Changing how you inhale and exhale could help reduce coronavirus anxiety

Intentional deep breathing exercises are known to reduce feelings of stress. Experts interviewed by ABC News identify box breathing as a type of breath hold specifically used to overcome the type of anxiety people are experiencing during these distressing times.

Box breathing describes the pattern of inhaling slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four. You inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds and then repeat in four seconds — making a square pattern. Practiced regularly, it has been shown to calm the body by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system — our “rest and digest” responses — which produces feelings of relaxation.

“If you go around that box for a few minutes, you can really get yourself into a much more focused and centered state,” said Dr. John Sharp, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School. “We know that when people are stressed, this can work — and like anything, the more you practice it, the more it can work.”

Well-known to the military, box breathing is used in training by Navy SEAL teams to develop emotional discipline. Mark Divine, a former Navy SEAL commander and the New York Times best-selling author of “Unbeatable Mind,” says he has been teaching this method of breathing to Navy SEAL trainees since 2007.

“The best, most effective warriors practice some form of controlled breathing, especially during combat,” said Divine, who explained that box breathing clarifies the mind, which is critical to making good decisions under pressure.

“Not only do you feel calm, but really the quantity of thoughts you have will be lessened,” he said.

And there’s science to back up this technique. One study found participants who performed regular deliberate deep breathing exercises had lower levels of cortisol — a hormone in your body released in response to stress.

“We do it before every meeting in my company,” Divine said. “We do five minutes together as a team. I do it before and after every workout, I do it in my car, I do it anytime that I feel any kind of extra stress or tension. I believe it’s just the single most important thing that everyone can do to take control of their lives internally.”

And now the medical field has adapted box breathing for similar benefits. Dr. Stephen Miller, an emergency medicine physician and

Care home workers suffer Covid trauma, anxiety: study

Nearly half of care home workers in northern Italy may be suffering from post-traumatic stress or anxiety following the first wave of the pandemic, new research showed Wednesday. 

As Covid-19 began its spread throughout Europe, northern regions of Italy — home to a high proportion of elderly people — were at the frontline as intensive care units were inundated with patients.

While much attention was focused on the physical health of first responders and doctors, far less study has been given over to the mental well-being of the nurses, cleaners and caterers at care homes.

Researchers in Italy and Britain conducted an anonymous survey of more than 1,000 care home workers to check their levels of stress and anxiety after months of caring for sick residents.

They found that 43 percent of respondents passed the symptom threshold for anxiety and PTSD.

“Due to the severity of the situation, we were expecting a reasonably high prevalence, but not as high as we found,” Elena Rusconi, from the University of Trento’s Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science, told AFP.

– Overlooked –

Authors of the research, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, said care home workers had faced exceptionally testing conditions during the first wave.

Unlike emergency health staff, care home workers often form tight bonds with residents, making it all the more emotionally taxing when one gets ill or dies. 

In addition, they had to manage communication with families who were unable to see their loved ones because of the virus.

The workers frequently lacked sufficient personal protective equipment and materiel for hygiene and safety protocols. 

Rusconi said the research showed how governments and society at large often overlook care home workers, especially in times of crisis.  

She said that care work required skill and dedication, yet often went underappreciated.

“They deal with a part of society that we don’t want to think too much about, perhaps from a sense of guilt,” Rusconi said. 

Noting that “many (not all) care home staff in Italy come from abroad,” she added: “Although they may have resided in Italy for a long period and have citizenship, they originally came to take on a job that is, perhaps, considered undesirable and is certainly less esteemed compared to that of hospital doctors and nurses.”

As Europe braces for a resurgence of cases, the authors called for an “urgent in-depth assessment of the psychological status” of all care home workers.

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