How to Recover from Zoom Fatigue

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Day after day it is the same.  Zoom for several hours or maybe almost the whole day.  Stay inside with just your new pals–your computer and smartphone.  In March, 2020 this condition was given a name, “Zoom fatigue”.  And then no one thought it would still be with us one year later.

Working and learning online can sap your energy by requiring long periods of close attention to the image and voice of others as well as to yourself.

What Causes Zoom Fatigue

It requires more effort to interact with someone on zoom than it does to interact face-to-face.  In face-to-face interactions your gazes shifts from looking at the person to looking at the surroundings and you are not also looking at yourself.  In zoom the other person is closer than would be in a face-to-face interaction.  This closeness causes discomfort because your personal space is being invaded.  In zoom there is also a slight lag before the other person responds and this lag also leads to fatigue.

Then there is looking at yourself on the zoom screen, which can be embarrassing.  You notice every flaw in your appearance and conclude that the others on zoom must be aware of them too. 

Passive Versus Active Activity

And so much of what is on the zoom screen requires passive viewing.  Team mates are droning on and on.  Teachers are lecturing or assigning a short passage to read.  Even watching a video is boring because it is such a passive activity. 

If you could actively manipulate data or objects on the screen you would at least get some positive reinforcement and that would increase the “feel good” neurotransmitter, dopamine.  Actively involving the online viewer is why video games are so appealing and why teachers are encouraged to use a problem-solving approach rather than lecturing.

But, no, with zoom you just watch, listen, and occasionally reply.

Limits of Attention

After 20 minutes your attention has totally departed.  Twenty minutes is the attention span for the average adult.  Although attention span varies widely among people of all ages, for the elementary school aged child attention span is 12-20 minutes. Yet, everyone is often required to pay attention on online way beyond what is humanly possible.

Because you are unwillingly tied to Zoom, your attention lags and your resentment grows. Even apathy sets in.

Cognitive Overload

So, you check email or texts, or social media.  Yes, this breaks the boredom but it also subjects you to cognitive overload. You are fooling yourself if you think you can multitask and no one will notice.  The minute you divide your attention, you are adding more stimuli that you trying to respond to at the same time.  Cognitively you can’t do a good job of anything if you are trying to attend to too much at once.

Sitting in one place for long periods of time, working from the same room in the same house, all lead to despair.  It seems nothing will ever change.  Being isolated from face-to-face interaction is taking its toll on your mind and body. Yet, you quickly dismiss any escape because of the threat of being exposed to COVID. 

Do This One Thing

There is one thing you can do, however, to keep from going crazy, even if you have to work/learn online for long periods of time day after day.  You can break your online time into 45-minute (or, even better yet, 20-minute) periods.  Between each period stand up, take up to three deep breaths, stretch, and look out a window at nature. If possible, open a window and breath the fresh air or take a moment to go outside and “smell the roses”.  Notice all the different shades of green on one tree or plant.  Notice whether there is a slight breeze, what sounds you hear, and what smells are coming from nearby plants and flowers.  You don’t have to spend more than a few minutes doing this but those minutes will rejuvenate your mind and body. You then can focus on your work/lessons more clearly and with more interest. 

If there is another person in your household, during your break, smile and ask that person how he/she is doing. You then are giving both yourself and others a moment of much-needed face-to-face social interaction.  Even talking to your pet can help relieve the boredom of being constantly online.

The one thing not to do during your breaks is check your emails, texts, and social media. All of those can wait until you are finished with your work or lessons online.  Yes, co-workers might email or text you while you are online but you are not at your best trying to respond to them while you are also expected to be in a zoom meeting.  Let your co-workers know this and maybe that will give them some relief too.

Now, take that break.  You deserve it.

REFERENCES

Bailenson, J. N. (2021). Nonverbal overload: A theoretical argument for the causes of zoom fatigue. Technology, Mind, and Behavior, 2 (1) https://doi.org/10.1037/tmb0000030

Murphy, M. (2008) Matching workplace training to adult attention span to improve learner reaction, learning score, and retention. Instructional Delivery Systems, 22(2), 6-13.

Powers, S. R., Rauh, C., Henning, R. A., Buck, R. W., & West, T. V. (2011). The effect of video feedback delay on frustration and emotion communication accuracy. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(5), 1651–1657. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2011.02.003.

Give Yourself a Little Love This Valentine’s Day

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The new year can bring regrets and resolutions to do better in the future.  Yet, reminding yourself about these regrets can stop you from giving yourself the love you need to have a happy future.

Many psychologists, including Erich Fromm, have asserted that you can’t fully love another person until you fill love yourself.  So how do you do this? You have to stop judging yourself. And stop seeking others’ approval of you.

You Are Unique

Instead of judging parts of yourself as good or bad, you can see yourself as just a unique human with weaknesses and strengths. You are lovable because you are this unique individual, this whole and real person.

