How to Surf Above COVID's Devastating "Disaster Wave"

Mental practices used by athletes can guard against the mental health impact.

Posted Dec 03, 2020

This past summer I wrote about the COVID behavioral disaster wave predicted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) should the pandemic continue to surge. Sadly, the numbers of afflicted and dead continue to rise. 

Freeimages by Jeff Jones
Don't let that wave crush you!
Source: Freeimages by Jeff Jones

The predicted behavioral wave of anxiety and depression issues, not to mention suicide from increased financial and other stresses, are already occurring. A just-published article in JAMA points out that the massive loss threatens a "multidimensional disruption of employment, finances, education, health care, food security, transportation, recreation, cultural and religious practices, and the ability of personal support networks and communities to come together and grieve."

As I pointed out in my summer article, the behavioral wave will likely produce a spike in substance abuse, anxiety symptoms, suicidality, depressive symptoms, domestic violence, and severe levels of stress. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to help you surf the wave, rather than be pushed beneath it. 

Here are two simple and easy-to-use practices that can help you maintain your mental balance and, dare I say, even help you to recharge your batteries amid the never-ending onslaught of COVID news, changing regulations, and stress.

Bear in mind, I'm not saying these are a cure-all, but these kinds of practices have been used by elite professional athletes to help them reach peak performance. Try them and see how they work for you.

Practice 1: Take a Two-Minute Vacation With Guided Visualization

You might be surprised at how effective guided visualization is in producing a state of calm. This method is routinely used to help athletes perform at their best. Visualization works because your brain wires up as if what you’re imagining was the real thing. 

Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for two minutes. Turn off your phone or other devices so you won’t be interrupted. You can set a timer on your phone for two minutes if you want.

  • Remember as vividly as you can: Recall an activity that energizes you and makes you feel good. You might picture yourself hiking in your favorite place, running, swimming, dancing, biking, sunning on the beach, or whatever activity makes you feel good, revitalized, and energetic.
  • Notice as many colors, sounds, sensations as possible. Totally immerse yourself in the activity! Don’t be surprised if your heart rate and respiration increase, just as if you were actually performing the activity that you’re visualizing!  
  • At the end of the two minutes, take a nice, deep breath in as you stretch your arms high over your head. Exhale slowly as you lower your arms, feeling more refreshed after this two-minute vacation. 

Practice #2: Two-Minute Relaxation System Reboot

Believe it or not, your body has a built-in relaxation system that automatically reduces stress.  It also lowers your blood pressure, pulse rate, and respiration, as well as produces alpha brain waves for calm and clear thinking. What turns on that system is called a belly breath or diaphragmatic breathing. 

Turn off your phone or other devices so you won’t be interrupted. You can set a timer on your phone for two minutes if you want. The three different postures below turn on the relaxation system. Try each and see which is most natural for you and helps the abdomen move with the breath. These postures are illustrated with instructions in the book Simply Mindful.  

  • Posture 1: Sitting or standing, clasp your hands behind your back. This will stretch the rib cage. Breathe slowly, and allow the abdomen to become soft so it expands as you breath in. 
  • Posture 2: Raise your elbows outward as you place your hands on your lower rib cage. As you breathe in, notice the expansion of your abdominal area moving outwards, side to side. 
  • Posture 3: Raise your arms up and clasp your hands behind your head/neck. Breathe slowly as you allow the breath to go into the belly.

I suggest you use both of these tools each day to counter stress and burnout. You’ll be surprised at how they can shift your experience and help you feel more positive and happy each day.