5 Relaxing, Mindful Ways to Handwash During COVID-19
Discover a peaceful way to wash your hands.
Posted March 7, 2020 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
"Water flows over these hands.
May I use them skillfully to preserve our precious planet."
—Thich Nhat Hanh
- Blowing one’s nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Using the restroom.
- Eating or preparing food.
- Contact with animals or pets.
- Providing care for another person who needs assistance.
- Public transportation.
- Attending public events or crowded spaces, like the gym or grocery store.
The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. I find that this can feel like a long time or can be difficult to track—and you might sometimes be tempted to cut it short. Instead, I have found it useful to try mindfulness exercises during handwashing, which can feel peaceful, reduce stress and anxiety, and be a way to build a meditation and mindfulness practice at the same time.
Here's a quick guide to adding mindfulness to your handwashing routine.
1. Pair simple mindful breathing exercises. Pair these simple breathing exercises with handwashing. These are useful to time 20 seconds and also to relax the body and mind.
- Focus on your breath while you're washing your hands.
- Take a gentle breath through your nose for 5 seconds, exhale through your nose for 5 seconds.
- Repeat a second cycle: 5 seconds inhalation, 5 seconds exhalation.
- That's 20 seconds.
- Inhale for 5 seconds, pause for 5 seconds, and exhale for 5 seconds.
- Repeat for a second cycle for a total of 30 seconds.
- Inhale for 5 seconds, pause for 5 seconds, and exhale for 10 seconds.
- When you lengthen the exhalation, it can ease the mind and body and have a relaxing effect. (Note: For some, 10 seconds of exhalation can feel strenuous. In that case, try variation 2 above. It's not worth straining your mind or body.)
2. Repeat mindful phrases. Slowly repeat calming and positive phrases in your mind while washing your hands. This practice has been shown to be relaxing and reduce stress. Here is a sample set you can think to yourself while washing your hands.
- When I breathe in, I fill up and expand with positive and healthy energy.
- When I breathe out, I release any negative or stressful energy.
- When I breathe in, I feel full of lightness and joy. When I breathe out, I let go of any heaviness or worries.
- Repeat these phrases for at least 20 seconds. (You may want to set a timer.)
3. Use sensory relaxation. Mindfulness can be as simple as connecting with the senses during a simple act like handwashing. Explore the deep, relaxing sensations of water as you wash. Water is historically an element of creativity, growth, emotion, and connectivity.
- Take a moment to take a deep breath in through your nose. Exhale and sigh out of your mouth to release any tension and release your jaw as you do this. Repeat a few times if you still feel the tension in your jaw.
- Now, listen to the sound of the water. How does it sound right now? What other noises are around you?
- Notice the feeling of the warm water and soap on your hands. How does the water feel? What is the temperature of the water? What are the textures of the water and soap like? How do the muscles of your hands (palm, fingers, knuckles, back of the hand) feel?
- Begin to notice how washing your hands can feel different each time that you do it.
4. Pair a hand massage with handwashing.
The World Health Organization has very specific handwashing instructions (including also instructions for how to rub your hands with hand sanitizer) which includes hand movements, such as interlacing your fingers and rotating your palms. Check out their instructions for both here.
Consider approaching handwashing, then, as an opportunity for an important deep hand massage. Who would want to cut short a massage? Use your fingers and thumbs to rub the surface of your palm and top of hands. These areas are often sore if you type or text a lot, so take your time and see where your tension is in your hands.
5. Try a shoulder relaxation exercise.
The neck and shoulders are common places where we carry stress in our bodies. Try this simple shoulder exercise while washing your hands to release tension. This is also a useful moment to notice how your body feels.
- As you wash your hands, inhale slowly and roll your shoulders up towards your ears.
- Exhale as you draw your shoulder blades down and towards each other. Release your shoulders away from your ears.
- Continue to do a few shoulder rolls.
Try and see what best fits you and it may also be helpful to try different approaches. Wishing everyone safe and healthy handwashing.
Copyright © Marlynn Wei, M.D., PLLC
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