Negatively Judging Yourself

What is it specifically that you don’t accept about yourself? Try this short assessment by filling in the rest of each sentence.

I failed to…

I shouldn’t have…

I wish I were…

I need…

People would say I am…

I am…

I am proud of…

If only…

Do some of your responses indicate that you regard yourself as only conditionally acceptable? Are you starting to realize how harshly you judge yourself and how much you rely on the approval of others? Can you change your negatively biased self-referencing beliefs to more helpful ones?

Change the Negative to Neutral

For example, can you tell yourself you did the best you could do at the time and forgive your mistakes? You probably let the mistakes other people make slide so why not do that for yourself?

Focus on the Present

Instead of dwelling on the past, can you pull your mind back into the present? When you let your mind go back into the past, you see yourself as you were in the past and discount who you are now, in the present. Staying in the present gives you a fresh start to be all that you are.

Love Your Uniqueness

Can you accept that you do have some weaknesses, but those are what make you a unique person, so you don’t have to hide or become defensive about them? You are a unique individual, with your own set of strengths and weaknesses. That does not make you better than or less than another person—just different—and you are usually loved for that difference. You no longer need to seek approval from others because you have given yourself approval of both your strengths and weaknesses.

Accept Yourself

Can you accept yourself just as you are now—unconditionally—free of any qualifications? If you catch yourself judging your appearance, personality, or actions, let that judgment go.  Replace the judgment with a loving kindness towards yourself.  Judging one’s self is the opposite of loving one’s self.

Now that you have given yourself this unconditional love you can begin to give it to others.

Science’s Advice for President Elect Biden

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Missing Piece

President Elect Biden must now unite us in meeting the challenges of the pandemic, the economy, the climate, and social ills. To do this, he can use a powerful tool of science, modeling.

Modeling is observing a person showing a particular behavior and then engaging in that behavior. One learns to behave a certain way just by observing a person behaving that way. And, if the model gets a reward for a particular behavior, it is even more likely the observer will engage in that behavior.

For example, watching a person on a television program or on social media show kindness and honesty in interactions with others, inspires the viewer to show kindness and honesty. The viewer might also see that person rewarded for those behaviors by the recipient smiling and saying “thank you”. Likewise, watching a person insulting others and repeating lies increases those behaviors in the viewer, especially if there is a reward for doing so. The reward can be as simple as then feeling superior over others.

When the President of the United States models bigotry and lying, followers see these behaviors as ones that will get them what they want. When the President of the United States models respect and honesty, followers will show each other the same. 

President Elect Biden can demonstrate listening with empathy and then acting with compassion. If he models these behaviors on social media, he can heal the divide as more and more people begin to show these behaviors towards each other.

If he models these behaviors in his interactions with politicians, he will increase the chance that those politicians will also show these behaviors in developing a consensus where everyone wins.

Modeling is such a powerful learning device that even advertisers use it to get viewers to buy their product. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi were prosocial models who were able to inspire global social change. Now President Elect Biden will have no difficulty consistently modeling prosocial behaviors that are his second nature.  These behaviors will then bring us together to create a better country for all of us. We will learn to listen to each other rather than denigrating those who think or act differently from us. Empathy, respect, compassion, and honesty come naturally to him. And, because these are the behaviors of love, if we all start showing them, they can replace hate.

Bandura, A. (1986., Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. (pp. 169-195).

Bandura, A. (1965). Influence of models’ reinforcement contingencies on the acquisition of imitative responses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1, 589-595.

Palmer, B.B. (2018). Love demystified: Strategies for a successful love life. St. Petersburg, Florida: Booklocker.

How Resilient Are You?

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Working from home, taking care of children who are doing online schooling, missing social contact and get-a-ways all are creating heightened stress.  Some days it may feel like you want to cave in from all the stress. Other days you may feel you are able to handle everything.

Being able to handle stress is known as being resilient.  To find out how resilient you are, take the following short quiz from Davidson and Begley’s book The Emotional Life of the Brain.

Answer each question True or False.  If you are tempted to think long and hard about a question, or if you feel that there are too many nuances and exceptions, resist.  The most accurate results come from making a snap judgment about whether a question is true or false about you.

  1.  If I have a minor disagreement with a close friend or spouse—closer to “No, it’s your turn to do the dishes” than “You cheated on me!”—it typically leaves me out of sorts for hours or longer.
  2. If another driver uses the shoulder to zoom up to the front of a long line of traffic waiting to merge, I am likely to shake it off easily rather than fume about it for a long time.
  3. When I have experienced profound grief, such as the death of someone close to me, it has interfered with my ability to function for many months.
  4. If I make a mistake at work and get reprimanded for it, I can shrug it off and take it as a learning experience.
  5. If I try a new restaurant and find that the food is awful and the service snooty, it ruins my whole evening.
  6. If I’m stuck in traffic because of an accident up ahead, when I pass the bottleneck I typically floor it to vent my frustration but still see the inside.
  7. If my home water heater breaks, it does not affect my mood very much because I know I can just call a plumber and get it fixed.
  8. If I meet a wonderful man/woman and ask if he/she would like to get together again, being told no typically puts me in a bad mood for hours or even days.
  9. If I am being considered for an important professional award or promotion and it goes to someone I consider less qualified, I can usually move on quickly.
  10. At a party, if I’m having a conversation with an interesting stranger and get completely tongue tied when he/she asks me about myself, I tend to replay the conversation—this time including what I should have said—for hours or even days afterward.

