In the past few days, CNN mentioned something about the rise in domestic violence since ‘stay in place orders’ have been given. To be sure, being cooped up in a given space, being alone, or being in constant contact with others—amid the threat of getting a potentially lethal virus—can certainly raise intense feelings of anxiety, stress, anger and helplessness in all of us.
As this pandemic is causing so much upset in the lives of our communal family, I wondered what I could do to attempt to make what we are all going through less frightening and frustrating.
In my work as a Behavior Health Instructor with Kaiser Permanente’s Behavior Health Department, I was privileged to work with individuals and couples who were going through painful life experiences and were suffering by not knowing what was going on in their emotional world; what they could do to make things better in their lives and in their relationships with others.
What we did was present courses in couples’ communication, anger management, dealing with anxiety, stress and the mind-body relationship. As I thought through what the courses covered, I thought that I would present some information that might make what we are currently going through less scary and frustrating, and help us develop an understanding of what our reactions are about. So, here goes…
Change your thoughts, change your feelings
The first thing to know is that the root of all emotional suffering is ignorance. Not knowing what we don’t know about our feelings or reactions, and not knowing how to make things better in our relationships and lives, only adds to the turmoil that we are going through.
It can feel as if we are walking through some kind of minefield, not knowing what is going to blow up in our face next. It is important to know that there are things we can learn about that will make a difference in our understanding of what could make matters worse in our lives and relationships.
The second thing to know is that it is our thoughts that determine how we feel. If we change our thoughts, our feelings will change. Think about that.
In our Kaiser classes, we often use the example of how you feel when you merge into the lane that you need to be in, in order to pay your toll. You dutifully do what the sign says to do, and you wait for 15 minutes to get to the tollbooth, only to have some guy in a red sports car blow by you and cut into the lane just before the tollbooth.
How would you feel if that were to happen to you? Our class participants all said that they would be pissed, annoyed, ticked off.
Then, we would ask, how would you feel if you found out that the guy who sailed past you and cut into the merge lane had just received a call informing him that his five-year-old daughter had been hit by a bus on a crosswalk, and was being rushed to the emergency room—and that her condition was guarded?
How would you feel, then, about his cutting into line? Everyone in the class could empathize with the driver’s situation and felt compassion, not anger. Our thoughts do determine how we feel.
What is anxiety about?
Anxiety is the anticipation of facing something that we are afraid of, in the future. If you can identify what that fear is, the fear is will lose its steam and you will be able to deal with it in a more direct fashion.
Anticipating the possibility of dying a suffocating death as a result of having the Coronavirus would certainly cause anxiety. The reality is that by bringing the light of awareness into the darkness of the unknown, you can reduce the intensity of the unknown fear.
What is stress all about?
Stress is the body’s reaction to something that we are afraid of facing in the present. There are two kinds of stress, good stress and toxic stress.
Good stress is present when you are walking down the aisle at your wedding or speaking before an audience. This is referred to as eustress. The more often we experience this sort of stress, the better we are able to handle it. This type of stress is situational and only lasts as long as the stressful event is present in our life.
The difficulty with toxic stress is that it is often ongoing, and our body’s stress reaction—with elevated blood pressure, a raised heart rate and the infusion of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline into our bloodstream—causes ongoing wear and tear on the body.
The body has a wonderful natural balancing ability. In times of stress, it becomes more stress-focused. When the stress is over, it is able to calm down and return to normal. With ongoing toxic stress, the body is never able to return to normal, and that causes unnecessary and damaging wear and tear on the heart, circulatory system and neurological system.
Common themes of toxic stress in our lives include:
- Being in one place while feeling that you need to be someplace else.
- Never having enough time and energy to do what needs to be done.
- Feeling that you don’t have the capacity to do what needs to be done.
- Feeling a sense of responsibility for things in your environment, as well as feeling that if you’re not in control, things will get out of hand and even become dangerous.
What can we do to reduce this kind of ongoing stress? Remember that it is our thoughts that cause us to emotionally feel what we do. It has been written that:
Our suffering occurs when we believe in a thought that is at odds with what is true, what was true or what will be true.
Also, Byron Katie has written, “Stress is an alarm clock that lets you know you’ve attached to something that is not true for you.” In essence, we are holding onto one of the common themes of toxic stress, and in doing that, we “believe in a thought that is at odds with what is true” for us.
When we have a stress reaction to some thought or situation that is causing us to suffer, we need to stop, look and listen.
We need to stop simply reacting, look at what is going on with our behaviour and listen to what we are thinking. The more we are caught up in our reactions, the less we are able to relate to what is going on within us. We also need to accept that, “you’ve attached to something [a thought or belief] that is not true for you.”
What is anger all about?
Underlying anger is pain. Underlying that pain is an unmet need. So if you begin to feel angry, stop, look and listen… ask yourself, what is causing me pain right now? What unmet need to do I have, right now? If you can identify your source of pain or your unmet need, your anger will evaporate.
Anger is a way that we attempt to avoid and protect ourselves from the pain of:
- feeling trapped or helpless
- being bad, wrong or unworthy
- experiencing frustration of desire
- and feeling insignificant
However, the more we allow our anger to serve as a buffer for actually experiencing our feelings, the longer we put off facing and dealing with our hurtful feelings, and our need for resolution remains unfulfilled.
Finally, our anger can give us the illusion of being powerful. It allows us to forget another person’s needs. It gives the conviction of rightness. The difficulty with this is that our unmet needs for connection and closeness will remain unmet. Our anger actually drives away our opportunity for closeness with someone with whom we want to share our life.
Support one another
It is my profound hope that by sharing these notions about our feelings, your fears and frustrations can be lessened during these painful times.
It is also important to connect with those who are important to you. Phone calls, notes and emails are profoundly appreciated by others. I wrote a note to my Kaiser Docs and simply said: ‘Thinking of you… Wishing you good health… Thank you for being there… With warmest regard.” Their response was deeply felt appreciation for being remembered by someone.
We are all connected with our human family. We all have compassion and caring within us. We will survive this season if we work together and support one another.
It is important to give yourself a daily shoutout. Look in the mirror and tell yourself, “I love you.” Give yourself a hug. Remember that our thoughts create how we feel, and if you think of yourself as being loveable and huggable, you will feel loveable and huggable. And you are.
Please remember to keep a 2-metre social distance between yourself and others, wash your hands for 20 seconds at a time, and don’t touch your face. Also, please check out Dr. David Price’s video on Google. He is a great guy who works in an ICU in New York, placing ventilators in patients all day long.
My profoundest best wishes to you all.
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