Practice emotional hygiene

The pandemic is a good teacher for me. I’m taking the many lessons to heart.

What’s important is coming clear; among the most important, is our relationships with others. Tending the garden of our relationships requires we pull out the weeds of misunderstanding that can get in the way of the beauty, especially as we’re isolated.

Challenge either brings out the best in people, or the worst. I’ve experienced both, within myself and with others. When we’re stressed, other people can feel more irritating, and they can get on our last nerve.

One person shared their shock, hurt, and disbelief when a friend, whom they’d helped extensively, refused to share their huge cache of toilet paper. It has affected their friendship; this breaks my heart.

The meaning and impact of the pandemic is different for each of us. How we’re able to adapt and manage varies moment-to-moment, day-to-day, depends on many factors.

Right now, emotional hygiene is as important as our hand hygiene. It directly affects our health.

I’ve connected with many who find themselves overcome with feelings of sadness, irritability, or grief, seemingly out of the blue. Strong, solid friends tell of times of just losing it.

I’m hearing from people who are embarrassed by something they’ve said or done, or who’ve been deeply hurt by another’s words, actions, or attitudes.

Isolated from our usual diversions, it’s easy to ruminate on what’s been difficult, and embellish other’s behaviour in the virtual reality of our minds. This is not helpful to our health and immune systems.

I often share that the body doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined.

Our bodies experience the effects of our thinking and feeling, secreting either stress hormones, or beneficial hormones.

As Reen Rose shared in her column on Sunday, stress hormones are meant to help us for short periods of time, to move us away from danger, and are harmful to our health when we dwell there.

Used in the long-term, stress hormones negatively impact our immune systems and health. We need to keep these systems working in top order.

Practising mental and emotional hygiene is vital right now. Remembering negative thoughts and feelings are sticky, like a nasty virus; it’s important to be vigilant about what we feed.

I’ve been taken aback by people’s behaviours or responses at times, feeling angry, shocked, or hurt when they act uncaringly, refuse to help, or snap back at an innocent question.

Then, I remember to pause and simply consider that their stress is showing, that’s all.

In such moments, it’s easy to move into judgment or hurt, to take the effects of their stress personally. Instead, I choose to remember these are good people, trying their best in challenging times, just like me. They each have stressors I’m not privy to.

I don’t need to catch the virus of their emotion and allow it to affect my day and my health.

Much like Elsa in Frozen, I can let it go. I’ve learned to cut myself and other people some slack. This has been a powerful lesson.

When people act out of character or are difficult, I’ve learned to take things lightly and to let it go.

I’ve decided to use these moments to remember that few of us have ever lived through such times. We’re all trying our best. I become curious about what else might be going on for them.

When I do this, I find myself filled with compassion and shared humanity. These feelings create health within my own body, and also help tend my relationships.

I choose to remember the effect stress has on our brains and bodies, and that feeding negative emotions hurts me the most.

I am the most direct recipient of my own emotions. While others are impacted by what I’m feeling, it is me who experiences them most directly.

Whether I nurse feelings of gratitude and appreciation, or fear, anger, judgment, and resentment, it’s up to me. I am the governor of my own consciousness, and I am the person most greatly affected by my choice.


Virus takes a toll

Life as we know it has been turned upside down, whether we’re able to self-isolate or we have to continue to work.

Even once-simple trips to the grocery store have taken on a new level of complexity and challenge. It’s exhausting.

I’m beyond grateful to the essential workers who are continuing to work to support all of us, and I can’t imagine what their days are like.

Thank you!

The meaning and effects of the global pandemic are different for each of us.

I hear from many people who are feeling stretched beyond capacity. Difficult and uncomfortable emotions often arise.  

In teaching mindfulness, I’ve learned people often don’t know what to do with uncomfortable emotions.

I thought it would be helpful to revisit the topic of emotions, and what to do when challenging ones arise. 

Emotions come with a sticky note of preference; some emotions we try to hold on to, while others we try to avoid or suppress.

Fear, sadness and grief can whelm up, and tempers can flare, even on the heels of feeling love, appreciation, and gratitude. It can be confusing.

People are pretty good at pushing uncomfortable emotions down and trying to ignore them. When we do this, they often spill out in unexpected ways, looking quite unlike what they really are.

Then, there are those who let it all loose, and unleash their emotions as they arise. We see this in people who have a habit of anger or drama.

Both these responses to emotion easily create interpersonal challenge when we’re reacting from our feelings, instead of responding.

Extreme, or pent-up emotions, can cause us to say and do things we wouldn’t normally do.

Emotions are a normal and natural evolutionary capacity, important to our survival. We’re all capable of experiencing every emotion, although there are some we try to avoid and some we prefer.

I refer to emotions as energy-in-motion. The energy will move through us, if we let it.