Give yourself one point for each True answer to questions 1,3,5,6,8, and 10.  Give yourself zero points for each False answer.  Give yourself one point for each False answer to questions 2,4,7, and 9; score zero points for each True answer.  Anything above seven suggests you are Slow to Recover.  If you scored below three, you are Fast to Recover and thus quite Resilient.

If you want to be more resilient, change what you are saying to yourself.  Instead of replaying self-recrimination or angry thoughts, notice what you are saying to yourself and change the message.  For example, you might be thinking, “If I just had not been so critical, my ex would still be with me.” Change this message to, “It was a hard lesson to learn, but I am grateful that I now know how to be less critical.” You are then less hard on yourself and it is compassion, not criticism, that facilitates greater resiliency.

Another thought that needs to be dispelled in order to become more resilient is “Everyday is the same and it will never end.” Realize that there will be an end to this crisis, even though it is difficult to do so during the crisis.  Knowing that some of your present stressors will not be present in the future helps you to have a more positive mindset.  Then you can meet each day with renewed vigor rather than a feeling of depletion.

Davidson, Richard J. and Begley, Sharon (2012) The Emotional Life of Your Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.

Recovering from Loneliness in the Age of Covid-19

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Feeling Lonely? So many people feel like you do.

Before the social distancing and isolation brought on by Covid-19, there was an epidemic of loneliness in the United States. A recent poll identified three out of every five Americans as suffering from chronic loneliness. Among millennials the percentage is even higher. 

With Covid-19 even more Americans feel lonely. It’s not just about being physically alone. It’s a feeling that no one really cares about you. Yes, there is social contact online and by telephone. There is maybe even talking with someone six feet away. But none of this contact is the same as interacting with co-workers or others on site. The deep connection is missing.

Several of the patients in my practice as a clinical psychologist tell me they feel the pain of not being touched physically nor emotionally day after day.  They begin to think of themselves as not really mattering to anyone. 

Because I am also a psychology professor, I try to give my patients some ways of thinking about being alone that psychologists have found are helpful.

Realize Loneliness Is a Label about Yourself Put on a Feeling

Being alone can create a feeling of emptiness, anxiety, dis-ease.  Humans are social animals with a need to bond with others.  When this need is not satisfied, there is a feeling of lack.  Yet, it is not the lack itself, but the label attached to this lack that creates the pain of loneliness. 

In trying to figure out why there is not someone there for you, you might label yourself as not loveable.  Or you think that something is wrong with you, which whomever you are with will quickly notice. That lonely feeling, then, comes from thinking of oneself as a loser.  And when you label yourself as a loser you lose the motivation to begin or renew a relationship with others.  You then isolate even more, creating the very conditions that are distressing you.

Notice and Then Change What You Are Saying to Yourself

If you thought of yourself as loveable you might be more comfortable being alone. And you might also be more willing to seek out opportunities to be with others. 

But how do you see yourself as more loveable? First, notice what you are saying to yourself that is not helpful. Are you labeling yourself as flawed and that everyone eventually will see those flaws? That is a sure way to not venture out of your shell. Now change the flawed message to one that is more helpful.  Identify some of your attractive qualities and remember these each time you see yourself negatively.  In this way, the flaws are balanced out with the attractive qualities. 

Reach Out to Others

Now you are ready to connect with others. Yes, you will have to initiate the connection. That can be uncomfortable but, if you are now giving yourself the message that you have some positive qualities to share with others, it might be a little easier to reach out to others.

Yet, another thought might quickly enter your mind and keep you from taking action to connect with others. You might be thinking, “When I’m with others I think they are constantly evaluating me—what I say, how I look, what I do.” That self-talk holds you back so you have to change it into something more helpful.

Challenge that thought by saying “I will focus on the other person instead of focusing on the anxiety I feel when I feel I’m being evaluated.” Focusing on the other person instead of yourself takes the pressure off of what you are feeling.

Let the other person know what you noticed or heard instead of worrying about what you should reply. Stay with this stance. Everyone wants to be acknowledged as noticed and heard. It starts the connection and it deepens it.

Where to Find Others

If you don’t have some friends or relatives that you can reconnect with, try volunteering to help others. Volunteering increases your sense of really mattering to someone, which is the opposite of what you might have been thinking when you were isolating. 

