While there is no hand sanitizer for your emotional condition, do not ignore your mental and emotional well-being in these scary and uncertain times.
We do not know where this Covid-19 crisis is leading us. A lot depends on how effectively we follow the directives of the health community and we implore you all to do so assiduously. We know this is serious and will lead to major disruption of life as we know it for some time.
It is reasonable that this feels scary. It is reasonable to be concerned but it does NOT need to hijack your well-being or your connection to life and the world. You can do this. The pandemic is real and it is serious. But so are YOU. Now is the time to prioritize your well-being
Move Up the Emotional Ladder
You have a job to do. Your task is to identify where you stand on the emotional scale and find ways that you can move up a notch or two each day or each week if you are feeling more stuck.
No one expects you to feel great right now. Improvement up the emotional scale, even a small one, matters more than where you stand on the ladder. When we improve, even a little, the sense of accomplishment and possibility is palpable.
Improvement up the scale will grow your confidence and enhance your sense of calm which in turn will increase your optimism and optimism is the critical difference between despair and contentment. Optimism is not blind and it is not total. It is not being a “head in the clouds pollyanna”; rather it is working towards a default emotional state that believes in your inherent goodness and worth and believes that things will be ok. Once you reach this stage, you have set yourself up well for lasting emotional well-being…..,.but take it one step at a time.
The Steps Up the Ladder of The Emotional Guidance Scale
First, try to identify where on this chart you stand RIGHT NOW. Let’s start.
- Fear/Sense of Worthlessness/Despair
- Generalized Anxiety and unease
- Sense of Connection
- Self-Kindness and positive regard
- Content Stillness
You may be wondering why some of these negative emotions are “better” than those that come before them. Note, they do not necessarily FEEL any better and while they are not “healthy” per se, they are gradually more ACTIVE and nuanced and less nihilistic or hopeless. Your goal is not perfection or Nirvana. Seek to dwell in the Top Ten range MOST of the time and you will experience meaningful well-being.
Strengthen your Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence is being aware moment to moment of your feelings and having the skill and will to find a way to guide yourself toward health. The goal is not to emotionally bypass your feelings. The goal is to understand what the next best feeling might be and use tools to get there.
How To Identify Emotions
To improve your emotions you first need to know where you stand RIGHT NOW. What is a framework to understand and name your emotions?
- Give yourself three to five full minutes of quiet contemplation each day. No phone, no conversation, no tv. Just you. (You will come to find this act of self-respect to have great intrinsic value)
- Pay more attention to your bodily sensations than to the content of your thoughts.
- Breathe deeply.
- Thoughts will come, that is ok, but be particularly willing to let go of critical,self-judgemental, or dismissive thoughts. Trust the process.
- Experiment with the idea that “Circumstances have some effect on my emotions, but not as much as I do.”
Examples from our Life and Times
My parents are elderly and they are not taking this seriously enough. It makes me so angry and my wife doesn’t understand. If you are sitting with Anger, you are in pain and at some risk of acting out. Usually this is an internalized sense that something is wrong and you have the responsibility to change it. If you can let go of that you can move out of this danger zone and up the scale to Discouragement, Blame or Worry, see this as progress!
I feel so worried about how this pandemic is going to affect my finances. I’ve worked so hard and ...down the rabbit hole you go. First of all, take a look at the scale and notice that if you are experiencing Worry, you are already pretty far up the scale. So give yourself some credit! You’re halfway there already. If you can move worry to doubt, that is even more progress.
And up you go.
Suddenly, there is so much to do. The kids are home from school. You have to learn new technology to work remotely and secure provisions for yourself, older neighbors, and family. Good, you are overwhelmed, a step up the emotional guidance scale!
Next step, if you are lucky enough to get isolated at home, take the time to be grateful and feel compassion for the humans out there helping humans. The truck drivers, the grocery personnel, nurses, doctors, CNAs and all other Helpers and their loved ones.
Time to pull out the big guns. Clean out your junk drawers and your closets! Clutter clearing is a metaphor and action that clears out what no longer serves you and makes space for something new. All those donations to your local charity shop will help support food banks, child care, and so much more. Once the dust settles, someone out there will be so pleased to get your treasures affordably and you may have just moved from frustration through pessimism and quite possibly to boredom.
A Word about ‘Boredom’
Boredom gets a very bad rap in our culture. In fact, many might expect to see it WAY further down the line than #8 on the scale. But as you can see, it is in fact in the top ten and thus one of the far more positive emotions. We have become acclimated to near constant stimulation and we associate this stimulation with ‘normal’ and ‘entertaining’ and an antidote from the far worse feeling of being bored. The majority of our relentless stimulation from news, games, and phones is noise which can trigger anxiety and unease (Way further down on the list). Boredom can be an opportunity to take your three minutes (maybe ten or fifteen today) to pay attention to your own feelings and “run your own energy” and cut out the chatter.
Set Boundaries and Protect Your Sanctuary - ‘Peace’ to the Puzzle
- Limit your exposure to the media and worried people.
- Get the facts and then turn it off.
- Practice immunity building self-care and create a nourishing environment. Eat foods high in antioxidants (blueberries, spinach, kale, beets, etc.) Drink plenty of water. Diffuse and inhale the essential oils of antiviral and mood-elevating tea tree and eucalyptus oils.
- Take Epsom salt baths.
- Sleep and nap. This is not lazy, it is essential for your health and mood.
- Exercise in nature if possible. Regular exercise along with sleep are vital parts of physical and emotional health in a pandemic and always.
- Negative emotions lodge in the body. Take time to stretch them out.
- Breath, walk in nature, read, journal.
- Possibly use the time to do once a week teletherapy with a coach or therapist.
- If you have a pet, give them extra love. They need it and it will make you feel better too.
Using these tools may take you right into Contentment.
From Contentment, you may find that this time of isolation and space between may be an opportunity for you to connect to your core values and priorities. You may be inspired to do that creative project you have been putting off and discover what is inside you that you have been ignoring. And those around you may feel calmer and be inspired to do the same.
We are in this together.
We are hopeful.
Karen Schwartz Clover, MA, CCC-SLP
Social Cognitive Therapist
Aaron Gilbert, MA, LICSW
Boston Evening Therapy,
Founder and Owner
*Emotional Guidance Scale from the work of Abraham Hicks.