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Entries Tagged as 'feelings'

Emotional Contagion—What Every Leader Needs to Know

August 21st, 2018 · 12 Comments

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“Mom, something’s wrong with my eyes. I have some weird blind spots that aren’t going away.”

My son, 33 years old, was calling. He sounded scared, and I knew exactly why. My son’s father had gone blind with a progressive eye disease that started in his thirties. True, it was a rare genetic condition and the chances of my children getting it are almost infinitesimal.

But still…

My mind immediately jumped to a horrible thought and I brought myself back to the present, to reality. Immediately.

Because I knew my son would be having his own frightening thoughts and my job was to keep him as calm and grounded as possible. To do that, I needed to be calm and grounded.

There are a lot of good reasons to face any challenge, whether a crisis or a more routine problem, in a calm state. We think more clearly, problem solve more creatively, and have greater physical stamina.

For me to stay calm with my son, I had to avoid the impact of emotional contagion, the tendency that we humans have to synchronize our emotions to those around us. Emotional contagion can transmit either positive, supportive emotions, or negative, anxiety-laden ones.

Dealing with emotional contagion is a crucial quality for anyone in a position of leadership, whether it’s in business leading others, in coaching working with upset clients, or in family situations dealing with anything from medical emergencies to agitated toddlers.

In this situation, I didn’t want to absorb my son’s upset and get agitated. I wanted to set a positive tone for him to absorb. I wanted to be the emotional leader.

I do this routinely in my daily encounters with clients and their anxieties and upsets. Before I work with clients, teach a class, or lead a workshop, I make sure I’m aware of my mood. If anything is happening in my personal life that might negatively impact my mood, I will consciously set it aside, and take steps to lift my mood.

Admittedly, avoiding emotional contagion from my son was much more challenging. It’s always more challenging with someone close to us, but it can be done.

Emotional contagion transmits easily in-person, but it can take place over the phone, too. We humans are sensitive enough to each others voices to pick up negativity mood, agitation or anxiety, even when we can’t see the other person or feel their physical presence.

In business settings, studies have confirmed that both positive and negative emotions, spread among employees like viruses. Feelings can be “caught” by others when working together in groups. Not only is employee mood affected, judgment and business decisions are impacted, as well.

Emotional contagion can even take place in writing, over social networks. Facebook drew a lot of criticism a few years ago when it revealed that it had manipulated the news feeds of more than a half-million users to change the number of positive and negative posts they saw.

Facebook did this is in a research study with Cornell University, confirming the existence of emotional contagion in this context. The people who viewed more positive posts responded with more positive content and those seeing more negative posts responded with more negative posts. Facebook was accused of violating ethical boundaries by turning users into lab rats without obtaining their informed consent.

And the study proved how easily our emotions are impacted by others.

Because I could think clearly and brought up my son’s mood, I was able to get enough information to help him decide whether he could wait though the weekend until Monday morning, when we could find a better place for him to be examined. We decided that waiting was a better option.

On Monday, he went to an excellent eye clinic and was told that he had a couple of very tiny retinal tears that had no similarity to his father’s eye disease. The doctor he saw was confident that he would fully heal without treatment.

Within a few days, he called to say he could already tell that the blind spots were getting better.

And for an added bonus, he said, “Thanks for helping me through this. I would have really panicked without you.”

This was a very happy ending. It confirmed my commitment that any anxious or distressed person I’m dealing with is going to synchronize to me and my emotions, where I intend to always remain the calm, grounded, positive leader.

Here are some tips I used that can help you stay away from emotional contagion:

