How to care for our unique emotions in the midst of a global pandemicWritten by Tara Lalonde
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This article is part of our series providing help for families during COVID-19. Find more related articles and resources here.
Throughout the entire world, we all are going through COVID-19 together. We watch the news as the number of cases and deaths grows at staggering rates. We hunker down, isolating ourselves, trying to only go out when absolutely necessary. We keep the required six-feet social distancing. Our interactions have vastly been reduced to virtual platforms as we all scramble to figure out an answer to the question, “How do we meet virtually?!”
From the start of it all, fear, anxiety, distress and panic have been a regular diet. We watch it on the news and feed on it daily. It is not only the physical risks to ourselves and our loved ones that impact us. It is also the job losses and the financial market losses. Even as we see people stepping up, there is still anger, blame, back-biting and hoarding.
Where can anyone find peace and security?
When and how will it all end?
What will we have become by then?
I wish I could answer all of those questions, but, like everyone, I can’t. However, they do bring up important questions about how we are all handling this crisis. Some seem to be managing, while others, well, not so much. Some fear their own physical mortality. Others stress over the financial loss of security and even jobs. Still others anguish over the isolation.
And yet, Scripture says:
“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs 4:23, emphasis added)
While our emotions – the expressions of our heart – are morally neutral, they are not benign. They are very powerful and, in fact, determine how we experience the life we are living. We are all sharing this experience of a global pandemic, but we are not all experiencing it the same way. I see great hope in that!
“While I cannot control what is going on in the world around me, I can control how I experience it.”
Is that really true? Yes! With practice, we can live at peace, regardless of our circumstances. Perspective changes everything!
“Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
Breaking it down
In the Hope Restored program, we offer a tool to help us care for our emotions, regardless of what is being stirred up. It’s called the Care Cycle.
While our work is focused on couples in distress, this tool is valuable for all of us as we seek to improve our emotional well-being.
This tool is helpful because it allows us to be unique in what we are feeling, without requiring us to conform to some prescribed expectation of how we should be feeling. The Care Cycle is intended to be done on our own, with an attitude of self-compassion and acceptance.
There are 5-steps and they all start with the letter A.
The Care Cycle
In this step take a moment to become aware of what is going on in your body in this moment. Emotions often have a physical expression to them. When you think of something sad, the corners of your mouth may droop. Tears may come to your eyes. Your shoulders may slump forward. Or when you think of something scary, you may find your heart racing. Your stomach may feel jumpy or queasy. You may feel sweaty or chilled. Some even feel like they are becoming disconnected from their surroundings. Anger, too, has body sensations.
- So in this first step, as you think all about COVID-19 and what it means to you right now, take a moment to simply notice what is happening in your body. Perhaps write down what you notice.
Accepting is often one of the hardest steps in the Care Cycle. While the emotions that arise may be uncomfortable, they are not harmful. We don’t like unpleasant emotions, so we tend to try to push them away, avoid or mask them. In this step of caring for your heart, give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel. No judging. Simply be curious about it.
Accepting is also about recognizing it is your responsibility alone to take care of these feelings. You can seek assistance, but ultimately, the responsibility for your emotional parts and your heart is 100 per cent on you. Remember Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else . . .”
- As you notice what is happening in your body and the emotions that may be rising up, acknowledge them and welcome them without judgment. Even if you don’t know what to do with them, commit to yourself that you will learn how to care for them as a part of your responsibility as an adult.
Here’s where the help comes in. Allowing is about asking God to be part of this Care Cycle with you, and then actually allowing his perspective to influence you. He knows more about what is at the core of this than you do and he loves you and this part of you more than you can ever imagine. Allow the love that cannot be separated from us (Romans 8:38-39), and even allow his gentle conviction that will never be condemning (Romans 8:1).
- Ask God to help you to care for your heart with compassion and curiosity. Ask for his perspective and knowledge about what is at the root of this for you. Ask him to help you to be open to any conviction that may be needed in this situation so that you can find care, hope and peace. Then remain open to whatever he may reveal to you.
Attending is where you begin to explore your heart and what is going on inside. It is a little like groping around in the dark for a flashlight. Be patient and be curious about what these emotions really are. Where did they come from? Why am I feeling these and not others? Then ask yourself the questions below. You may want to write out your answers.
- What am I feeling?
- Don’t settle for more surface emotions like “anger, frustration or uncomfortable.” Dig deeper. What is under those? What else am I feeling? Look for more vulnerable emotions like “alone, abandoned, inadequate, controlled, lost, misunderstood, etc.”
- Have I felt this at any other time in my life?
- When was the earliest time?
- Am I telling myself anything that may be making this worse or ramping it up?
- Am I catastrophizing? Using black-and-white thinking? Blaming? Self-deprecating?
- What is the truth?
- What do I know to be true about this situation/person if I weren’t worked up about this moment right now?
- What is God’s truth?
- What does God say about me, about his goodness and control, about my ultimate future? Check the Bible to make sure you are really seeing God’s truth and not assumptions you think about him or how he thinks of you. Remember Philippians 4:8: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
- Ask any other question that will help you to understand and care for your heart in this moment.
- And finally, what do I need to do in this time to feel calm and cared for?
In this step, you simply act on what you have come up with in the previous step.
- Intentionally follow through with caring for yourself with gentleness and integrity.
Why do we believe this is such an important tool? Because, it helps us to understand and respond accordingly to what is really going on for us. We cannot care for our hearts or guard them if we do not know what upsets them and threatens them.
In addition, really connecting with step three before entering step four is so important. God is there for us, no matter what. His Word can be a balm to our emotions and fears, even when the circumstances of this world do not change. His love is constant. Who he is, is constant. Who he says we are is constant. Our ultimate future is secure.
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
As Christians our hope is in a God who promises to walk with us through every valley. He will hold our hands and use everything that is happening around us and to us for our good (Romans 8:28) – if we are willing to see things from his perspective. You see, he defines good. It is usually about us drawing closer to him, surrendering more to him, and becoming more like Jesus. And when this happens, it actually really is worth it! And peace will come – as will an unexpected freedom!
Tara Lalonde is a Registered Psychotherapist with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario. Tara has a PhD in professional counselling from Liberty University. Her dissertation explored the post-intensive success of the Hope Restored intensive program. She and her husband recently celebrated 15 years of marriage. She is currently working as a marriage therapist with Focus on the Family Canada's Hope Restored program.
© 2020 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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