Imagine feeling anxious, worried and consumed by current events.

Now, add a pre-existing mental health concern and situation, such as suffering a traumatic accident, an uprooting event or struggling with addiction.

On a typical day, you have difficulty staying grounded, focused or clear. Hopefully, you are safe, both to yourself and to others.

And now, in addition to attempting to survive a pandemic, you have to try to understand yourself.

Hospitals tend to be safe places, although current events do add tension. We screen, we wash, we sanitize, we do intakes. We try to ask each other about daily life, to talk about issues other than the availability of tests and masks.

Yet, we all experience a pervasive uncertainty which extends beyond our hospitals and families. We all have pre-existing issues, like stress. Maybe we tend to ignore it, or now feel even less inclined to deal with it. In the context of Chinese medicine, whenever we try to prevent or deny change, we only make our symptoms worse.

Earlier this week, I spoke with a patient about their relationship with their partner. What could, what should, what had not been done was foremost on their mind. Their mind was a desk cluttered with negative documents proving the impossibility of anything else.

I could not deny the history, but I could also create a temporary safe space where we could share and invite them to join me in it.  We could breathe together, and in that moment, accept ourselves in our present situation and simultaneously allow for something else.

We did so by breathing.

Abdominal breathing is a fast way to shift the nervous system from emergency to safe mode, which can benefit our blood pressure, digestion and immune systems. Even while wearing a protective face mask, we can take a breath that is more calming, centering and slow.

A long, deep breath does not mean we deny or condone our troubles. On the contrary, we must choose to breathe through them, to release this uncertainty instead of holding it in our shoulders, neck, jaw or heart.

We will not just poof into relaxation, yet we can give it another try. We can slowly, consistently, take in a deep breath and then release the air, equally slowly and evenly.

Change is inevitable, and we ourselves can facilitate change. If we already know how to breathe deeply, we can make it a frequent habit.

If we are new to self-help, we can start now. We must allow space in our bodies and minds for healing. 

Trina Lion

Trina Lion is a licensed acupuncturist and Eastern mediation and movement specialist at The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt. She has lectured on Traditional Chinese Medicine at institutions ranging from NFL China to International Channel Shanghai (ICS-TV) to Yale University.