Adrienne: Alberta is about to see even more things open-up again after about 3-months of shutdown. Some are feeling more excited about that then others. And some are experiencing back and forth feelings as the pandemic stretches on. Today, our wellness columnist, Scott McPherson joins us to talk about some helpful strategies for managing those conflicting emotions. Hi Scott.
Scott: Hi Adrienne.
Adrienne: We’re still half-locked down and also on our way to more freedom. What are you hearing from people in terms of where they’re all ‘at?’
Scott: It ranges from excitement about the future to suicidal thoughts, but what’s notable isn’t that there’s a change so much as an intensification. People’s emotions just feel ‘bigger.’ Pretty much everyone seems to be feeling a weird tension between their intense hope for more normality in the future, and yet a tension with the fact that they know their future includes more lockdowns, and home schooling and financial stresses. That battle between hope and frustration is everyone experiencing The Third Quarter Confinement Phenomenon.
Adrienne: What is ‘The Third Quarter Confinement Phenomenon?’
Scott: I think the research started with submariners. They did on people who experience long periods of isolation, so they’ve also studied people like remote Antarctic researchers, or astronauts. It’s important for everyone at home to remember, astronauts are some of the most intelligent, well-educated and capable people on Earth. The fact that even astronauts find this part hard demonstrates why we shouldn’t feel bad that we’re experiencing it too.
Adrienne: Is there anything we can do about feeling it?
Scott: Well, it’s a natural reaction, so one of the best things to do is to accept that it’s normal to feel it. That takes some of the pressure off right there. Next, we want to start noticing when we feel it. It’ll usually impact us as we move from our hopeful thoughts to whatever we have to do now. These will often form patterns. For example– some parents dream about sending their kids back to school… but then come back to reality that that’s not happening for a while and then end up lashing out over that dissonance.
Adrienne: So it sounds like the parents in that scenario have surrendered to the idea that it’s not going to be easy but they need help managing when the situation gets to them.
Scott: Yes. And the surrendering is very healthy. Now they can look at the present realistically. From there, they just have to take action. First, we remind ourselves that there is no single event after which a life is all-happy or all-sad.There are always options for better feelings and thoughts in each passing moment. We can change them at any time. Changing which sandwich to eat for lunch is not a lot different than changing how we think about ourselves. It’s still just electricity in our brains; following its usual routes.
Adrienne: How do you we change where that electricity is going?
Scott: We get advice from someone wise that loves us. We do it by writing a letter to ourselves from a different time; when we’re more rational, and we’re seeing things and ourselves more clearly. Then, when we feel that we’re spinning into one of those down cycles, we only have one commitment to keep: read the letter.
I would recommend possibly starting them with a preamble. We’ll be reading these when we’re upset, so we need to remind ourselves that the letter really is for our own good. We can even remind ourselves to live up to our promise to read it all the way to end if we started it. From there, compassion guides us. And we can always edit them later.
One of the best things we can do is describe how we get mad, or sad or whatever. And if the letter actually predicts what we actually want to do, then our natural sense of self-determination kicks in. None of us wants to be told that we have no free will, even it’s by our past-self.
Adrienne: Any tips for what we should include in our letters?
Scott: We can be honest, but we rarely need to be harsh or tough. Genuine, kind, compassionate, and caring works best. It’s what we’re missing. We feel too alone. We need a written hug. It should likely be the kindest and most gentle thing we’ve ever thought or wrote about ourselves. We feel better when we read kind and true words.
The letter become proofs that it’s just a temporary frame of mind causing our issue in that moment. It boils down to Rumination vs. Meditation. Rumination is brought on by those oscillating feelings that go with The Third Quarter Phenomenon. It creates the bio chemical storm that we feel as those wracked, angry or sad thoughts and emotions.
But the letter is like a pre-done meditation. Just to read it, our minds have no choice but to retrace the honest thoughts we had when we wrote it. That alone changes our brains to start matching the thoughts we’re having in the present moment –the thoughts we’re reading in the letter. The words can be sweet, or deep, or powerful. There’s even a lot of potential for them to be funny. Some people do a lot of pages, and take themselves through a 20 minute mediation. Others tell themselves to listen to a playlist, or re-read a poem, or recall a special memory.
If people are wondering what different form kinds of letters can take, I’ll actually be doing some sample letters in some upcoming blog posts. I’ll do them for COVID as well as other common things that cause a lot of emotional turmoil –things like like panic, or jealousy, or grief. I’ll post those over the next week or so on relaxandsucceed.com.
Adrienne: It’s a really interesting idea, writing a letter to yourself, when you’re at your best, talking about how to get you out of, you know, a bad time. I’m intrigued by the idea.
Scott: Yeah, people tend to read them when they’re down, but they find when they like them when they’re up too.
Adrienne: Hmm. Okay, well thanks for this Scott. Scott McPherson is our wellness columnist. He is a writer, speaker and instructor at relaxandsucceed.com, here in Edmonton.
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Every couple weeks I join Radio Active‘s host Adrienne Pan, on CBC Radio One here in Edmonton. You can listen via AM740, FM93.9 (in Edmonton), or elsewhere through the CBC Listen app, or via the web on Radio One at CBC.ca. Today we’ll be on at 5:20pm.
Once the show has aired, if there is an audio version available I will add a link to it here. A listing of all of the columns is here. For those without audio versions, I will attach a transcript of the column to the bottom of this post within a few days of airing.
As our new reality unfolds, people are finding they are facing a phenomenon that causes us to feel particularly unsettled as we swing between hope and despair. Today’s column features a strategy that can be helpful to all of us, any time we are feeling powerful emotions.
If you get to hear it and haven’t before, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the show. They have a great team.
Take care everyone. Here’s to a grateful day for all of us.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.