Think about who you would get the most satisfaction from helping.  Would it be children, teenagers, adults in special circumstances, senior citizens?  Then do an online search for where you might be most needed.  The search terms would be the name of your city and the word, “volunteer”.  Or, you can make the search more specific, by adding the name of the group you would like to help (e.g. neighbors, homeless, migrants, special needs). VolunteerMatch.com and CreateTheGood.com are two sites that list volunteer opportunities in your local community.  Not only would you be making a positive change in your community, you would be meeting other people who are also volunteering. And in this time of the Covid-19 crisis, so many people need so much help.

If you want to help but still want to stay home, there are many ways you can volunteer virtually.  You won’t have quite the same experience of connection but you are taking the first step in reaching out to others.

Thus, by opening up your mind and focusing on the needs and words of others you will start to recover from loneliness.

Finding Real Love Online

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You meet someone on line.  Then you text.  Then you Zoom or, if possible, meet for coffee.   But why, as the interaction increases, do so many of these possible lovers turn into duds?

Maybe it is because what is presented online is not who the person really is.  Or maybe it is because spending so much time with people online leaves no time to build relationship skills.

So, what should you look for online in a possible partner?  And how do you best present yourself online?

To find the partner you really want, make a list of the qualities of that person that you feel are important for a good relationship.  Consider whether you are looking for a short-term or a long-term relationship because, in one study, both men and women focused on sexual desirability when evaluating a prospective short-term relationship.  They cited qualities such as physical attractiveness and athleticism.  Yet, when a long-term relationship is desired, honesty, warmth, kindness, and intelligence were cited.

Next, prioritize these qualities.  The first three priorities will then become what you will look for in online descriptions.  A person who really has those qualities will list them rather than just presenting superficial desirable qualities.

If only one of the qualities you desire is listed, you can use later interactions to ask questions that might elicit the other qualities or even some surprising other desirable qualities.  For example, you could ask what qualities the online prospect is looking for.  Then you will know whether there is a mismatch in what you both are seeking. Or you could ask about a time when the person told a lie and how they felt about it. 

What you often do not see immediately online are some qualities that are red flags.  Everyone is initially trying to present an ideal self. And you might be so enamored at the beginning that you are blind to the subtle cues that indicate that person is not a keeper. Often, it isn’t until you are much deeper into the relationship that these red flags begin to show.  For example, does the person want others to do things their way; blow hot and cold; get highly threatened by differences of opinion?  (More of these red flags can be found in Beverly Palmer’s Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life).  We all show some of these characteristics some of the time but it is the insistence and persistence of them that create problems in relationships. 

How do you find out about characteristics that do not bode well for a long-term relationship when you are just interacting online?  One strategy is to ask how they would react in a given situation.  Ask, “If someone interrupted you when you were trying to tell them something important, what would you feel and what would you do?” Or, “Tell me about a time when you were disappointed because someone didn’t think or act the way you expected them to.”

Now focus on yourself. How are you presenting yourself online?  There is not a long list of qualities you have to have in order to be loveable.  There is only one main thing you have to do: listen to the other person.  Online communication or texting can present some impediments to getting the full message that is being communicated.  But, if you pause before shooting off your reply, you can pick up the essence of the message and you can let your partner know what that essence is.

Everyone wants to be listened to and acknowledged that they were heard.  Showing you have listened to others makes them feel appreciated and valued.  They then love you because you make them feel this way.

To listen closely enough to the other person to understand what they are trying to communicate is not easy.  First you have to de-center and focus on the other.  You have to let go of any anxiety or concern about how you should respond.  Focus entirely on the other person instead of what you are thinking or feeling.   After you have heard what was said, do not give your instant reaction.  Instead, repeat back the essence of what you heard.  After you have acknowledged that you understood what was communicated, you can say what is important to you.  Throughout your conversation you have to let the other person know you have listened before stating your point of view.

You might also want to assess how good of a listener the other person is.  Since two people showing they are really listening to each other could be the start of a loving relationship.

Regan, P.C., Levin, L., Sprecher, S., Christopher, F.S. & Gate, R. (2000). Partner preferences: What characteristics do men and women desire in their short-term sexual and long-term romantic partners?. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality. 12 (3), 1-21. https:// doi.org/10.1300/J056v12n03_0

Too Much Togetherness?

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Here’s How to Keep the People You Are Cooped Up with from Getting on Your Nerves

Sue and Sam are both working from home (and their tiny home is feeling tinier by the minute).  Alisha is bored out of her mind and has never felt so alone even though she rooms with Jordan.  And then there is Luz who is losing her mind trying to entertain kids nonstop day in and day out. 

You might be working from home or have children at home–all day long.  Does it seem like every five minutes someone wants something?  And do you find yourself sometimes snapping at those in your home or even those on the screen?

You probably have discovered that criticizing or trying to control the behavior of other people in your life just doesn’t work.  So, what, then, can you do to not have frayed nerves?

