we can help calm our mind. Below are three ways to calm the body.

Exercise One: Orienting the Nervous System to Safety in 3 Minutes

Sitting quietly, take a full minute for each exercise…

Listen: What do you hear? Let the sound come to you.

Activate your smell and taste: What do you notice?

Orient in space:  What do you see? – turning your head fully left and right.  What do you notice in your environment?

Exercise Two: Affirming our own Life Force

Try filling 2 plastic bottles (maybe water bottles) half full with water. Start swinging your arms slowly, letting the sloshing sound of the water increase as you move a bit faster. Start and stop this a few times. Try adding your voice or a song as your arms swing.

Why? We are moving the body out of hypervigilance (caused by fear) into a sense of life and vitality. It is in feeling our own life force that we shift from feeling fearful to feeling whole and alive.

Exercise Three: Fear is diminished with interpersonal contact

We know from researchers like Steven Porges that we can find a sense of well-being through contact with people we love and trust. Even though we may not be physically in the room with that person, we can resonate with another when we can see his or her face and hear their voice through such platforms as Zoom, Facebook, or Doxy.me

Step 4: Addressing fears about our Mortality

Covid -19 awakens thoughts about death which were likely in the background when we were leading busy lives. We worry for ourselves and for people we love. Some of us have already lost someone important to us.

Can you accept that thoughts about dying are conflictual but a necessary at this time? If we can face our fears, they have less power. Pushing them down only makes them stronger. For some, this may be a time to explore spiritual issues.  There are many resources to do this. If you email me at the email address below, I can direct you towards some resources.

Secondly, think back to one of the toughest times in your life. What qualities within you got you through? Remind yourself when you are stressed that you still have those qualities. Know that you will develop new and meaningful strengths as we go through this time together.

Finally, please know that I am a resource should you want help with any of these steps.

You can reach me at drjanemoffett@gmail.com

Coping in a Time of Uncertainty

One of the most basic needs we have as humans is to feel safe – psychologically and physically.  Yet many of us are experiencing once simple tasks,  such  going to the grocery store,  as unsafe in our current environment. Without knowing it, our deepest survival responses may be activated in the face of the  invisible threat posed by Covid-19.

Because we are biological beings who are wired for survival, our central nervous systems habitually  scan for danger.

Our response to danger can be grouped into 3 possible responses: fight – flight, or freeze. Which response each of us gravitates towards depends on our constitutions and our early life experience.

Fight: For some our response to threat may be a fight response. In the current environment of uncertainty and possible harm,  a fight response might show up as anger, higher levels of irritability or frustration. 

Flight: For others a threat which cannot be seen or  prevented such as Covid-19  might evoke increased need to get away from what is experienced as threatening and  sense of apprehension going into new situations.

Freeze: For others, there may be closing down of emotion and a sense of detachment or dissociation.

Each of these responses is an understandable response to an unknown and new threat: Covid 19.

Somatic Experiencing teaches us that our central nervous systems may not be able to tell the difference between this new, Covid-19 threat and a tiger. As we approach a crowded pharmacy counter,  the smoke alarm in our brain, the amygdala,  tells our limbic system – the emotional center of our brain,  we are in danger- and our default response, fight, flight, or freeze activates.

Ignoring or minimizing the threat of this virus would be unwise. But we also need to protect our immune systems by effectively managing our stress and reactivity.


Parasympathetic -breathing

The first step is to know your style of reacting to danger: Fight, Flight, or Freeze, or a mixture of the three.  When you find yourself activated, try  calming unnecessary  reactivity by using  simple breath work to turn off that smoke alarm and calm your nervous system.  

Most of us have learned breathing techniques from various sources. What we may not have been taught is the importance of the out-breath. The exhale part of the breath cycle activates the parasympethic nervous system, activating a relaxation response.

You can figure out what that longer exhale for you feels like by experimenting. Try  a long exhale, maybe 7 counts,  and shorter inhale, maybe 3 counts. Repeat it a few times. Emphasizing the exhale, shortening the inhale. Modify this as it suits your needs.


Another way to calm our survival responses (fight, flight, freeze), is through our connection to  others. Because of socially-distancing , we don’t have the opportunity to create a sense of safety and needed comfort though socializing in person.

However, we know from the work of Dr. Steven Porges that our fight/flight/freeze response will become regulated in a warm social interaction.  Hearing the voice of someone we care about, and, if possible seeing his or her face, is especially important when we are in a state of hypervigilance.

On a practical level this means moving beyond text messaging and email for contact. Our nervous systems respond positively to face-to-face contact and hearing the voice of someone we care about. Email and texting helps us stay in touch, but the sense of safety we need now comes best through hearing the voice, and when possible, seeing the face of someone we enjoy while in conversation.

While we are giving up a great deal now for the greater good, we can join in our healing community to add new and life affirming behaviors that may last well beyond this crisis.