How to Regulate Your Stir-Crazy Emotions
Findings and recommendations from a survey of people on lockdown
Co-authored with Diana Divecha
During the week of March 23, days after U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams urged Americans to stay at home to slow the spread of Covid-19, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) conducted a survey of more than 5,000 people worldwide.
We asked participants to describe how they were feeling, in their own words. More than 95% of the words reflected unpleasant feelings; the top five were anxious, fearful, worried, overwhelmed, and sad. Only about 6% of the sample mentioned positive feelings like hopeful and grateful. The causes people gave for their suffering were related to finances, lack of access to groceries and cleaning supplies, balancing work and family life, feeling cooped up, or fear that they or someone they love would contract the coronavirus.
When we asked people about the strategies they used to manage their feelings, a few well-known ones came up, like mindfulness and meditation. But most of the strategies were worrisome: screaming and losing their temper, drinking and/or eating more than usual, obsessively cleaning, overthinking, consuming too much media, avoidance, and oversleeping.
An occasional slip is understandable, but it doesn’t take a scientist to know these strategies will be harmful in the long run.
The challenges we’re all facing and feeling are real.
Isolation goes against the very grain of being human. We know from studies on newborns to adults that our nervous system is designed to engage with others. When our social connections are broken, we can become dysregulated and even experience physical pain. In our bodies, isolation can feel like a kind of death sentence, and the thought of it can set off our alarm bells.
Regulating your emotions does not mean denying your reality.
For people sequestered with loved ones, minor irritations can quickly snowball, because we’re not used to spending so much time together. Structural stress, like job loss, can spill over into family…