Emotion researches tell us even the strongest emotions only last 60-90 seconds, unless we suppress them or feed them with a story. They may come back, but will do so with less intensity, if we learn to turn toward them, breathe, and let them pass.

Our emotions colour the way we see the world; they become the lenses through which we view life.

When we’re afraid, irritated, or angry, we see more things that match that emotion.

When we’re feeling big love, happiness, or positive emotions, we tend to see the world through those lenses.

Extremes of emotion, fear, love, or anger, cause a “gating of perception,” in which the brain blocks out what doesn’t match. We don’t perceive clearly.

This is why people ignore blatant warning signs of abuse when they fall madly in love; they just can’t see them. It’s also why angry people see only that which irritates them; everything makes them mad, and they’re unable to see the goodness.

The problem is, many of us don’t let the emotions move, we resist them, but I've found it helps to notice the sensations of emotion moving through me.

Staying open and curious to what feelings are arising, without judgment, and naming the emotion that’s present, is a powerful way to support ourselves.

Dr. Dan Siegel, professor of psychology and co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Centre at the University of Southern California, recommends we “name it to tame it.”

This simple practice has proven powerful for me and made life more pleasant for those I live with.

In the old days, when I was irritated or felt crusty, I’d try to suppress it, and pretend everything was OK. I thought I was hiding it, but I wasn’t. My irritation showed in the tone of my voice, and in the way the cupboard doors closed. I found more to be irritated by, and the feelings grew.

In learning to name it to tame it, I simply state, out loud to myself, how I’m feeling, without searching for a reason or story about why, or who’s to blame.

This simple act helps to reduce the feeling, and invites the thinking and reasoning part of the brain into play. It soothes my system.

It’s important we find ways to support our emotional health. Learning to name it to tame it is a quick and simple practice to support us in these challenging times.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help if you need to.

No, they're not stupid

People who are taking precautions and those who aren’t are asking the same question:

Are they stupid?  

No, people aren’t stupid, they’re responding differently to what’s happening.

We’ve experienced rapid and dramatic change. With these changes comes uncertainty and varied emotions. Illusions of control have been shattered; certainty about every-day life is altered.

We’re keeping social distance or isolating in our homes because of a microscopic threat we can’t even see. Although we can’t see it, we’re seeing its power to affect our entire planet. 

As I wrote last week, fear causes us to lose connection with the rational, thinking part of our brains as the fight-flight-freeze of the amygdala runs the show. 

Who knew a simple purchase of toilet paper could result in so many emotions, all because of toilet paper?

  • Fear
  • Embarrassment
  • Anger
  • Relief
  • Celebration

I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to get any, embarrassed we needed to purchase it (noticing my sense of needing to justify a simple purchase), angry at those who’d glutted the supply, and such relief and celebration when we managed to find some. 

All that emotion over something I’d never given a second thought to only weeks ago.  

Along with the fear we’re seeing expressed in various ways, comes grief.

As I was lamenting about people ignoring social-distancing guidelines, I was reminded by author Gregg Braden, that what I was witnessing around me may be people in different places in the grief process:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Bargaining
  • Acceptance. 

Grief doesn’t happen only when loved ones die. We grieve when we experience loss of any kind. 

In this past few weeks, we’ve lost much of the world, the way we knew it.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in identifying the stages of grief, clarified these are not sequential processes we move through in predictable order.

We may feel several of them at the same time; it’s not unusual to be in denial, anger, and even depression simultaneously. We may go back-and-forth, or we may get stuck in one or more of the stages.

I’ve come to consider those who are dismissing the precautions, and feel it’s all an over-reaction, could be in the denial phase of grief. 

I found my annoyance with them diminishing, and a sense of compassion filling me as I considered the neighbours who held a party on Friday night might not be able to take-in what’s happening. This felt better inside of me. It changed my internal climate.

Grief is exhausting, it makes us tired. I’ve lost count of the people who’ve told me how absolutely exhausted they are even though they’ve not done much.

Grief affects our ability to think clearly, making it hard to process information.

Grief isn’t just an emotion of sadness, it can show up as irritability, guilt, or feeling blank and removed.

I’ve noticed I’m a little edgier and impatient than normal, and find myself unfocused and mentally foggy at times.

Grief affects us physically. We may experience changes in appetite, challenges with digestion, feeling a heaviness on our chests, muscle tension, and teary. It can affect our ability to sleep, even though we’re exhausted. 

I thought I was fine, until I was overcome with tears of relief as our daughter, who is a front-line healthcare worker, tested clear for the virus; the flood gates opened. I am easily moved to tears by the beautiful things people are doing. And, that’s OK.

Tears are an important form of release, and secrete healing hormones. 