First, set aside a personal space and a time of no interruptions for each person in your home.  It’s the constant demands for attention that get on your nerves.   Even in a small home, find a corner where you can set up a table and a chair, or if you have particularly pesky people around, you might even have to close a door or cordon your space off with a rope and hang and sign on it that says “shhh”.  Some private space and a quiet moment can help everyone decompress. But don’t forget to also set aside a mutually agreed upon time to interact.  After all, you don’t want to look like you are never approachable.

Perhaps you can’t avoid those taxing people (you may even be trying to homeschool them), but if you find yourself starting to snap at others, use this phrase instead of the snippy one to state your concern. Fill in the blanks in this phrase: “When you….I feel….and I want/need to…..” For example, “When you interrupt me, I feel harassed and I need to focus on what I’m doing for the next half hour.”  A statement like this does not criticize nor try to control the other person, because there is no “you” in this statement.  It simply states what you are feeling and what you need.

Another way to respond to triggering behavior is to monitor your rising tension or anger so you can do something to reduce it before giving a curt response. Stand up, stretch, and then take 3 slow, deep breaths.  Periodically do this even if you are not tense or angry because it can head off those feelings.  The deep breaths create a relaxation response as well as giving you a moment to re-group and re-focus.  If all of this fails and you catch yourself starting to yell, take a walk outdoors (but do tell the people in your house when you will be back).

Sometimes writing your complaint down on paper instead of saying it can be helpful.  The irritation is then on the paper instead of on your mind and you can even toss that irritation in the trash.  Or you can stash it away for a time when you can voice the complaint more calmly.

A great way to break the cycle of irritation and keep the peace is to say something positive.  Psychologists John Gottman and Robert Levenson found that it is not the amount of negative statements that dooms a relationship but the ratio of negative to positive statements. For a harmonious relationship there must be five positive communications for every one negative communication.  If a complaint or criticism does slip out, follow it with telling the other person what you appreciate about them.  It will keep them from feeling attacked and defensive, and may remind you why you choose to live with them in the first place.   

It only takes one of you to follow these suggestions and improve your household vibe.  Your choices can create the model for how to treat one another.  Then the people you interact with will tend to follow your lead. An example of the other person following your lead is seen in empathetic communication.  If you put aside your concerns and listen intently to the other person, you will be able to give that person empathetic feedback.  When someone receives empathy, they are more likely to give you empathy. These minor changes can help to create a happier relationship with those at home with you during these trying times.

4 science-based strategies to tame angry political debate and encourage tolerance

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“Climate change is a hoax,” my cousin said during a family birthday party. “I saw on Twitter it’s just a way to get people to buy expensive electric cars.” I sighed while thinking, “How can he be so misinformed?” Indeed, what I wanted to say was, “Good grief, social media lies are all you read.”

No doubt my cousin thought the same of me, when I said Republican senators are too afraid of the president to do what’s right. Not wanting to create a scene, we let each other’s statements slide by in icy silence.

As a psychology professor and clinical psychologist in private practice, I know my relationship with my cousin would have improved if we could have discussed those issues in a nonthreatening way. If only.

I’m not alone in my frustration – and my desire for change. A December 2019 poll conducted by Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos showed more than nine out of 10 Americans said it’s time to reduce divisiveness, which they believe is exacerbated by government leaders and social media. People want to stop the animosity and relate to one another again. But how?

Based on my knowledge of psychological research, here are four approaches you can use to overcome divisiveness.

Don’t isolate yourself from people with different points of view.

1. Connect

Avoiding interactions with people who have different opinions perpetuates divisiveness. Risk connecting with these people. Relate through activities you enjoy such as volunteering, joining a “Meetup” group or starting a book club. You could even invite people from various backgrounds to a potluck dinner at your home.

What activities like these share is a common goal, which creates a cooperative atmosphere instead of a competitive one. Research demonstrates that contact alone does not ensure cooperative interaction. To truly connect, you both have to demonstrate respect while working on a common goal.

2. Find common ground

It’s important to remember the basic need to feel secure is shared by all people. Focusing on commonalities can lead to a deeper understanding of another person, while focusing on differences will lead to arguments.

An argument involves two people asserting one is right while the other is wrong. But what gets lost in this scenario is the common ground of the problem they both are trying to wrestle with.

Restate the problem. Together, brainstorm all the different ways it might be solved.

For example, a person might say the only way to protect America from terrorism is to sharply limit immigration. Instead of challenging that immigration must be limited, you can restate the problem – then ask if there might be ways to deal with terrorism besides limiting immigration. You might find some solutions you agree upon.

3. Communicate

Listen more and talk less. Show the other person you have understood what they said before jumping in with your thoughts.

Everyone wants to be acknowledged as heard. If they are not, they will continue to press their point. So, to stop an argument in its tracks, start listening and reflect back what you’ve heard.

You’ve probably experienced listening for only what you want to hear – and possibly found yourself not listening at all. You may just be waiting to give a knee-jerk reaction to what the other person is saying.

