« The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos

BONUS: Coach Yourself Through a Crisis

2020-03-19

We all need to keep a clear head at times of crisis - but that's not always easy. So when strong emotions of fear and anxiety start to cloud your judgement, turn to an effective and reassuring voice of reason... you. Ethan KrossĀ of the University of Michigan Emotion and Self-Control Laboratory gives us concrete strategies on how to coach yourself so you can approach upsetting problems in a calmer and more reasoned way.

If you have a question you want answered on a future coronavirus bonus episode then tweet @lauriesantos or @pushkinpods using #happinesslabpod

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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you can subscribe today on Apple Spotify or ever you get your podcast welcome to a special set of episodes of the happy slap. The now global spread of corona virus is affecting all of us. This disease has brought a host of medical, economic and political problems, but it's also given us a ton of uncertainty and anxiety. You're beginning, have an enormous negative impact on our collective. Well but whenever I am confused or fearful, I remember that looking for answers in evidence based science is always the best way to go and that I'm hoping this podcast can help if you, me, you probably feel like your entire life has been or is about to be abandoned by this awful crisis which leads to lots and lots of negative emotions and stressful personal situations. Last week, for example, I wanted Working twenty four seven to get all the students in my residential college here at Yale back home safely,
All that stress and rushed goodbyes made me feel incredibly sad and anxious, but after paying so much attention to my students Irene, that had not given my own situation, much thought so I decided to add to the grocery store, which was a major error. All the joy of papers gone a lot of the frozen food fell out of the professionals. Clearing supplies needs a barrier article, everything supermarket. We like there was no produce less people were wearing gloves and masks frantically grabbing random stuff, I too distorted rushing round got back home. I realize I bought a bunch of foods that didn't make any sense whatsoever. I bought you, stuff that I already had in my country in a bar of so I told we didn't, plus I forgot essentials like coffee, which I had planned to pick up, but had completely forgotten in the man, my futile panic shopping experience made me realize something important in this
current crisis. None of us seem able to make reasonable decisions because we're all too anxious and overwhelmed, which is kind of a problem, because right now we all need our wits about us to make effective plans. We need make sure that our kids get eat healthy, but our elder the family members are taking care of, but it's hard to plan for this virus effectively when every feel so overwhelming and emotional. I wanted to how someone who could help me find strategies to regulate all this anxiety so that I can make better decisions, and I knew thus the scientists to call my name's Ethan Cross and faster in the psychology department at the University of Michigan, and I direct a laboratory that specialise in the study of self control and emotion. So even everybody
needs somebody who is an expert on self Control, Unemotion right now, because this is an incredibly emotional time like everyone's freaking out yeah. So I've never lived through a time like this before, and it certainly makes me think, like psychology is a lotta potentially contribute to what really the world is going through right now, and so a lot of your work focuses on how emotion affects planning and what's called self regulation, so so talk about kind of the effects that this I and emotion is having on how people are just acting in their daily lives right now, so intense emotions like anxiety, can have a powerful effect on we think she ll behave, one thing it does: is it it's zooms us and on the source of threat? So when experience in intense emotion, anxiety. We are precision focused on what is potentially bothering us and when we over focus in that way on things that can have some important consequences for our ability to make decisions and perform in the context of our important, also as an NGO,
But if you're in the supermarket and you're looking for you no supplies, to last year, the next thirty days, if your Focus on the anxiety you may have the experience of putting your hand out running down the island just putting it. Thing in your food car right you're not thinking about the bigger picture, the broader context? Hey? What do I have in the pantry that I need to supplement right where things are irish one? What's not as just one example of how anxiety consumers in on problems, The consequence of that is, if were over, August on a particular threat, so let's say what am I gonna do for Ex thirty days or sixty days when I've gotta at home with my family and work and help my kids continue to learn if you're constantly Thinking about that particular issue, the doesn't leave a whole lot of mental space to think about other things
the papers you have to do the project's you're, working on and so forth and so on, and so we know that human attention is, is a limited resource. Unbelievable ability to think in predated abstract ways around the world. But where are you All of that capacity. To zoom in on this threat and as a result, you don't get a whole lot of of work done so that intense anxiety can essentially knock out our ability to think well can also have negative implications for relationships. That's a second big net in consequence, one of the things we know about intense emotion is it acts like jet fuel, propels us to share experiences with others, decades of research, which shows that when people experience across different cultures, intense emotions They are highly motivated to talk with other people. What they are experiencing, but oftentimes what happens with intense anxieties. We talk to other people and we continue to talk and talk and talk.
And talk and then has the effect of pushing other people away of counter productive. ITALY and, paradoxically, actually creating a sense of social isolation and loneliness rather than bringing us social support. We need an so that's the second negative consequence we have to be aware of. The third is what intense anxiety is chronically activated can do to our bodies. Are physical health? and the situation doesn't get any rosier. When we look at that dimension and the real for that is in and feelings of emotions, activate a biological fighter flight immune response that can be amazingly helpful for dealing with potential threats. It's like deleting the army reserves for the National Guard to deal with that with an impending attack, well turns out that by logical system works really well in the short term, but when it's logically activated over time, as is the case with