  1. Set your intention to be the calm, grounded leader, to stay in a positive emotional state, and to let anyone else you are encountering synchronize to your mood.
  1. Harness your out-of-control imagination. Your mind may want to create a narrative out of the few facts you have. It’s what our brains do automatically to keep us safe. But those narratives are generally based on speculation and predict terrible outcomes. Remind yourself that you can’t know that the situation will have an unhappy ending.
  1. A regular mindfulness practice is really helpful in building the skill to stay away from imaginary scenarios. So can regular use of my heartbreathing meditation. (You can obtain a free mp3 recording of it and a descriptive worksheet by emailing support@terrydemeo.com and putting “Heartbreathing Meditation” in the subject line.)
  1. When dealing with an upset person, put your attention on them, on what they are saying and doing. If you are in person, make eye contact. If on the phone, you can give them your full attention by closely listening to them.This will help divert your attention from your inner world and your mind’s imagined parade of horrible outcomes.
  2. Breathe slowly and regularly, inhaling and exhaling to a slow count of four. Inhale-2-3-4-exhale-2-3-4. Over and over. I use a simple mantra, “Breathe and stay calm, breath and stay calm, breathe and stay calm.”
  3. Move. If you start to feel distressed, adrenaline and cortisol will be released into your system to prepare you for battle. This is what is known as fight or flight. When you aren’t having to run or fight, you will get a jittery feeling from the hormone buildup. Shake it off any way you can, with physical movement. If you need to go into another room and close the door, do so. This simple tool only takes a few minutes to work.I hold a lot of tension in my arms in tense situations, so in this one, I stood and shook my arms and let my body tremble several times over the weekend when my son was in distress.
  4. Keep this in mind: you don’t need to DO anything to convince the other person to change their mood. Your job is to hold a positive mood. Our bodies naturally want to synchronize. Be the one that gets synchronized to.

Tags: feelings · noticing · stress

Why are women twice as depressed as men?

January 28th, 2011 · 17 Comments

It hit me like a bucket of ice-water in my face.  I was putting away a book this morning, and it fell open to this:  modern Western women have twice the rates of depression as men.

How could this be?  We have access to unprecedented independence, careers, education, birth control, therapy, and options unimaginable to prior generations.  What is getting to us?  What’s bugging us so much?

I began to read.

Could it be our hormones?  Nope.  While hormonal factors can play a role in feeling lousy, it’s not significant enough to account for the whopping difference between men and women.

Genetics?  Maybe we’re just predisposed for some ancient evolutionary reason?  That doesn’t explain it either.  While there is a tendency to pass on depression through the generations, careful genetic examination shows that it can’t account for such a wildly lopsided disproportion.

How about our willingness to talk about our depression more openly than men?  No, the two-to-one ratio shows up even when people who are very private about their internal states are studied.

Perhaps it’s because women go to therapy more than men, so it’s reported and studied more?  While we do, door-to-door surveys produce the same result.  Women not in therapy have twice the depression rates as men not in therapy.

Is it due to sex-based discrimination, or economic factors, since women tend to have worse jobs for less money? No.  Rich or poor, well-employed or unemployed, women are twice as depressed as men.

How about the multiple demands and roles that women deal with today—working plus tending children and maintaining a home?  This theory doesn’t pan out, either.  Working women are less depressed than stay-at-homes, who have fewer demands placed on them.

One by one, the possible culprits are eliminated by Martin Seligman in What You Can Change & What You Can’t, A Guide to Successful Self-Improvement. Seligman is known as the “father of positive psychology” and has written and researched extensively on happiness and how to achieve it.  After shooting down all of the obvious possibilities, he offers three possible explanations that are all confirmed by social science.

Here’s what the evidence points to:

First, learned helplessness, a proven predictor of depression, is far more prevalent in women than in men.  We often feel we have no control over the outcome of a situation, even when we can control it, because we’ve “learned” that we are powerless.

We live in a culture that trains women to be bystanders.

From cradle to grave, Seligman says, women get a masterful education in helplessness—boys learn to be active and adventurous, girls to be passive and dependent.  Women who become wives and mothers are devalued by our culture, and women who don’t marry or don’t have children are perceived as out of place.

How about this one, sisters?  Women who achieve success or power are seen as tough, bitchy, and aggressive.  Man-like.  Who wants that? So why bother, we tell ourselves, and ignore the yearnings within our souls.

Since we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, we tend to give up and stop trying.  We assume we are helpless when we are in fact, not.

Second, we ruminate more, we churn and worry about our upsets and their causes, way more than men do. We lose our jobs and want to know why, what we did wrong, what happened, how could we have prevented it, who didn’t like us, and on and on.  This kind of reflection is not useful and digs us into a deep emotional hole.  Men tend to ignore causation and exploration, and take action.  It may not be healthy action—they might get drunk, watch sports, or otherwise distract themselves.  But they don’t tend to churn about it inside.

Our inner worlds sound like this:  Will he call? Maybe he doesn’t like me.  What did I do wrong?  I said the wrong thing.  I wish she wasn’t upset.  How can I fix it?  I didn’t do enough.  I did too much.  I’m not enough.

A man’s inner world sounds like this:  Hmmm, wonder what’s in the fridge? TGIF. Can’t wait for the game tonight.  Maybe I’ll call that girl I went out with.