To listen well, you need to first open your ears, eyes and heart. Examine your biases so you can hear without judgment. Suspend your self-interest and stay with what the other person is saying. Then tell that person what you heard.

Showing empathy does not mean you necessarily agree with what the other person is saying. It just means you’re reassuring the other person you have listened before making your own statement.

Now, it’s time for you to share where you’re coming from. Take a deep breath. Cool down and reassess your thoughts so you can give a considered response, instead of a quick reaction. You can disagree without being disrespectful.

Communication using the above process leads to a conversation instead of an argument and builds a more trusting relationship. It takes only one of you to create an empathetic conversation, as empathy begets empathy. The more compassionate understanding you give, the more you get.

Be skeptical and learn to recognize when you are being manipulated by divisive content.

4. Learn to critically evaluate media

Don’t passively accept all that you see and hear. There are too many sources of distorted facts, unsupported opinions and outright lies available today. Critically evaluate what is being presented by considering the source and fact-checking the content.

Above all, if the message seems fake, don’t share it. Google has a fact-checking tool, and First Draft News has tools to evaluate false content and the way it is disseminated. You can also consult Full Fact and CUNY’s fact-checking guide. So, when you hear or see someone sharing fake information, don’t challenge it. Instead, show how to fact check the information.

Avoid anger and hate in the content you consume. Evaluate whether it is seeking to pit you against another person or group. Follow media that supports empathy, compassion and understanding. But don’t get lulled into a bubble by reading only content you agree with. Help children and teens, not only to critically evaluate media, but also to become kind and caring toward people who are different from them. Teach tolerance by showing tolerance. Yes, you are only one person trying to create change, but your influence does matter.

As for me, the next time I see my cousin, I plan to listen with empathy; let him know I understand his point of view; and try to identify a common goal around which we can share our perspectives.

(The above article was first posted in The Conversation.)

The Benefits from Understanding Another Point of View

Seeing Differently

It is easier to interact with people who have the same opinions that you do.  It is easier to stay in your own social media silo.  You may not have even considered thinking about things from another person’s perspective.

Yet there are many benefits to understanding another person’s thoughts, motives, and emotions. Taking the other person’s perspective can help you (a) reduce conflict, (b) solve problems more effectively, and (c) enlarge your view of yourself.

To understand another’s perspective you need to first set aside your own thoughts and feelings.  This distancing from your own perspective is difficult to do because you probably often listen only to judge what you are hearing. You make assumptions and come to conclusion about the other person’s message without really hearing what that person is trying to tell you.  So, try suspending judgment and open your eyes, ears, and heart to what the other person is saying.

Reducing Conflict

If you understand the other person’s point of view you can tell that person what you understand.  That person then feels heard and more willing to listen to your point of view. 

For example, someone may say all rap music is created by men with very little education.  You, on the other hand, like rap music and find a lot of social value in it.  Instead of trying to convince that person of your point of view, just repeat back the essence of what you heard, that “all rap music represents uneducated males’ opinions.  Then you can state your view with an example from the musical “Hamilton”.  The other person might then acknowledge that some rap music can be enlightening. The conflicting opinions now are reduced as each of you realized there is more than one way to view rap music.

Solving a Problem

When presented with a difficult problem to solve, whether it is a personal one or a workplace one, it often helps to get another person’s view of it.  Again, though, you have to set aside your opinions and judgments in order to really hear and accept a different point of view.  That different point of view might be just the one to solve the problem or add to your view to see the problem in a more nuanced way.  There always is more than one solution to a problem but it is necessary to be open to that solution.

Maybe the problem is solving the homeless crisis and you have several solutions you want to present to your local officials.  Have you ever thought of asking some homeless people what they think might be a solution? You might be surprised to hear they have some good suggestions that you had not thought of.  Yet, if you only apply your own solutions to the problem, the problem may not be as effectively solved.

Seeing Yourself in a New Way

Considering other people’s points of view enlarges the way you see yourself.  By intently listening to another person, you begin to see that person not just in terms of your previous stereotypes, but in their commonalities with you. 

The part we don’t want to see in our self is often the part we don’t want to see in another person.  We might have some bull-headed opinions, just like the other person has.  And, if we engage with that person, we might recognize the same way we defend our opinion without listening to the other person’s opinion.  We may discover that, contrary to social media trying to convince us that we don’t have anything in common with people who have beliefs other than our own, we can see what we do have in common.

By suspending our judgment of others and really listening to them we can go from me to we.

Anger Triggers and What to Do about Them

Angry Brain

In relationships, some people are quicker to feel anger than others. Yes, not having your expectations fulfilled or not getting your needs met can cause frustration. But some people seem to have shorter fuses when these situations occur. And some people allow anger to propel them into using strategies that hurt the ones they love and hurt the relationship.

