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!

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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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