Think I’m kidding?  Ask a man.  I have.  Lots of times.  And they consistently tell me these kinds of answers.  Sure they worry, too.  Sure they ruminate.  But not like we do.

Third, (and this one was the big shocker for me, so buckle up, girlfriends), the futile pursuit of thinness. Yep.  We are chasing a biologically impossible ideal with such zeal that we have depressed ourselves in record numbers.  We hate our natural curves that much.

We strive to have an unnaturally thin body so excessively, fruitlessly, and unhealthily that we work ourselves up into staggering and unprecedented amounts of depression.

When boys approach puberty, hormones give them lean muscles; when girls arrive, we get body fat.  Guess what?  We need that extra fat to make estrogen and the female hormones that also bless us with smooth, soft skin, supple bodies, and babies and breast milk.  How do we respond to this gift?  We hate, starve, vomit, exercise, worry, lipo, pummel, and then overeat ourselves into massive depression.

We are literally brainwashed into thinking our natural beauty is ugly.

Here’s a powerful factoid:  all the world over, every culture on the planet that believes thin women are the ideal have women more prone to depression and eating disorders.  Every world culture that does not worship at the altar of the unnaturally thin female body has no eating disorders and no lopsided female-to-male depression.

Be clear about this one, please.  I’m not suggesting that overeating is an emotionally healthy option.  But torturing ourselves because we don’t have a body like a prepubescent teenager’s, loathing our beautiful, curvy, naturally soft bodies is futile and extremely self-destructive.  And, our obsession passes this viewpoint along to our daughters, who begin “dieting” practically as soon as they learn to read and write.

What’s the good news in all of this?

All three of these causes can be changed. Learned helplessness, rumination, and poor body image are all based on thinking patterns and false beliefs that we can learn to change. 

Isn’t that wonderful, amazing, fabulous news?  I’ll say it again.  The major causes of depression in modern Western women can be changed when our thinking and attitudes change. By changing something we have control over.

It’s not easy, but depression is worse. I’ve been there.

I don’t know about you, but learning that I was in control of most of the things that bugged and upset me was the single most empowering discovery I ever made. And I do not say that lightly.  I am an attorney.  When I practiced law, I won cases that impacted thousands of people’s lives.  I am a mother.  I gave birth to two children and connected with the raw power of my body’s torrential forces.  Both of those roles gave me tremendous feelings of power and joy.

But the power and joy available by managing my self-destructive thinking patterns has been beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, and beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

Once I got the hang of it—with simple tools that are powerful, user-friendly, and available—my lifelong tendencies to feel helpless, to worry excessively, and to hate myself for not being built like a Barbie doll began to fade away.  So far, it hasn’t returned.

So what do you say?  Shall we declare a truce on ourselves and our bodies?  Shall we accept that some of us have breasts and hips and, ahem, muffin tops, and that’s okay?

And as for our learned helplessness and our excessive worrying, we have the power to change that, too.

So if you need help get it. A coach or a therapist can do wonders with stuck thinking patterns. If  you are prone to feeling low or prone to depression, or actually depressed, be sure that your recovery plan includes resources that help you manage your destructive thoughts.

Seligman’s research also confirms what my experience has taught me:  managing your thoughts manages your moods.  Our feelings are a direct result of our thinking.

Tags: change · depression · feelings · stress · thinking · transformation

Looking for happiness in all the wrong places?

March 7th, 2010 · 2 Comments

bluebell pathEver think if only you were richer, prettier, or thinner you’d be happier? Or if you could only find the right partner, you’d have a happy life? Or that when you find the right job, or the right career you’ll finally feel successful?

You’ve got plenty of company, because that’s what we all tend to think—the outside circumstances of life are what cause us to feel happier or sadder, satisfied or frustrated. That’s why we spend so much time, effort, and big bucks pursuing a better job, the right hairstyle and clothing, and the best weight-loss diets.

Scientific evidence is now confirming what the sages have said for eons–looking outside ourselves is the not the answer, because happiness lies within. When we look elsewhere, whether it’s with a new job, a luxury vacation, or a different hairstyle, we’re looking for happiness in all the wrong places.

Whether we’re married or single, rich or poor, beautiful or not, matters very little when happiness is measured.  Our circumstances account for only a small fraction of our overall happiness, according to numerous studies. We can make more money, move to the city of our dreams, buy a big house or a BMW.  Even a combination of these goodies might only increase our happiness slightly, after the initial emotional high wears off.

