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.”

Stop bullying yourself

Distancing ourselves from bullies and toxic people is a wise decision.

But letting go of toxic others is not enough; we also have to let go of our toxic selves. 

The biggest bully and source of our suffering is often own minds. Most people would never be as mean and cruel to another person as they are to themselves.  

We all have an inner critic that can help us grow and become better, but it’s easy for it to get carried away.

When the inner critic runs rampant, we can endure hours of self-torture, going over-and-over every perceived fault, reviewing and magnifying mistakes, conversations, and mis-steps. 

We can engage in self-name-calling, telling ourselves we are stupid, lazy, or useless, and inflating small blunders or mistakes to catastrophic proportions.

The more we engage in this type of thinking, the stronger the tendency becomes, because, according to mindfulness teacher Shauna Shapiro, what we practice grows stronger. It becomes an addictive habit-of-mind. 

As we ignore our good qualities and magnify our quirks and challenges, we’re engaging in self-abuse.

The pervasive cultural trend of minimizing what’s good about ourselves and amplifying our quirks and flaws, is destructive to our health and happiness, leading to anxiety or depression.

It negatively affects our over-all physical health and quality of life. 

We’d never do this to another person, yet we often do it to ourselves.

While we may think we keep this self-abuse private, it often reveals itself in the way we speak about ourselves.

I cringe when I hear wonderful people say things about themselves that are unkind, cruel, and not true. 

We often don’t hear the words we’re speaking, or really think about the meaning of these words, but they carry an impact. 

While we may not hear what we’re saying, our bodies are always listening, following suit, and agreeing with the mind.

It’s so easy and so human to get drawn into the virtual reality of our minds and the thoughts we’ve practiced again-and-again. One challenging thought quickly pulls us down the rabbit hole of negativity. It can feel hard to pull ourselves out.

We may be so used to the negative narrative that we don’t hear it. Researchers estimate 80% of our 50,000-70,000 daily thoughts are negative.

Just because we think a thought doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s important we question our own thinking. Mindfulness and awareness are key.

Waking up, and listening to ourselves, the words we speak, and observing the nature of our thoughts is a powerful practice. Remembering many of our thoughts are not true and are just stories we make up in our minds is important. 

Over the years, I noticed I didn’t have just one inner critic, I had a committee. This group of characters, who lived only in my head, used to call regular meetings and I attended every one and entertained them all.

Heck, I even invited them for sleep overs. They were mean, and I used to listen to and agree with everything they said without debate.  It was torture.

No more. Why would I do that to myself? If they were real people, I’d never hang out with them or consider their advice.

It was empowering to name the cast of characters and see them for what they were. There’s:

  • Polly the perfectionist
  • Nancy the nag
  • Beulah the bully
  • Woeful worrier.

You get the idea.

This strategy brought some humour to the situation, and it helped me to gain some mental distance from the dialogue.

Another strategy I often suggest to people is the powerful practice of becoming your own best friend. Start noticing your negative self-talk, and consider what you’d say to someone you love and care about who’s in the same situation.

Would you heap on more abuse, reminding them of everything from the past, or would you reassure them, and remind them of their strengths and good qualities? 

Holding ourselves with the same care and concern as a loved one allows us to grow in healthy ways.

We’re not ignoring those places where we need to grow and evolve, we’re finding a better way.

Becoming mindful, and learning to be gentle, patient, and kind with ourselves allows us to make positive changes when needed, and it supports our health.


Why our brains react strongly to what’s unpleasant

I just can't let it go

Getting stuck in negative mental ruts is painful and distracts from what’s good in life.

Challenging situations are often mentally sticky and hard to shake. They easily start to colour our lives.

Psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson, a senior fellow from UC Berkeley, coined the phrase, “our brains are Teflon for what’s positive, and Velcro for the negative.”

Our brains react strongly to what’s unpleasant. 

The tendency of the brain to overemphasize what’s challenging keeps us stuck in a constant state of stress, and we can feel victim to life’s challenges.  It’s called the inherent negativity bias, the tendency of our minds to pay more attention to danger.

Research shows it takes five positives to offset one negative criticism in healthy relationships.  The same is true for life’s experiences. We’re biologically wired to pay more attention to what’s challenging or negative; it’s a safety mechanism for survival.

When stuck in a negative mental loop, our bodies quickly follow suit, as shots of stress hormones circulate. It doesn’t matter if challenging situations are currently happening or coming from memory; our bodies react as if we’re faced with the threat in the present moment. 

It’s challenging to switch gears once we’ve rehearsed a negative mental loop because neurons, or brain cells, that “fire together, wire together,” according to Hanson. Each time we practice a mental thought, negative mental connections become stronger. 

This easily colours our perspectives on life, and we can become negative, cynical, or pessimistic. It’s easy to start seeing only what’s bad, as the storehouse of the negative grows more quickly than what’s good. 

We don’t have to be victim to our negative thoughts, and with practice we can change the landscape of our minds. We can change our set-point for happiness, thanks to neuroplasticity.

It’s not about trying to ignore or suppress what’s difficult; it’s learning to use what’s good in our lives to consciously change our brains.

In the shadows of life’s challenges, we often miss seeing what’s good. 

We can learn to look for what’s good, and allow it to serve us to restructure our brains for happiness.

It’s not about being Pollyanna, but using life’s simple pleasures to restore our balance and perspective.

Dr. Hanson has created a simple yet effective practice, with the acronym of H.E.A.L., that helps change the neural landscape of our brains, allowing us to consciously create more connections for what’s good.

H:  Have and notice good experiences that, in reality, are happening all around us. These can be happening in real-time or be retrieved from a memory.

E: Enrich the experience, savour and expand it. 

A: Absorb it. Allow yourself to drink-in the good feelings of the experience for five to 20 seconds. 

L: Linking it to a moderately challenging experience is an optional step, in which we flip back and forth between savouring the good, and what’s been mildly challenging. 

It benefits us to intentionally stimulate positive feelings. The longer we hold the positive in our awareness, the more emotionally stimulating it is, according to University of Toronto researcher Marc Lewis. 

When we consciously prolong our experience of positive things, it starts to change our ability to take in the good and increases our positive response.

The fourth step of linking is optional, and isn’t required. It’s beneficial though, because when we practice linking the challenging with the good, it allows what’s painful to be infused with feelings of peace and comfort and reduces the suffering created by challenge.  

The more we allow ourselves to take in the good, the more effective we are in navigating what’s not.

Practicing H.E.A.L. doesn’t have instant results, as Hanson says, “it’s the law of little things,” and the cumulative effect of practice creates positive change. New positive neural connections develop over time.

You can begin the practice right now, and repeat it periodically throughout your day.

What’s something good in your life right now; think of a compliment, kind word, or sweet success. Take a few moments to bring one to mind, and fill in the details, make it big, and spend some time savouring it. 

Here’s to your health and happiness.

More New Thought articles

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.

Previous Stories