COVID can trigger past health stressers, deep breathing exercises can help
Most people at this point have a COVID story, whether it’s an experience having it, knowing someone who’s had it, or knowing someone who’s sadly passed away from it, we’ve all been impacted in some way.
In honor of mental health awareness month, I’d like to share my experience with having COVID, the connection it had to past health stressors in childhood, and the deeper healing experience I was able to achieve.
My symptoms with COVID began very mild, eventually evolving into a dry cough and upper respiratory irritation, but thankfully nothing ever needing medical attention or a hospital. I took my vitamins and supplements, followed the CDC’s recommended guidelines for isolation, and waited the appropriate time until it was safe to be around loved ones again. But as the days went by, I started to notice chest tension, tightness, and lung irritation when engaging in daily activities.
After a couple days, even as the symptoms began to fade and the COVID virus was no longer detectible in my system, I began to notice myself feeling irritable and anxious. I noticed parts of me getting worried that the anxiety symptoms I had once experienced overwhelming in my life were coming back and would eventually take over. “Oh no!” I thought, I didn’t want to experience this overwhelm of anxiety again, and pretty soon, the worry and resistance to the anxiety began to increase my irritability with those around me and decrease my ability to stay present in the moment.
One evening, I attended a virtual consultation group with six other IFS (internal family systems) therapists where I shared about the parts of me feeling anxious and irritable regarding the COVID symptoms that had impacted my breathing. As I shared with the group, it came to my attention that I felt my anxious and irritable parts were being triggered by past experiences I had had when younger. I remembered that at a young age I had been exposed to tuberculosis and eventually had many instances with pneumonia, bronchitis, and asthma symptoms. As I came to the realization about the connection between my childhood experiences and the current lung issues I was experiencing, I knew I needed to meet with my own IFS therapist to address this insight, and luckily I had a session already scheduled the following week.
As I waited for my IFS session to begin, I engaged in some embodiment work by rolling my feet, back, and chest with a therapy ball until it was time for my virtual appointment. As I used the therapy ball on my body and tension began to release, I suddenly heard the statement, “I can’t breathe!” The statement was loud and clear in my mind and I knew immediately this was connected to the part of me that was being triggered by my experience with chest tightness and upper respiratory issues.
During my therapy session, I was grateful that I was able to connect to the much younger part of me that was carrying the burden of fear and anxiety related to past health stressors regarding my lungs and breathing. I was able to witness my younger part’s experience, provide her with what she needed at the time but didn’t get, and then invite her to come to the present with me to release the burdens out of her body. Once her burdens of fear and anxiety were released, she was able to invite in the qualities of calm, confidence, and courage.
After my session, I felt lighter and freer, my lungs felt clear and open, and the younger part of me felt safe and calm. By inviting this younger part to release the burdens of fear and anxiety, I was able to finally believe with full confidence that my lungs were healthy and strong. The younger part of me was no longer stuck in the past activating my anxiety telling me I was in danger. She was able to see that there was no longer any reason for the anxiety and irritability to hold on, she was safe, I was safe, and therefore I could finally accept that I was healthy and my body had healed.
I hope that by sharing my experience with COVID and how it activated my past health trauma you can see how IFS can possibly help you with accessing calm and resiliency to stressors, both past and present. If you’re interested in knowing more about the healing and unburdening process of IFS, please check out the IFS Institute at www.IFS-Institute.com for more information and to find an IFS therapist in your area.
Our breath is a beautiful and amazing tool. There are many ways to invite balance and regulation with various types of breathing exercises. Here are some breathing techniques you can invite into your daily practice to help connect to your inner strength and resilience:
1. Spine Filled with Light: Sit comfortably. Eyes open or closed. Bring awareness to your breath. Bring attention to your spine. Feel its internal support extending from the steady base of your pelvis up through the crown of your head. Allow each breath to invite a little more space between vertebrae, gently elongating your spine. Image your spine is transforming from a solid structure into a warm, brilliant ray of light. Focus on this image of light infusing all of your being, allowing yourself to become brighter and more radiant as you sit for 5-10 minutes of meditation. 2. Alternate Nostril Breathing: Sit comfortably. Eyes open or closed. Place your right thumb gently on your right nostril and your right ring finger gently on your left nostril. Gently close your right nostril with your thumb and breath in through your left nostril. Gently close your left nostril with your left ring finger and breath out through your right nostril. Inhale through your right nostril with the left nostril still gently closed. Gently close your right nostril and exhale through your left nostril before breathing in again through the left nostril. Repeat for 2-5 minutes. 3. Mantra Breathing: Sit comfortable. Eyes open or closed. Say internally to yourself “I am” on the inhale, and then on the exhale say a word that resonates with what you need energetically. For example, “I am… Calm.”