COPING WITH COVID-19: Slow, Deep Breathing

Wanda Sevey on how deep breathing can help reduce stress
Wanda Sevey

As the Princeton Theological Seminary community concludes another academic year and transitions to the summer months, the COVID-19 crisis continues. To help the community navigate this new season, experienced counselors in the Seminary community are providing guidance on simple methods you can use to reduce anxiety and stress. We hope you find comfort and hope as you read about tips, techniques, and testimonies from members of our campus and alumni community.

This week’s reflection is offered by Wanda Sevey, acting director of student counseling.

Everyone needs an inner toolbox to manage the anxiety and stress we are experiencing these days. The Office of Student Counseling is reaching out to the entire Princeton Seminary community to help you add new strategies to your toolbox to manage stress.

The first skill we need to reduce stress is learning to breathe in a way that relaxes our bodies. When our bodies relax, our mind and emotions will follow. You can do these breathing techniques while sitting, standing or lying down.

When we’re not focused on our breathing, it’s common for many of us to take shallow breaths using mostly our chest muscles. Our chest rises, our throat muscles tighten, and we fill the tops of our lungs first. Remember the last time you felt anxious or afraid? Your breath probably became quick and even more shallow. Then your heart starts to race and you feel flooded with tension.

Focusing on our breath and taking slow, deep breaths helps shift our nervous system from “fight or flight” mode to “relax and rest.” Here’s how to engage your body’s natural relaxation response:

  1. Place one hand on your heart and the other on your abdomen
  2. If your shoulders are hunched up near your ears relax them and let them fall.
  3. Breathe in through your nose and feel your hand over your abdomen rise slightly as your lungs fill with oxygen from the bottom up.
  4. Breathe out through your mouth and notice that your abdomen falls.
  5. Repeat slowly several times and notice the calming effect on your body.

Wanda Sevey, MDiv ‘85, LMFT, is Princeton Seminary’s acting director of student counseling. Her work is rooted in her conviction that being in relationship is part of being created in God’s image and that the power of relationship to transform us is rooted in the work of the Holy Spirit. She works from an integrated relational perspective and has specialized training in Emotionally Focused Therapy, EMDR, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, The Gottman Approach, and Internal Family Systems. Wanda met her life partner, Ruth Anne, when they were both students at Princeton Seminary in the 1980s. Their daughter is currently a college student and they also count Daisy, their Boston terrier, as part of the family. Wanda is a licensed couples, family, and sex therapist and is ordained in the United Church of Christ. She graduated from Whitworth University, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the Council for Relationships (CFR) in Philadelphia. She served congregations in a variety of pastoral roles before joining CFR, where she served for over 20 years counseling individuals, couples, and families, teaching in the Couple and Family Therapy Masters program at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, supervising graduate students, and serving as director of two counseling offices.

Educating faithful Christian leaders.

Pastor of Scottsboro Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Alabama

Micaiah Tanck, Class of 2015

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