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Feeling anxious? Use this strategy to help you calm down

When you feel anxious, it can be stressful to try to focus on your breathing. Instead, use this strategy to help calm your mind.

The coronavirus pandemic is stressful — and the fear and anxiety around the disease and its impact on our lives is very real.

If you've ever dealt with any kind of anxiety, you know how annoying it can feel when someone repeatedly asks you what's wrong — or worse, instructs you to "just breathe." If you’re trying to curb your anxiety and calm down your mind, relaxation techniques like slow breathing can be surprisingly unhelpful.

“The ironic process of anxiety is the more you try to control it, the more anxious you’re going to feel,” Laura Lokers, a licensed clinical social worker and co-founder of the Anxiety and OCD Treatment Center of Ann Arbor in Michigan, told TODAY.

For example: It’s like telling someone not to think of a white horse. Yet instead of getting rid of the thought, it becomes the first thing to pop into the mind, she said.

Instead, Lokers often tells her patients to skip the relaxation techniques and instead stop and observe the situation.


How to calm down and quiet your mind

 “Treat it like you would a science experiment,” she said. Look around you and ask yourself questions like: How anxious am I feeling? How fast is my heart racing right now? Rank your answers on a scale of 1-10, and check back in with yourself every minute to see if the numbers have changed.

It may sound simple, but it’s an incredibly powerful technique. That’s because, Lokers explained, by focusing on the answers to these questions, you’re actually engaging your prefrontal cortex — your brain’s logic center — which diverts energy away from the amygdala — your brain’s emotional center.

When you’re anxious or panicking, the amygdala often takes over, which is why people often feel that when they’re anxious, they can’t think straight, Lokers said.

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Once you’ve gotten a hold on this anxiety, you can then use more traditional cognitive restructuring strategies to help cope with the situation, Lokers said.

For instance, if you’re stressed while going into a work meeting, you can ask yourself questions like, what evidence do I have right now that I’m in danger? Am I going to be physically attacked if I make a mistake, or get fired on the spot? You can then reason that you might feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, but only for a short amount of time.

To get to that reasoning, though, it’s important to essentially trick your brain out of its panic mode by asking those simple early questions and engaging your prefrontal cortex.

“The brain is designed for survival, not for quality of life, so we have to fight our natural instincts in a lot of ways in order to balance that anxiety, especially for folks whose brain is wired to be hyper vigilant,” Lokers explained. And by using this one simple trick, you can overcome your natural instincts and handle any stressful.


Coronavirus isn’t the only concern in moving a parent to long-term care; here’s what you should know

Families have to make complex calculations in the shadow of a virus that’s proven especially lethal for elders

Nicole Dunn was all set to move her mom, Barbara, into an assisted living community in St. Petersburg, Fla. in April. Then COVID-19 struck. The facility temporarily banned outsiders and “that meant us,” Dunn says. Her mother, who has dementia, continued to live on her own in Florida.

But in mid-May, the assisted living community, which had no known cases of COVID-19, started to welcome new residents again, although newcomers would be quarantined in their apartments for two weeks. So Dunn’s mother moved in.

The early days were rocky. “I had to constantly reassure her that this was a good place for her,” Dunn says. Even so, the benefits outweighed Dunn’s concerns about her mom living in a communal setting during the pandemic.

Coronavirus and long-term care

Moving a parent into assisted living is an emotional decision in normal times. These days, families have to make especially complex calculations in the shadow of a virus that’s proven especially lethal for elders.

About 45% of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have occurred in long-term care facilities, according to The Kaiser Family Foundation. Most of the widely reported outbreaks have been in nursing homes, which differ substantially from assisted living communities.

In nursing homes, residents require care from a licensed nurse; some may be bed-bound or have feeding tubes. Assisted living residents, in comparison, can live somewhat independently, but need help with daily tasks such as hygiene, meal preparation, medication management and transportation.

Concerns about moving into assisted living in 2020 go beyond whether residents may contract coronavirus, though. There’s also the issue of being able to see your parent after move-in; almost no assisted living facilities have been allowing visitors.

How to start researching assisted living communities

What’s more, changes in routine can be disorienting and a new home is a big change, especially for a parent with dementia.

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Still, you may believe an assisted living community would be the best place for your parent. If so, you could begin researching ones in his or her area, while waiting to see how the pandemic unfolds locally. Coronavirus epicenters are riskier, from a health standpoint, than parts of the country where COVID-19 cases and deaths have been rare.

Before the pandemic, visiting potential assisted living communities was a smart way to help choose one. But in-person tours are rare right now, of course. So, get a virtual tour via FaceTime or Zoom ZM, 3.25% with the opportunity to ask the facilities’ managers questions by phone.

Questions to ask

The questions might include:

What are your protocols for testing residents and staff for coronavirus? The Alzheimer’s Association’s goals for coronavirus testing in assisted living communities include daily testing of staff, testing all residents now to identify cases and administering additional tests later for residents showing symptoms.

That’s just the ideal, however. Assisted living communities aren’t close to that yet, partly due to lack of availability of COVID-19 tests.

That said, regular testing of staff is critical, says Sue Johansen of the senior-care referral service A Place for Mom, “because it’s the staff that comes and goes from the community and is exposed to the surrounding community at large.”

