The coronavirus has no brain, heart or emotions; imagine a rocket-proof tank endlessly plowing through society destroying everything in its path. COVID is like an unleashed demon who is smiling 24/7 as it continuously kills humans during the day and night. But when COVID encounters mental health, it stops for a second and thinks to itself, “You know what . . . this sounds and looks interesting!”
Simple tools and techniques from Acceptance & Commitment Therapy
The Corona pandemic is putting us all in front of new challenges. There are economic challenges, because entire businesses can no longer operate, putting millions of people out of work. And there are health challenges – not only due to Corona itself, but because the pandemic strains the resources of our healthcare system, leading to the illness and death of people who otherwise would have received proper treatment.
And as if this wasn’t enough, we also face mental health challenges. Because of Corona, going outside is no longer “just going outside”. Instead, every trip to the supermarket is now a calculated risk, where we try to avoid contact with other people as much as possible. Meanwhile, we also need to make sure we do not accidentally touch our own face. Leaving the house thus means having to be constantly alert.
We not only fear getting infected ourselves, but that our loved ones get infected, and that we end up losing someone close to us. In fact, it is very realistic that we will experience some form of loss due to Corona, and it is important that we prepare ourselves for loss. The constant stress paired with the uncertainty of the future creates a harmful context, where psychological ailments thrive. For this reason, now more than before, we need to be attentive to our mental health. In the following, I’ve compiled six psychological steps you can do to effectively deal with the challenge of Corona. Let’s begin.
Step #1 Connect With Feelings
When we are entangled in difficult emotions like fear, sadness, or even panic, life becomes hard. Every little step becomes a chore, and our entire focus then revolves around stopping “bad” feelings. Meanwhile, we also stop doing things that would actually help us (e.g. like proper eating and exercise), and put our lives on hold.
In the middle of this pandemic, it’s important to not let our emotions run the show. This does not mean pushing bad emotions away – this has never worked well in my experience – but allowing ourselves to feel emotions, without having to act on them. Do not attempt to force “good” feelings, but try staying with your emotions in an open and compassionate manner. Hold them, like you would hold a small, anxious child. Be kind. Listen to your body. Then see if they actually contain information you can use in the next steps. For example, fear or sadness might be a good way to support connecting with others or taking steps to protect their safety.
#2 Connect With Focus
When the future is uncertain (as it is right now – more than before), our minds like to run wild. We imagine the wildest scenarios of what will happen, and how the pandemic is going to affect us. For instance, many people worry about supermarkets closing, and thus resorted to panic-buying products in bulk, like toilet paper, wine, and even condoms (yes, really). Incidentally, many of those same people are now realizing that this didn’t happen and some are even trying to get their purchases refunded (condoms, anyone?).
When your mind runs wild about all the ways of how things can go wrong, slow down and plant your feet in the now. Literally! Stand up, take a breath, and then notice your feet and how they hold you. Now that you are “grounded,” focus your attention here it matters. This is not about pushing unhelpful thoughts away. The thoughts are here, and that is alright. But instead of letting them take over, let unhelpful mental chatter pass, and focus on what is there to be done, here and now. There are many additional techniques for this, and they are worth checking out.
#3 Connect With Others
Social distancing is no fun. Due to Corona, we can no longer see our friends and families in the same way that we used to, which creates a big challenge. We are social animals after all, and the importance of physical touch for our well-being has been well documented. For the time being, we need to give up (or at least limit) touching others.
However, just because we limit contact, does not mean we need to give up connection. The New Zealand Minister of Health, Dr. David Clark, made an important distinction in a public address, where he emphasized the need for physical distancing, not social distancing. We need to maintain physical distance, while staying connected socially. Through the internet and telephones, we can do this more easily than ever before. Call your loved ones, make time to attend to them, while maintaining six feet of distance.
#4 Connect With Presence
It is astounding how much the world has changed over the past weeks and months. Just two months ago, everything still seemed like it has always been. And you might even find yourself longing for the days when you could mindlessly scratch your nose, and carelessly shake hands. Naturally this is no longer possible. And it is unclear how long this last, and how much longer we will need to continue to adapt to Corona.
