A woman rests on a couch and gives herself positive affirmations.
Positive affirmations help you reclaim ownership of your headspace. You can push out negative, fear-inducing thoughts and let sunnier thoughts take center stage. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

While you may not have caught the latest virus physically, I believe we all have mentally.

Our minds may run COVID-19 fears on repeat.

What can we do? Take a breath.

Count to four as you breathe in. Hold for four counts, breathe out for six. Again. And, again.

Feeling more at peace? I hope so.

Though if not, keep practicing those deep breathes and consider instituting a positive mantra as you go.

The examples are many.

Consider what may resonate for you: “I am safe. This too shall pass. I am loved. I am well. I can do hard things.”

Such affirmations will help you reclaim ownership of your headspace by allowing the negative, fear-inducing thoughts to move aside as sunnier thoughts take center stage.

Once you have reached a calm and peaceful state, your body is ready to move forward with your next right thing. Perhaps that may simply be setting the table, or sitting down for breakfast—as it is for me in this moment.

By finding our resting state, we are telling our brain there is no fire, or saber-toothed tiger, or angry person, or imminent virus.

Rather, it is now safe to rest and digest.

Once your brain believes this message, the calorie-clinging and sugar-spiking stress hormone cortisol will begin to subside.

Cortisol is one of several hormones responsible for the apple body shape, promoting fat storage on and around our internal organs.

This placement does not exactly lighten the load on our organs—rather, it adds greater strain on them as they attempt to do their daily physiological gig.

So, what’s the big deal? Basically, in our hurried, multi-tasking, pandemic-spreading society, our bodies are pumping out cortisol almost constantly, invoking harm throughout our bodies.

Desecrating the good bugs supporting our immune system, spiking our blood sugar, which in turn damages blood vessels, not to mention ramping up inflammation and sending anxious thoughts on a tailspin.

Thankfully, getting to know this hormone and its potential impact within your body can help empower you to better manage the impact.

Step one? Re-cue breathing.

How can breathing exercises support digestion?

Deep breathing goes beyond quelling the fires of cortisol.

Full breaths promote complete oxygen exchange within our lungs, while also lowering our heart rate and blood pressure.

The opposite state is surprisingly considered quite typical, as shallow breathing tends to be the norm as we sit perusing a screen or chatting with a friend.

But this state of superficial breathing can literally make you feel short of breath and anxious—two states we could use less of right about now.

You may recall the phrases, “Fight or flight,” or the opposing, “Rest and digest.”

Fight or flight alludes to how our body prepares for and reacts to serious stressors, essentially steering all attention and energy toward tools that will help us fight off the predator or escape a dangerous situation.

This state largely shuts digestion down. If you are eating in this stressful or anxious state, you are likely to get a stomachache or suffer from indigestion, gas or cramping.

If you have ever experienced an anxious stomachache ahead of a nerve-wracking event, you know exactly what I am referring to.

What does your state of rest and digest look like?

This is exactly why it is so important for us to find a way to enter our own state of rest and digest. To slow down our system enough to tell our mind we are safe and able to digest our food, absorb our nutrients, feed our microbiome and therefore maintain our immune system defense.

For me, that may include deep breathing, gratitude, soft lighting and some happy tunes in the background.

What might that look like for you?