Need more proof?  How about this?  The wealthiest Americans, those who make more than 10 million dollars a year, are only slightly happier than the workers they employ. And married people are only a little happier than singles—25 per cent of married people report being “very happy” compared to 21 per cent of singles who say the same thing.

Does this mean we’re just born happy or sad?  Yes, to some extent.

About 50 percent of our happiness comes from our personal raw material. Our genetics and early exposures gives us a set-point for happiness, which means we all have a natural happiness baseline to which we’ll return whether we’ve won the lottery or gone through a divorce. This set-point is something like our body weight set-point, which allows some of us to remain skinny without effort and others of us to gain weight effortlessly.

We have a place we’ll return to over and over, as yo-yo dieters can affirm.

It’s the same with happiness. Some of us have high set-points, giving us naturally sunny dispositions. Others of us weren’t endowed with the genetics to happily bounce back after a setback. We tend to settle into a baseline that can be substantially lower than our naturally cheery acquaintances.

But–and here’s the good news–a whopping 40 per cent of our happiness potential is unaccounted for by genetics and circumstances. This is very, very good news.

Why?

Because the other 40 per cent of our happiness can be influenced by our intentional activities.  By engaging in scientifically confirmed practices, we can raise our personal joy by a whopping 40 per cent.

By changing our thoughts and behaviors, we can be much, much happier. With effort and intention, we can literally transform our lives significantly for the better.

And happiness can bring us more than, well, just happiness. Happiness comes with a boatload of cool side effects, too, like better social relationships, including more satisfying marriages; more energy, flexibility, and creativity; more productivity, better leadership skills, and greater earning power at work; better physical health, stronger immune systems, greater longevity, and increased resilience during times of hardship.

It’s even been scientifically documented that happy people influence a great number of others in their sphere of social contact, helping their families, social relationships, co-workers, neighbors, and even the world at large become happy campers. So there are plenty of good reasons to be happier, if happiness itself isn’t enough incentive for you.

So you don’t have to win the lottery, lose 25 pounds, change your hairstyle, or ditch your unemployed boyfriend to be happier. The inner work we do is the big payoff.

And you might just wind up prettier, richer, and thinner since you’ll feel so much better.

Tags: feelings · happiness

The Feeling of Being Loved

June 30th, 2008 · 2 Comments

Karen was ecstatic. She was tired of being single and sent an email to an old boyfriend. He immediately returned the email and told her he was single, too. He wanted to see her. They spoke and made a date for the following weekend.

She was elated on our coaching call. “This might be it!” she told me breathlessly. “I wasn’t ready for him before, but this time I am. I’m so excited.”

I asked her to describe her excitement. “It’s the feeling of being loved,” she told me.

“Where did that feeling come from?” I asked.

“From his call,” she said.

“Oh, did he tell you he loves you on the phone call?” I asked.

“No.”

“So, where did the feeling of being loved come from?” I asked.

“From the possibility of this working out,” she said. “I’ve always been so bad at relationships before. Now I’m ready. He sounds really interested in me. This could be it!”

“So, really let that feeling you got from the phone call, of being loved intensify,” I suggested.  “Where is it in your body?”

“It’s in my heart,” she said.

“So where is the feeling coming from?” I asked her.

“Oh my gosh, it’s coming from inside me!” she exclaimed.

“Yes it is. And what changed to create that feeling?”

Just then, she got it. “My thoughts. My thoughts about myself changed.”

Yep. That’s it. That’s the secret formula. When Karen thought the possibility of being in a loving relationship was on the horizon, she felt good inside. She became happy and excited. Before that, life was ho-hum. She hadn’t seen this guy in years, and all that had happened was one phone call. The old boyfriend didn’t do that.  Karen did–she transformed the way she felt about herself.

So, as Karen discovered, being excited and feeling loved can be generated inside of us. Once we “get” this we can create it for ourselves, over and over, every day of our lives. We can just skip the middleman (in this case, the old boyfriend) and create the feeling of being loved and the excitement of looking forward to life within ourselves.

So next time you are feeling fabulous, really explore it. Get to know this place. What do you feel? Where do you feel it in your body? Describe it. Write it down. What thoughts are you having about yourself? Write them down. Memorize everything you can about this experience.

We don’t have to wait to find the right relationship or the right anything else to feel fabulous. And, as a bonus, when we’re excited to be alive, we can attract exactly what we want–like a great relationship!

Tags: connection · creating your reality · feelings · happiness · love