Rattikarn D’Amico, or Ratti to friends and colleagues, shares her positive attitude with patients and coworkers, helping them reduce stress through breathing exercises, stretching and yoga.

A psychiatric nurse at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Behavioral Health Unit in Westport, D’Amico has practiced yoga for more than 20 years and said it started as exercise. Now she practices it mindfully as a meditation, and began teaching out of her home to interested friends and colleagues. She also works on stress-reducing stretching exercises with colleagues.

Stress and depression hit her during the pandemic.

“When we first had lockdown,” she said, “I was studying from home, my son was doing virtual learning and my husband was working from home. It was really hard not to have your own space. It was a lot of stress. There are so many things we aren’t able to control and we have to let it go. That is why it is so important to be happy and healthy and spread positivity.

“Depression can be a silent disease, making it hard for me to focus. I had a lack of motivation, but then I found a meditation program. I put it into practice, using stretching and breathing exercises. It helped me improve my focus and coping skills.”

In the last year, she connected yoga with breathing, practicing mindful breathing to better understand why it is so important.

Because it’s working well for her, she wanted to share her strategies.

“We learn in nursing school that when people have anxiety and breathe too fast, it can cause a release of cortisol and increase the heart rate and stress,” she said. “If you can control your breathing, it can help you control your stress.”

She finds it interesting that an anti-anxiety medication can take 30 to 45 minutes to work, but breathing exercises can help calm a patient in just a few minutes. When interviewing patients in triage, she said she sees many dealing with anxiety and depression.

“They often don’t have coping skills, and start drinking and using drugs because they don’t want to deal with the reality and pain,” D’Amico said.

It is important to put it into everyday practice, she said of mindfulness and yoga.

“We all deal with stress and anxiety every day, but there are ways to turn it into positive energy and get through the day,” she said.