Judgments Trigger Anger
Judgments about what your partner is saying and judgments about yourself can lead to anger. Instead of simply seeing the situation as it is, you put your own spin on it. For example, your partner is scrolling through the messages on his phone while you are talking to him. You judge his actions as showing he does not really care about what you have to say. You might even go a step further in your mind to think, “He never really listens to me because he doesn’t think anything I have to say is worthwhile.” Now you have fueled your anger with that interpretation.


Or you may interpret your partner’s request to take out the trash as a demand that you do it immediately, which causes you to feel controlled and angry. Your judgments can then lead to an angry outburst or even a turning inward with troublesome ruminations.


Sometimes it is the judgments you make about yourself that are behind your anger. For example, you might judge yourself as inadequate or defective. Then you base your self-esteem on your perception of the way others feel about you.


Notice it is your perception of the other person’s words or actions, not what they actually said or did. Your feelings of being inadequate are aroused by interpreting what was said as criticism. Feeling criticized triggers your anger.


Then again, you might actually be in a relationship where your partner often complains about you. If you are also self-critical, this combination can lead not only to anger but also to depression.


Sensitivity to Rejection Triggers Anger
Some people are extremely sensitive to rejection. They have an anxious expectation of rejection. Even when there is little possibility of it, they still readily perceive social threats. This sensitivity motivates them to react with anger, hostility, or withdrawal.

There’s the skittish wife who, at the first sign of trouble, flies out of the house, leaving behind only the admonition, “You won’t be able to find me.”

And then there’s the fortified husband who, when threatened, marshals all his defenses in readiness for a fight. It is the mere anticipation of potential hurt that triggers their reactions. They are so vulnerable and insecure that they don’t have to be actually hurt to feel wounded; the threat is enough.

One concern about the defensive reactions used in the face of rejection sensitivity is that these reactions can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the reaction itself causes the feared rejection. One member of a couple in a conflict situation can seek support but not receive it, or be on guard for any cues that might indicate rejection. If that person begins to defensively start losing their temper, insulting their partner, or swearing, it can incite the partner to do the same. Then the negative interaction causes the anger to remain and the conflict to become unresolved.


Research has demonstrated that the brains of these people are different from the brains of people who are not so sensitive to rejection and do not act so defensively.People low in rejection sensitivity have a more active prefrontal cortex, which allows them to be less emotionally reactive and more self-regulating.Yet there is hope for people high in rejection sensitivity. Emotional self-regulation can be taught, and a supportive romantic relationship itself can mitigate rejection sensitivity.     

 
Strategies to Defuse Anger
Why do you sometimes say hurtful things to your loved ones? It can be because you are too fused with them. When you and your partner are fused, what your partner says or does often feels like it has something to do with you. And then you react accordingly. You lash out or raise defensive walls. Or even worse, you blame yourself.


Your partner leaves the dirty dishes in the sink all day and night—again. You think, “If they really cared about my feelings, they would put the dishes in the dishwasher.” Or you criticize yourself with, “I am probably expecting too much.”

With these thoughts, you end up saying, “Must take too much of your energy to put the dishes in the dishwasher. How lazy can you get?” You know you’re not going to change your partner’s behavior with this criticism, but it slips out anyway.


Your partner’s behavior annoyed you, but it is the judgment you put on that behavior that caused you to lash out. More than likely your partner did not leave the dishes in the sink to purposely annoy you or as a lapse in caring for your feelings.


If you see your partner’s behavior as independent of your connection with them, you won’t be pressured to say something hurtful. Instead, you will find a way to let them know that you noticed without the hurtful words. You might even joke. “Maybe we could make the kitchen sink into a dishwasher.” Indeed, those partners who each have a sense of their own autonomy will be less defensive during a conflict and will be more satisfied with their relationship.


The time between a trigger and your angry reaction is generally only two to three seconds. So, try to cut the link between the trigger and your anger by taking a slow, deep breath the moment you notice that you are upset.This will help you to cool off the hothead feeling, not bite the bait, and take a moment to think about a way to express your needs in a helpful way.


After the deep breath, you can respond rather than react, and then you will remain in control. You can respond with an “I” statement that lets your partner know what you need at that moment. For example, if your partner forgets to pick up the dry cleaning that has your work uniform in it, you could take a deep breath and then say, “I really needed my uniform for work tomorrow.”

By just describing your needs, you are putting the issue on the table instead of blaming your partner. An angry retort has been taken out of the interaction. Then the two of you can work on finding a resolution to the issue.


Even if you are the recipient of your partner’s anger, you can still have some control over their angry reaction. When you see your partner starting to tense up, you can remind them to first just breathe. Or you can model the necessary action by taking a slow, deep breath yourself. Initiating the first step in calming the hot responses down will give both of you a chance to approach the situation in a more helpful manner. Instead of a fight, flight, or freeze reaction, you are using a calming strategy.


REFERENCES

Kross, E., T. Egner, K. Ochsner, J. Hirsch, & Downey, G. (2007). Neural dynamics of rejection sensitivity. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19 (6): 945–956.

