Breathe. No, seriously everyone…breathe. Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, then take even longer to breathe out through your mouth fully, completely. Channel your inner Queen Elsa, and let it go. Repeat this breathing sequence as many times as you need to. Take in your surroundings, pray, or use mental imagery to go somewhere in your mind in order to Let. It. Go. Let go of the tension in your body, let go of the anxiety. Just…breathe.
Crazy the power of breathing, huh? The diaphragm has the power to better position a rib cage and pelvis to optimize symmetry, movement and performance. It has the ability “turn off” those tight, tense muscles that are too “turned on”, and awaken the ones that are sleepy. And most importantly, it can calm an anxious heart and mind. Now, more than ever, we need to breathe.
A very small percentage of us have God-given physical traits, genetics that are far superior to the rest of the population. It seems like everything comes easy, performs better when we need and want it to. The rest of us? Well, we need a bit more training to get where we want to be. We have to train certain muscles to activate, stretch or relax those tissues that are tight and holding us back, learn new and better patterns of movement, and be intentional about that regimen in order to get the most out of our bodies. We can’t just wake up, show up, and win every 5K, 10K, half or full marathon. We need motivated training, we need discipline, we need to breathe if we want to go the distance. Distance requires movement, movement requires intention, intention requires external and internal motivation. Furthermore, longer distances require sustained mental focus to keep our eyes on the prize and the ability to sustain activated muscles with optimal breathing and movement patterns, even as fatigue creeps in and threatens to shut it all down.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has threatened to shut it all down. It has forced us to intentionally move ourselves farther apart from each other, creating distance. The (legitimate) fear of the virus and its potential to rob us of our health or even our lives has naturally spawned legitimate anxiety. It has necessitated ‘social distancing’ and created an economic downturn. Though some of us may avoid its physical threat, most of us cannot avoid its emotional, mental, spiritual, or financial ramifications. But all hope is not lost. We need to train ourselves to go the distance. We need to train like a distance runner, not a sprinter. Judging by most forecasts, this will be a marathon. And even when the finish line is crossed and we are afforded a respite, the experience of the training and perhaps the training itself will need to be called upon and continued in order to stay in shape for the next ‘race’. So, how do we train?
Honestly, the training will look different for each person, much like training for a race is dictated by each person’s level of fitness. But the training will have its commonalities. First and foremost, stay connected. I love the term “physical distancing” rather than “social distancing”. Humanity is dependent upon relationships, and the most successful relationships are those with good communication. Aren’t you thankful for the technology we have at this historical moment? Imagine pandemics past when virtual communication was not an option! We need to leverage this technology to stay plugged-in with our families, friends, neighbors, teachers, church groups, doctors, and physical therapists. We need to be physically present with proper distancing when possible in order to get actual ‘face time’. Secondly, we need to use this time to stay active. As movement experts, we physical therapists are often preaching the mantra of “A body in motion stays in motion”. Something acutely injured or broken may need some period of immobilization, but this is typically short-lived. That injured or broken part needs to eventually be moved in order to promote circulation for proper healing, expedite recovery, and limit or prevent issues in the future.
This may also be the case with our finances, psyche, and physical bodies right now. The former two will vary widely with how we can or should approach the necessary level of activity. The latter may be a bit more within reach for the majority of us stuck at home right now. Many types of inflammation, pain, or stress will feed on inactivity and leave us feeling worse. Physical distancing has the ability to go down the sedentary road or make us more active. With appropriate physical distance and within governmental boundaries, make the choice to challenge yourself to stay or become more physically active right now.
To those current patients of ours: keep up with your home exercise program, utilize telehealth visits if you can’t or don’t want to be seen in the clinic for care while we are allowed to remain open (and yes, we are maintaining proper distancing and cleanliness strategies per government and CDC guidelines). Keep lines of communication open – we are dedicated to providing world class care for our clients, in both customer service and physical therapy care, no matter the platform – via telehealth or onsite at our clinics. Recovery from injury typically requires more guidance to stay or become more physically active and improve function, and we are here to be that guidance.
We need to have intentional conversations, we need to laugh together, we need to breathe together (but not on each other😊), we need to ‘train’ together even as we distance ourselves physically from each other. Be external motivators with a servant’s heart to someone else, find and feed your internal motivators. Make a choice to stay physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually fit and active. This is how trials can strengthen our bodies, minds, hearts, and character. Let’s all commit to ourselves and to each other to keep these activity levels as high as our circumstances will allow. Much like recovering from a difficult injury or surgery, the painful process is achieving a greater good. To quote lyrics of a song from the band Relient K, “If the burden seems too much to bear, remember – the end will justify the pain it took to get us there.” Keep breathing, keep moving, keep connecting, keep loving and living. This too shall pass.
Jared Smiddy, PT, MPT
March 27, 2020