After a short errand one day last week I returned to my workstation and noticed that my heart rate was elevated. It was the end of the third week working from home during this COVID-19 pandemic.
After many years with the military, this current operation reminded me of the urgency and heavy weight of responsibility I felt when we helped in many other crisis situations in the past. We responded to Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti Earthquake, Super Storm Sandy, the Ebola epidemic, and other military training exercises – too many to count.
While at my workstation, I soon realized I was in a STRESS RESPONSE. This was caused by trying to quickly support my team and our mission and the worry about the unknown nature of COVID-19 and how it spreads. I also had the personal concern that I could bring the virus home and infect a loved one. As I resumed work, I began to feel overwhelmed and my heart rate still did not lower.
What do you do when that happens? I used to just keep working and hope that somewhere down the road it would subside. But this time that approach didn’t help.
I have learned that when our bodies respond to stress, they produce stress hormones preparing us for action. When these stress hormones are surging, the relational side of our brain is shutting down. When that happens, we lose the ability to be creative, and to stay open to the people around us. As for me, I can become fixated on solving the problem, fixing the problem person, or escaping the danger. But, this time I tried a different approach.
Here are THREE steps of my STRESS RESPONSE that helped:
ONE. I took a break. I left my workstation and sat down in a chair. I closed my eyes and emptied my hands. I began to do box breathing (a deep belly breath for 4 seconds in, a 4 second hold, a 4 second exhale, and a 4 second pause). I did this many times over several minutes. Normally when I do the 4 second exhale, I usually recite a positive saying. For you it could be a mantra; for me it is always a Scripture. Any positive saying will do. After a while, I felt my heart rate begin to stabilize.
TWO. I began to remember a joy-filled memory. As I pondered a fun encounter I had with someone special to me, I noticed that I felt more peaceful.
THREE. I did some spiritual grounding exercises that always help me stay centered in my spiritual life. I prayed. I listened. I waited in the quiet. After these three steps, I felt peaceful, engaged in my work, and my heart rate HAD indeed returned to normal.
These steps only took about five minutes, and I did them in a chair in my office. I could have done them in my car, or on a walk, or anywhere. What do you do when you feel the stress of your mission, your relationships, or life in general? Give these three steps a try and see if they help you to have a different STRESS RESPONSE.