Right now it’s easy to wander off with your mind – to romanticize the past, or to paint grim pictures of the future. And when you caught yourself wandering like this, make sure to gently guide yourself back. You are needed right here and right now. Life is happening right in front of you, and the better you can attend to your life right now, the better off you – and everyone you come in contact with – will be. Ground yourself in the presence, and gently guide yourself back whenever your mind has wandered off.
#5 Connect With Values
The Corona situation has forced us all to restructure our days. The morning coffee at McDonalds? No longer possible. The daily commute to work? Not a good idea with public transportation. In short, a big chunk of our lives is out of order, and many of our habits that once filled us with pleasure and meaning are suddenly no longer an option.
This creates a problem. Many people can no longer do what is truly important to them, and for some, it is like taking their purpose, their lifeblood. In this stressful time, it is crucial that we reconnect with our goals and values, and with whatever lies closest to our hearts. Again, there are many techniques to do this, my favorite you can find here.
#6 Connect With Action
Many people have now more free time than ever before, because they are working less, and spend less time visiting their friends and family. Naturally, this opens a big window to finally do the things we always wanted to do, but never quite found the time for. And yet, most people do not tackle their goals.
Instead, they resort to just functioning, going through the motions, and continue putting things off. There is no strict schedule that they would need to stick to, and no colleague or friend to hold them accountable. And so a day in pyjamas on the couch it is.
I get it. It’s hard. And this is exactly why we need to create accountability by choice and start taking action. Move towards your goals in tiny, small steps – bit by bit. This is not just about achieving a specific outcome, but merely taking steps with purpose can do wonders for our sense of competence and self-efficacy. Corona is posing a challenge to us all, and we can come out stronger than ever if we are willing to show up as whole human beings, connected to our feelings and to others, focused on the now and the possibilities it contains for values-based action, and then moving forward in a way that reflects who and how we want to be.
Modern research has taught us a lot about what keeps people in love — and what makes them fall out of love.
There are dozens of research that teach us a lot about what keeps people in love. Many of them point to the importance of work and effort. Successful relationships emerge when two people invest in their relationship — over time their love becomes stronger, more exciting, and full of fresh emotions and feelings.
We all experience sadness at some point or other in our lives. Pondering on the sad thoughts and feelings again and again, can keep people from overcoming sadness. For those who are suffering from depression or are going through an emotionally tough phase, it becomes all the more difficult to stop feeling the way they are. Sometimes, such individuals feel frustrated at why they can’t just stop feeling sad or why can’t they just snap out of their sadness. Another difficulty they face is that other people around them believe the former have control over such emotions, not realizing that a depressed or sad person doesn’t enjoy being sad or unhappy and that he himself too wants to feel good but is somehow unable to do so. It is, therefore, important for all of us to understand that emotions don’t work as simply as we expect them to; and so, you can’t just put a stop to the emotion of sadness altogether. However, what you can surely do is to pause the feelings of sadness, anxiety, guilt, anger, or feelings of being worthless for some time. Here are a few ways that can help you overcome sadness and make you feel better; these may be considered components of your first-aid kit:
1. Distract: A significant characteristic of depression is rumination. A person who is feeling sad or depressed often ruminates on negative thoughts which, in turn, increases the feelings of sadness. To get rid of the habit of ruminating, you should try to distract yourself by watching TV, reading, listening to music or anything that you find enjoyable. The idea is to keep your mind occupied.
2. Use mantra: You can design your mantra which you can recite whenever negative thoughts come to your mind. This can be a serenity prayer, an inspiring quote, or you can just simply repeat saying OM or one.
3. Physical exercise: There is ample research to prove that exercising helps uplift mood. Exercise makes your body release feel-good hormones called endorphins which help lower feelings of sadness and depression. So when you feel sad or down, go out for a walk or hit the gym.