Romero-Canyas, R., G. Downey, K. Berenson, O. Ayduk, & Kang, N.J. (2010). Rejection sensitivity and the rejection–hostility link in romantic relationships. Journal of Personality, 78(1), 119–148. Https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2009.00611.

Hadden, B. W., Rodriguez, L., Knee, C.R., Porter, B. (2015). Relationship autonomy and support provision in romantic relationships. Motivation and Emotion, 39 (3), 359-373. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-014-9455-9.
 

Give Love to Get Love

John Hain/Pixabay

We all want to be loved.  But how do we feel loved instead of lonely, especially now during this pandemic?  Surprisingly, ancient texts might give us an answer.

More than a thousand years ago the stoic, Hecato, asserted, “If you would be love, love”. And a similar sentiment can be found in the Bible (“Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”). Even Benjamin Franklin wrote, “If you would be loved, love, and be loveable.”

What all these wise people knew was that to get love, you have to give love. Give a love that is a deep caring for the well being of another person. That person may not look like you, act like you, or even believe in what you believe. But you can extend a loving hand to that person.

One of the best ways to extend a loving hand is through volunteering to enhance the well being of others. Volunteering can be anything from giving your time to giving your skills to help another person.  Most important is the care you are giving that person. A gentle touch or a loving word can mean so much to someone who is isolated or in need.

“But what is the love you are receiving by volunteering?” you may ask. Indeed, you may not feel like the other person reciprocated or even thanked you. Yet, it is in the giving, not the receiving that you feel love.

Doing something nice for another person gives you the social connection you may have been longing for. And it makes you feel better because you are focusing on someone else instead of the anxiety and loneliness you may be feeling. Indeed, research has shown that oxytocin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter, spikes in some people who regularly volunteer. The increase in oxytocin also helps you to better manage stressful events. 

Volunteering also has health benefits, such as lowering your blood pressure. Helping others can even lessen symptoms of chronic pain because it takes your mind off your worries. In fact, random acts of kindness light up the same reward centers of the brain associated with food and sex. A natural high occurs when you give to others.

Finally, volunteering gives you a sense of purpose. When you are isolated not only do you miss the social connection but you also start losing a sense of purpose. You can find meaning and direction (as well as an activity to just get out of the house) by helping others.

As you can see, the secrete the ancients knew is supported by today’s research into giving to others. So, now get out there and do for others what you would want done for you. Share the love.

WHAT WE NEED NOW IS A LITTLE HUMOR

A medical face mask with smiley face against a blue background

Lexicon for a Pandemic

The New Yorker July 20, 2020 Issue By Jay Martel

Maskhole: An individual who wears a mask in a way that makes it completely ineffective—e.g., below the nose, under the chin, on the back of the head.

Face naked: The state of facial exposure that occurs when an individual declines to wear a mask in public. For example, “Pence went all face naked to the Mayo Clinic.”

Body mullet: What most people wear on Zoom calls: a nice top and, below the waist, underwear or less. (“Business up top, party down below.”)

The novid-19: The nineteen minutes after a too-close interaction with a maskless stranger during which you experience a thickness in your throat and a certainty that you’re dying. This sometimes lasts longer if frantic hand washing, antiseptic gargling, and estate planning are not readily available.

Overdistancing: When the guy in front of you in line has a metric understanding of the six in six feet, allowing twenty feet to open up between him and the next person in line, which then allows others to interpret that next person as the end of the line and to cut in front of you.

Domino distancing: When the person behind you in line stands too close, causing you to crowd the person in front of you, and on and on until everyone dies.

Emotional distancing: Deciding that now really isn’t the time to make big decisions about a relationship or, for that matter, to have a conversation about it.

Covideo: A short video featuring a quarantined individual’s child doing something adorable and/or profane, the public sharing of which falls somewhere between cute and a cry for help.

Stockholm syndrome: The assumption that everyone would be just fine without any government restrictions.

Someday, Noneday, Whoseday?, Whensday?, Blursday, Whyday?, Doesn’tmatterday: Days of the week.

Parenting: The ability to figure out why the PlayStation isn’t working with the Wi-Fi.

Body Zoom-morphia: Finding your own image on a group video call so unappealing that you are unable to focus on anything else.

Quorumtine: The minimum number of family members necessary to decide what to watch on TV.

Pan-demic: A potentially dangerous increase in the baking of bread in a quarantined home.

covid-30: Formerly covid-15; the amount of weight gained by an average adult during quarantine. Sometimes related to a pan-demic.

Helter shelter: That moment in the quarantine day when everything seems dirty and chaotic and you feel like saying, “Fuck it, let’s go outside. I don’t care if we die and a bunch of other people do, too.”

Flattening the curve: Trying to fit into your jeans after three months of sweatpants. (See covid-30.)

Germophobe: Formerly, crazy people (e.g., Howard Hughes); now everyone except crazy people.

Going viral: No longer used. ♦