Coping with Covid-19: Two Simple Grounding Exercises to Reduce Stress

Written by Diane Sweeney and Michelle LeFevre

The levels of stress that educators and their students are under is unprecedented. In a recent Twitter poll, over 48% of respondents listed ‘Concern for students’ as their biggest frustration or challenge. Concern for others implies a lack of control, and a lack of control leads to stress. The good news is we can manage this stress by practicing simple breathwork and grounding exercises. We can also provide opportunities for our students to engage in these practices within the context of online learning.

I’ve learned a lot about breathwork and grounding exercises over the past year. It would be fair to say that this learning came out of necessity as I worked to manage my energy and stress levels. You see, I have a tendency to run myself into the ground, get sick, and then do it all over again. Taking this path isn’t sustainable when we must be focusing on maintaining our health and the health of our loved ones.

I reached out to my own personal coach for guidance as we move through these times. Michelle LeFevre is a Personal and Professional Development Coach based in Boulder, CO. Over the years, she has taught me how to work with my breath and ground my energy so that I can take better care of myself. These are important lessons I’ve been revisiting in the past few weeks. Michelle’s expertise isn’t limited to personal growth and conscious leadership, it also bridges into spiritual development, a space that many of us are newly visiting during this existential crisis. Here Michelle describes two simple techniques for working with the breath and grounding our energy in the interest of taking care of ourselves and our students during these difficult times. To learn more about Michelle’s work, visit her LinkedIn profile here or on Instagram @expandyouredge.

What is grounding?
Grounding is the ability to use our breath to direct the energy of our body into the earth. Much like electricity needs a ground to be directed, our energy needs to be grounded for us to recharge, be mindful, and stay connected. We can better navigate these challenging times by learning how to ground.

As educators, we are no strangers to stress. It is a part of our profession and our life. But these times are uniquely contributing to increased mental and emotional exhaustion which can lead to burnout if we are not mindful. When we experience stress, we may overthink things or become overwhelmed. This creates discomfort in our body and can affect our ability to take care of ourselves and others. The truth is, when we are stressed, we are not grounded. When we are not grounded, we are not present. And when we are not present, we are not be able to see things as they are.

One of the ways we can lose our ground is when our attention is pulled outside of our body. We may notice this when we direct our attention to our concern for students. We are sending our energy to them rather than learning how to be there for them without depleting our own energy in the process. It is no surprise that this is the highest challenge or frustration for today’s educators, as there is nothing more important than the wellbeing of their students. However, our concern does not serve us in the long run if we are not restoring and recharging our energy as we go. The best way we can be there for our students is to be grounded and teach them to do the same.

Two Simple Ways to Reduce Stress and Ground
Here are two powerful mindfulness exercises that calm you and your students, reduce stress, and focus your mind. These can be done separately but are more powerful when done in sequence. The total time for both exercises combined is approximately 3-4 minutes.

Balancing the Breath
One of the fastest ways to calm our central nervous system when we are stressed is to use the breath through alternate nostril breathing. It connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain optimizing our minds for learning. Here is a four-minute video demonstrating how to balance the breath by Emily Fletcher, a meditation teacher and founder of Ziva Meditation.

Intentional Grounding in a Seated Position
This is a modified grounding exercise that can be done in a seated position. For this reason, it may be a fun one to try with your students as they come together for a virtual learning session.

  1. Sit in a chair with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands in a relaxed position on your thighs.
  2. On the exhale, imagine sending the energy of your breath down your spine, into your legs, and out your feet directly into the ground.
  3. Feel your feet on the floor and gently push your feet into the ground. Remain mindful of your breathing. Do not hold your breath.
  4. Notice when you start to feel your legs getting charged. It will feel as if the energy is filling them up. Keep sending your energy down your body with your awareness on your exhale. Imagine you are breathing down through your spine, through your legs, into your feet, and into the ground.
  5. Once you feel the charge in your legs, slowly release your legs by no longer pushing your feet into the ground. Take a few more breaths in and out slowly.
  6. Relax your muscles. This brings your awareness into your body, back into the present.

These exercises can collectively or individually connect you to the present where you can operate out of your strengths and not your stress. The same is true for our students. No matter what is going on in our world, we can find a place where our inner state feels relaxed, grounded, and focused on what matters most. This will help you not only feel better but teach better as well. In the words of Deepak Chopra, “In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.”

I would like to thank Michelle for sharing these practices with us. Her wisdom will no doubt support us through these difficult times.

© Diane Sweeney Consulting

2 thoughts on “Coping with Covid-19: Two Simple Grounding Exercises to Reduce Stress”

  1. Hi Amy,
    Thanks so much for reaching out. Your summary of the mixed emotions of the time are so true. I’ve heard this era being called The Great Pause as folks are turning inward and really taking stock in their lives. Hopefully some of these practices will remain after this is over.

    I look at the current levels of stress on a macro and micro level. On the macro level I’m worried about people losing jobs, how long this will last, how sick people will get, etc. Those feelings are so stressful. On a micro level we are doing great. Kids safe at home. Less travel. Dinners together. Walks in the woods. It’s lovely yet it can be hard to reconcile the differences between the two sets of emotions. One time my parent’s house almost burned down in a wildfire in CA. The rest of their block was lost and their house was saved. I learned all about survivor’s guilt and how when things are okay for you, they might not feel okay in the big picture.

    I hope the team in Sun Prairie is doing okay. I was supposed to see you guys in May and I’ll really miss it. Stay safe and healthy and hopefully we’ll see you soon.

  2. Hi Diane!
    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. As a full-release new teacher mentor, I have been feeling increasingly MORE stressed and anxious with each week during Distance Learning. I have been perplexed by how I am feeling because it just doesn’t make sense. I am not rushing from school to school, I feel like I am able to support my teachers in a different but positive way, I am able to take advantage of new and exciting professional development, and get caught up on some things I haven’t been able to until now. I am even able to read a book and have movie nights with my family instead of rushng from one practice to the next etc. WHY am I still so anxious? I am surprised and confused.

    Each day is filled with sitting through zoom PLC’s, zoom staff meetings and zoom meetings with the teachers on my caseload. It is crazy how quickly each day can go even when I am not physically going ANYWHERE. I have read about Zoom Exhaustion and believe that it is real. I know that I need to force myself to walk away between meeting and take more time to be mindful. Even before we went to distance learning I would still wonde why I continue to take on the stress and worries of the classroom teachers that I work with throughout the day, in the evening and through the weekend. I still get the Sunday Night blues!

    Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely LOVE my second year as a New Teacher Mentor in our district. I am learning more than I ever have before. The experiences I am having working with k-5 classroom teachers, specials teachers, and pupil services staff are so eye-opening. I think that I am a positive and effective support to the teachers and six schools that I work with in our district and I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity in my career!

    I am excited and happy with my new responsibilities in our district yet I can’t figure out why I can’t shake the constant underlying anxious feelings that I work through each day to be a steady suppport for our new staff that are actually right there doing of the hands-on work. with our students. Thank you so much for acknowledging these feelings in your article and for giving me more strategies for working towards being more grouded in myself.

    I have loved learning from you in Sun Prairie! I look forward to seeing you again in person!

    Take care!
    Amy Ledford
    New Teacher Mentor
    Sun Prairie Area School District
    [email protected]

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