4. Practice gratitude: Research has shown that being grateful helps increase happiness. So whenever you encounter negative thoughts, focus on the things you are grateful for. Concentrate on what you have rather than what you don’t.
5. Write down your feelings: You can make a pact with yourself that every time a negative thought comes to your mind, instead of ruminating over it you will write them down in a journal and close the book. Give outlet to your feelings without overthinking.
6. Let things take their own course: Sometimes, when you try to control things, they take control over you. So rather than trying to control each and everything, free yourself and let things take their own course. Take things as they come and as they are.
7. Read biographies: Reading biographies of inspiring people will help you learn better coping skills and will help you realize that hardships and difficulties are part of life. What matters is how you perceive and approach them. Taking hardships and difficulties as challenges will definitely change your outlook towards them and will help you deal with your situation properly.
8. Challenge your thoughts: Whenever negative thoughts creep in to your mind, challenge them. Don’t surrender to negative feelings; confront such feelings instead. You will find that most of your thoughts don’t even have any base and are just creation of your mind and imagination.
1. Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.
2. Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.
3. The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.
4. Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.
—Henri Frederic Amiel
5. Gratitude also opens your eyes to the limitless potential of the universe, while dissatisfaction closes your eyes to it.
6. This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.
7. Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
8. Be mindful. Be grateful. Be positive. Be true. Be kind.
—Roy T. Bennett
9. We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.
10. Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Self-reflection or introspection means being impartially self-aware and analyzing your beliefs, feelings, actions and emotions. You should use self-reflection to think about how your life is currently like and your role on earth. Self-reflection, when used well, will turn your life around. On the other hand, when misused or when you become obsessed with it…
1. People tend to be happier when they are kept busy, as this prevents them from thinking about the negative things in life.
2. People with low self-esteem tend to humiliate others.
3. Intelligent people tend to have less friends than the average person. The smarter the person is, the more selective they become.
4. Optimistic beliefs about the future can protect people from physical and mental illness.
5. 68% of the people suffer from Phantom Vibration Syndrome, the feeling that one’s phone is vibrating when it’s not.
6. People are more honest when physically tired. This is why people confess things during late night conversations.
7. Happiness, anger, sadness, fear, disgust, and surprise are the six emotions that are universally expressed.
8. Religious practices, like prayer and attending services, is associated with lower levels of psychological distress.
9. Convincing yourself you slept well tricks your brain into thinking it did.
10. Creative people tend to get bored easily as they can’t work on a similar work type for a longer time.
11. Singing reduces feelings of depression and anxiety.
12. Being with positive and happy people keeps you happier.
How to influence people by listening with your senses, not just your brain.
When teaching leaders communication skills, I often ask, “Do you know how people feel when you enter the room?” After a few responses, I ask, “Do you know how they feel when you leave?” No matter how well you thought through the words you shared, the way you listened to them will make or break your ability to change how they feel and think.
Most listening is designed to gain information that will fulfill your needs. How often do you listen to people for these purposes:
- To collect data: You listen to know what to say or do next. You listen to formulate your argument, to compare your perspective to theirs, or to fill in what you think you are missing.
- To give an answer or solve a problem: You listen to know what advice to give when they quit talking.
- To obey protocol: You listen because you should, not because you want to.
Listening from the neck up
When you listen for information to formulate your response, you grab only some of their words. They expect you to hear more, and to understand how they feel even though it is hard to accurately decipher facial expressions.1
Listening while thinking annoys most people. Even if you care about them, they won’t feel connected to you in the conversation.
Listen to receive, not analyze
When you choose to be present and connect with someone, you listen beyond your analytical brain. You suspend analysis. You take in and accept their words, expressions, and emotions as elements of their experience. You acknowledge the story they offer as valid from their current point of view. You don’t insert your opinions or judgments. People feel heard and will listen to you in return.
You receive what people offer with the purpose:
- To connect: You listen to establish a feeling of connection.
- To let the person know you value them: You listen so people feel you care what they think even when your perspective differs from theirs.