We may not control what’s happening in the world, but we are able to support ourselves, our immune systems, and one another. It’s important we do what we can to support our internal climate, to reduce the stress and grief, and to stay as healthy as possible.

I know my impatience and irritability are the result of the fear and grief that are natural responses. 

I’m learning to apologize more quickly when I sound snappy, and remember not to take other people’s reactions personally. I’m learning to breathe and let it go.

Remembering those who aren’t where you are in response to this crisis aren’t stupid, they’re likely at a different place in the grief process. Understanding this is helpful.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of grief with what’s happening, know you’re normal. Holding yourself and others in compassion and understanding is helpful.

Learning to turn toward and not resist uncomfortable emotions, to breathe our way through them, is a powerful practice. We need each other more than ever now.

Remembering not to be reactive, to pause, turn toward what’s uncomfortable and breathe can support us through these challenging times.  

Be well!


Be mindful, not fearful

Has everyone lost their minds as we navigate this pandemic? What can we do to support ourselves and one another?

As we’re called to stay home and slow the pace of our lives in the outer world, the uncertainty and fear created by the coronavirus pandemic easily causes distress in our inner world.  

Many people are afraid.

We’re hearing about the illogical effects of fear with people hoarding what they deem to be essential items. Grocery shelves have been cleaned off, toilet paper is hard to find, and one couple is even hoarding meat.

Jokes abound on social media about the intelligence of these people, and it’s easy to feel angry about their selfish actions.

In reality, stress and fear cause us to do irrational things, as we stop thinking with our rational minds, and do uncaring acts.

I remember stories from people evacuated during the Kelowna 2003 fire. One lady reported packing a dirty ashtray among her precious belongings in the frenzy to escape her home.

Once safe, she thought she’d lost her mind, and in some ways, she had — fear, and the fight-or-flight response over-rides the thinking/rational part of our brains. People say and do things that would never happen under normal circumstances.

When we experience fear, we do illogical things because the rational, thinking, compassionate part of our brains are no longer running the show.

Our amygdalas, the fight-or-flight centre, take over and we go into survival mode; it can become survival of the fittest. We might be more irritable and reactive.

Most Canadians have never been through such an experience, and we’re all doing the best we can. But, maybe there’s more we can do for ourselves.

While it’s wise to have a two-week supply of essentials, some people are reacting with extremes. With this frenzied shopping and stocking-up, people feel they are taking care of themselves, in reaction to the uncertainty of the situation.

But, what’s also important in taking care of ourselves during these times is managing our inner world, as well as tending to our physical needs.

We, alone, set our internal environment. Our health and wellness are also dependent on our internal environments, which we alone determine; it’s an inside job.

It may not be the coronavirus that’ll affect us as negatively as the stress and anxiety about the situation.

While I’m taking every precaution, as recommended by the experts, I’m also taking care of my own internal environment.

Our attitude about what’s happening is vital to our health and happiness.

Of concern to me are the effects of sustained, heightened fear on our bodies and immune systems. Stress and fear impair immune function, which needs to be operating well to protect us.

Not only does fear cause us to become illogically reactive, it impairs our immune systems, and reduces our body’s ability to take care of itself.

Being angry, critical, and complaining is also harmful to our health and our relationships. Learning how to bolster our immune systems is important.

Our attitudes about what’s happening affects our health.

Wayne Dyer said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Although I admit to being disappointed about some wonderful plans I’ve had to cancel, I’m not dwelling there. I’m grateful precautions have been put in place to keep us safe.

I’m choosing to find opportunity in the restrictions. I’m learning new technology and excited to be ‘forced’ out of my comfort zone, and I’m doing it with humour.

I’ve upped my daily gratitude practice and acts of kindness. I choose to view my acts of social isolation as an opportunity to pause and rest. These practices enhance my health and immune system.

As I learn of each new precaution, I choose to remember that, for right now, I am safe and all is well.

I do this for myself, to remind myself that despite what’s happening in the world right now, I’m OK. And as I do this, I calm, and this also benefits my immune system and health.

As my ability to engage socially is diminished, I’ve decided to view this time at home as an opportunity to pause, and enjoy many of the activities I’ve left for a future date:

  • A bit more reading
  • Making those phone calls I’ve been putting off
  • Writing a note
  • Going for a long walk
  • Taking extra time with my mindfulness practices and prayer
  • Watching special programs feels like a treat.

My body benefits from these things, and as I do them, I choose to do so with a sense of adventure and privilege to have a bit of extra time.

How we experience these times is up to us.  A change in perspective changes our internal body chemistry. We each decide how we get through this time of uncertainty and concern.

As I often say, it’s a time to be gentle, patient, and kind, to ourselves and with one another.

As Rev. Dr. Deborah Gordon reminds us, “Be mindful, not fearful.”

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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