Argentum, a national trade association representing senior living communities, has been calling for assisted living communities to get federal funding and priority access to COVID-19 tests and personal protective equipment for front line staff.

Has your facility had COVID-19 cases? What is the infection rate there and how are you communicating with families about it? If there have been cases, ask how quickly the leadership notified families once they were diagnosed and how regularly updates are sent. Also, find out what the facility’s plan will be if a coronavirus outbreak occurs.

If you leave a message and no one responds, that’s “a huge red flag,” says Cindy Hostetler of Care Weavers, a health care advocacy and navigation service for older adults in Charlotte, N.C. Lack of communication during the sales process probably won’t improve after your parent moves in.

What safety protocols are in place to prevent COVID-19 from spreading? Among the things you’ll want to know: how frequently are high-traffic spots such as elevator buttons disinfected, and whether the community has shifted from congregate dining rooms to meals delivered to apartments.

Learn about the current move-in process, too. Are new residents quarantined or tested for coronavirus prior to or upon arrival in the facility?

What are you doing to maintain and support your staff? The key to a good assisted living facility is its staff. So, you’ll want to see what management is doing to attract and keep excellent workers.

Hero pay, additional sick leave and supplemental benefits such as assistance with groceries or transportation are tangible ways for assisted living communities to support their employees. The incentives can help limit turnover, which is a clear benefit for residents in developing relationships with staff.

Since some employees may worry about working in senior communities during COVID-19 and passing the disease to their own families, it’s also worth asking if the facility has been able to maintain its pre-pandemic staffing levels.

What are you doing to engage residents? Social isolation increases the risk of depression and cognitive decline in older adults and that’s been a particular problem during the pandemic. Many group activities that give life to assisted living communities, from art classes to pet therapy, have been put on hold.

At a minimum, staff should help its residents set up virtual visits or “window visits” when possible with family and friends outside, Hostetler says.

See if the facility has been creative in developing alternatives to keep residents entertained and active, mentally and physically.

That kind of creativity has been a relief to David Marshak. In late March, after his 92-year-old Aunt Edith Guttenberg fell and received a pacemaker, he convinced her to move to an assisted living community near his home in Franklin, Mass.

Marshak has been pleased that the facility has had singers perform for residents through open windows; a parade of cars with families for Mother’s Day and Bingo games in the hallways with everyone six feet apart.

The facility is doing “as much as they can to have some sort of normalcy,” Marshak says.


Free Nightly Online Concerts from One of the World’s Top Orchestras

As concert halls continue to close due to coronavirus, live streaming of performances will provide welcome access for music lovers worldwide. The iconic Royal Albert Hall in London has just announced its closure, with more UK venues expected to follow. Meanwhile in Hungary, the innovative composer and conductor, Maestro Ivan Fischer, has created a brilliant new concert series in response to this worldwide musical shutdown. The chamber concerts are broadcast live and free to view online while COVID-19 forces music lovers to stay at home. The Maestro and his Budapest Festival Orchestra launched “Quarantine Soirees” on 16 March 2020 and the chamber music concerts will continue nightly online at 7:45 pm (Central European time).

The Maestro says that while we’re at home during this difficult time we “need music, especially chamber music because this is not the time for orchestra music concerts.” Every evening members of the Budapest Festival Orchestra will give a concert from their rehearsal studio. The concerts are free but the BFO also hope that the public will be able to support musicians whose livelihoods are now at risk and their website includes a link for voluntary donations.

Two young musicians perform in the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Hungary

Last night’s concert presented live from the BFO's rehearsal room, featured music by Saint-Saens and Villa-Lobos, plus Beethoven's String Quartet No. 4 in C minor, Op.19 and traditional Hungarian folk music. Tonight (17 March 2020) the members of the orchestra will perform Mozart’s Concert Rondeau in E-Flat Major and a clarinet quintet along with Schumann’s piano quintet in E-Flat Major. These nightly concerts will continue while permitted. Other forthcoming evening concerts in the series will include pieces by Beethoven, Hadyn and Schubert, plus Hungarian contemporary composer Gyorgy Orban’s wonderful and uplifting “Ball Music.”


It’s no surprise that these special concerts were the idea of Maestro Fischer as he is well known for bringing his music to audiences that are often excluded. Every season he and the orchestra organise two Community Weeks during which the orchestra’s chamber ensembles play in nursing homes, child-care institutions, schools, prisons, churches and synagogues. And for the past five years he and his orchestra have organised the extremely popular annual Dancing on the Square, where hundreds of children from underprivileged areas of Hungary dance together at a free, open-air event. Last June they danced to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony which Fischer says “was considered the music of freedom, especially because of the continuous, uplifting pulsation of the last movement.”

In addition to founding the Budapest Festival Orchestra in 1983, Ivan Fischer has conducted with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony and the London Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra, among others. The Budapest Festival Orchestra is rated as one of the world’s top ten orchestras and in fact the New York Times has said they “might be the best orchestra in the world.” They perform regularly in the world’s top concert halls from Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center in New York to the Musikverein in Vienna and the Royal Albert Hall and Barbican Centre in London.