- To explore, learn, and grow together: You listen with curiosity to learn from the amazing human in front of you. You enjoy when the conversation takes you somewhere new.
Receiving is an active, not passive act even though you suspend your thoughts. You activate your nervous system, receiving sensory input with your heart and gut. With sensory awareness, you can receive and discern what is going on with others beyond the words they speak. They also feel safe enough to openly talk to you.2 You can find a visualization on how to open all three processing centers of your nervous system — your head, heart, and gut — on this site.
Listening with your senses
Sensory awareness includes an inward awareness of your reactions in a conversation. Your reactions might be in response to what they tell you. You also might be reacting to what you energetically receive from them.3 You can sense people’s desires, disappointments, frustrations, hopes, and doubts even when they have trouble articulating these experiences themselves.
Being sensitive doesn’t mean being wishy-washy. It means you are aware of what is going on around you on a sensory level and can sense when people are conflicted or distressed. Most people claim their pets have this ability to sense their emotional needs. Humans can receive these emotional vibrations as well. We just don’t pay attention to them.
You were likely taught to ignore your sensory awareness as a part of your conditioning as a child. Were you ever told, “You shouldn’t take things so personally,” or, “You should toughen up?” These admonishments led you to rely on your cognitive brain for listening.
I’m often asked if venturing into the land of emotions is risky, especially at work. I hear, “I can’t allow people’s emotions to sway me.”
When you don’t allow people to get under your skin, you aren’t experiencing them fully. You are disconnected internally and externally. You put up a wall between yourself and the people you are with.
You might feel their stress, anxiety, and anger. Don’t let these emotions sit in your body.4 Empathy occurs when you receive what another is feeling using sensory awareness, but you need to let these sensations pass through you.5 If you feel their emotion, relax your body and let the emotion subside as you return to being fully present with the person you are with.
There is also emotional energy vibrating between you.6 You can grasp when they want you to back off and give them space. You sense when they are impatient to move on or if they want to take more time. You can tell when they just want to be heard or acknowledged, instead of getting your advice. Share what you notice, and then listen to their response.
You may feel vulnerable when you open yourself to receive what people express. This vulnerability is a strength. Alan Alda said, “Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you.”7 They feel connected when you interact. They enjoy being with you. They are more open to changing their minds when you receive first and then share your ideas.
5 steps for building sensory awareness in conversations
- Silence your brain: When you quiet your chattering brain, you clear your sensory channels.
- Let go of knowing: Instead of thinking you know how the person will react, try curiosity. Unfortunately, the better you know someone, the more likely you quit being curious. Can you release knowing what people will say? You might be surprised.
- Release the need to be right: Ask questions to understand their perspective. Once they feel heard, you can say you have a different perspective. They will be more willing to hear your point of view.
- Listen with your heart and gut as well as your head: Before your conversation, open your heart with feelings of compassion or gratitude. Then, open your gut by feeling your courage.
- Test your instinct: When you feel an emotional sensation, share what you think they might be feeling, such as anger, frustration, sadness, or yearning. Accept their response. If you are wrong, your guess could still help them better understand themselves and feel you cared enough to understand.
Can you open yourself to fully receive what people offer? They will be more willing to hear your ideas and possibly change their minds if you do.
1 Alice Park. Emotions May Not Be So Universal After All, Time.com, March 6, 2014.
2 Shari M. Gellar and Stephen W. Porges. “Therapeutic Presence: Neurophysiological Mechanisms Mediating Feeling Safe in Therapeutic Relationships,” Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 2014, Vol. 24, No. 3, 178–192.
3 Daniel J. Siegel, The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. New York: The Guilford Press; 2nd edition, 2012.
4 Agata Blaszczak-Boxe, “Too much emotional intelligence is a bad thing.” Scientific American Mind, March 1, 2017.
5 Marcia Reynolds, “Can You Have Too Much Empathy? When empathy breaks trust.” PscychologyToday.com, April 15, 2017.
6 Rollin McCraty, “The Energetic Heart: Bioelectromagnetic Interactions Within and Between People.” Chapter published in: Clinical Applications of Bioelectromagnetic Medicine, edited by P. J. Rosch and M. S. Markov. New York: Marcel Dekker, 2004: 541-562.
7 Alan Alda, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned. New York: Random House, 2005, p. 160.
A recent research has demonstrated that worry affects regions of the brain that are crucial for concentration. The study was conducted by researchers from the Department of Psychology in the University of Roehampton, London. Professor Paul Allen and his colleagues from the Department have examined how worry influences ‘attentional control’ or the brain areas that are involved in concentration.
The study involved the assessment of the participants for determining how often and how intensely they face worrying thoughts. They participants were made to undergo a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scan while carrying out a task requiring different levels of attentional control. The scan results indicated that, whilst all participants were able to effectively complete the task, higher levels of worry were associated with greater activity and reduced connectivity in the attentional control regions of the brain. This was evident particularly in the frontal cortex. This shows that worry impair attentional control particularly when task demands are high.
Professor Allen said “Everyone worries about things from time to time—some people more than others. Psychologists have known for some time that worry can affect our concentration, especially when we need to focus on difficult tasks. This finding suggests that worry can lead to less efficient use of neural resources and may explain why worry affects our ability to concentrate on everyday tasks.”
The study has significant implications for the understanding of how the brain and its ability to function normally are affected by emotions like worry and anxiety.
Five Ways to Boost Your Concentration
We all were probably taught to never lie but there would be rarely anyone who can truthfully claim that he or she doesn’t lie or hasn’t lied in life, ever. Depending upon the demands of the situation, we might tell a lie for harmless reasons like to avoid awkward situations, protect others, or avoid hurting others’ feelings, or, for some other reasons that are much serious and can potentially wreak havoc on our lives. However, there are some people who lie out of habit. And, the more they lie, the easier and more frequent this behaviour becomes. Scientists have now discovered why liars lie.
Psychologists believe that children start lying at the age of two. Since lying involves paying attention to the environment, complex planning, and the ability to manipulate a situation, it is actually considered a crucial milestone in children’s development. While growing up, they keep on learning how to use this skill for their own benefit, and by the time they reach adulthood, their lies become much more clever, harder to catch, and easier to get away with.
Cognitive neuroscientist Joshua Greene from Harvard University investigated the physical process of lying during an experiment. Participants were given the opportunity to win money by lying. While some of them still stuck to being honest and told the truth, others resorted to deception. The MRI of the participants was performed to examine their brain activity during the study. The MRI reports revealed that there was an increased activity in the frontal parietal control network of the group of liars because deciding between honesty and lying requires hard and intricate thinking. Since the neural reward centers of the participants who won money by telling lies were more active, it can be assumed that lying may be a result of the inability to resist temptation.
However, there is still no scientific explanation as to why people tend to avoid lying and whether it is a result of conflict in their brains or an understanding of morality and self-control, or simply following the social norm. According to Dan Ariely, a behavioral psychologist at Duke, “We are our own judge about our own honesty. And that internal judge is what differentiates psychopaths and non-psychopaths.”
Apparently, despite that the urge to lie comes from within, external factors can influence the frequency too. Research has shown that people tend to be dishonest when they are suffering from stress or lack of sleep, or when they see others lying. “We as a society need to understand that when we don’t punish lying, we increase the probability it will happen again,” Ariely added.
Ariely and his colleagues conducted a study to show the change in participants’ brain while they are being dishonest. The study revealed that there was an increased activity in their amygdala, a part of the brain responsible for producing fear, anxiety and emotions. This change made lying or being dishonest easier for those participants. The signals from the amygdala reduced when they expected no consequences for being dishonest, such as when playing a game. Cognitive neuroscientist at University College London, Tali Sharot, who led the research said, “If you give people multiple opportunities to lie for their own benefit, they start with little lies and get bigger and bigger over time.”