chronic rumination and worrying anxiety. That's when the biological systems begin to break down, so they begin to perform. Less well and as a result, we know that intense anxiety is linked to a host of negative physical maladies. This is pretty darn negative right, and the Good NEWS is that it need not be. That way that's what your expert on this phenomenon of emotion, regulation, so Tucker, Alister But what is emotion regulation I gotta? How does it work so emotion? Regulation is the ability to align how you're feeling with how you want to feel oftentimes takes the form of being able to reduce a negative response, and I got a feeling like an anxious state or sadness if we're regulating, went, want to bring those down a little bit, but it can also the form of amplifying those states rights. You could push up your anger. Sometimes, if you want to sometimes that can be helpful in a particular interpersonal context and the same thing applies, positive emotions to so it's really this
facility that people have with pushing there. Oceans up and down, I do think it's important clarify from the outset that When we talk about emotion, regulation, we're not talking about burning emotions off and not feeling anything, were often talking about raining, then in two appointed you think is most adaptive for us. Given the situations that were in and in the car Climate when dealing with corona virus I dont think we want to actually shut off anxiety altogether there feeling of anxiety is what is leading people to stay in their home, as they should stay in their home. Tat, flattened the curve and get this under control. So we want to maintain some anxious feelings. But will we don't want to do? Is let those anxious feelings explode, so your work has focused on and things we can do to emotionally regulate and one of those strategies. I love that comes from your lab. Is this idea of psychological distance so alto
about social distancing now, but that's not what psychological distance me walk me through, what psychological distances and in kind of how we achieve it in our normal lives. The example I liked to give people to really convey what psychological distance is all about is to ask you to think about a situation or time in your life and a friend or love? One has come to you with a problem that they are spending over their ruminating. Their worry excessively. They don't know what to do and when they pose problem to you it's relatively easy for you to coach them through that situation The reason for that is that you have psychological distance from that problem is not happening to you. Turning to your friend and Europe as a result, more cable, of waiting on our problem more objectively, more rationally, what we ve learned is that we have of tools to gain psychological distance from our own problems and that way, when we adopt more distanced stances when we think about our own life back off
think about our experiences more objectively. Just like we are capable of thinking about other people, situations more objective and there are lots of different tools that exist to help us do that. We naturally get this idea of seeking advice from someone with a bit of psychological distance when time are tough. We know we need a friend or coach to help us, but the problem with the current crisis is that No one has psychological distance were all in the same boat, which means everyone we know is freaking out an anxious. It feels like we're all under threat So what can we do to gain a little psychological distance when all our friends are just distressed as we are when we get back from the break? then we'll share some psychological tips for harnessing your inner bf own wise internal psychological Cody. Who can com you down and get you thinking a little bit more rationally again.
Scientists, fine inspiration in lots of ways, Isaac, Newton can thinking about gravity after seeing an apple fall from a tree Alexander flooding discovered penicillin after some Accidently left a petri dish and covered for psychologist. Than cross inspiration, but finding the importance of an inner coach came from what my at first sight, like an odd source basketball player. Look James. It was his listing moment in time where Lebron James for the first time was about become a free agent and he had a choice of where he wanted to play. Basketball and several teams, including my beloved next or vying for his his attention and he ended doing an he s, paean primetime special today, Claire his decision, I didn't realize when I was about to watch the show that he was gonna provided insight into his thinking process, which he did and one moment in the interview he said what they did. They wanted to make an emotional decision
and I want to do what was best in awful abroad, James and well abroad, James due to make him had he basically. Utters an emotion, regulatory go right. He says you know. The one thing I first person didn't want to do is make an emotional decision. And the moment he committed to that goal? He said He did something very seemingly odd. He started talking about himself using his own name, the Bron James, is do what is best for the branch aims. So this got my collaborators and I to start thinking about. Why would a person Such a thing right, like mine, nine percent of the time we use named and about refer to others. And so what we started doing and thinking about and importantly, running lots and lots of experiments on was the idea that language can provide people with a tool to, in distance from their own problems. The idea is that when we use words like names or words, like you or he or she, we almost
Sclusively use those parts of speech when we think about and referred other people and so the idea is that when we those parts of speech to refer for ourselves that should It is to think about ourselves more similar to how we think about others, and it should provide us with the distance that comes with thinking, other people? As a result? An elaborate was using this in a time when that was incredibly anxious for him right like when he might have had that same narrowing. We were just talking about a second ago aware that they know there's this kind of threat. A vision make the right decision. He's kind of too narrow and he can't make the right choice but in some sense he's like harnessing an extra coach, like he's kind of talking to himself, as though he was someone else, and so you ve done studies that have looked at this empirically trying to get people to do exactly what Leubronn did in times of stress yeah, so we brought participant into the laboratory, and we induce dress using one of those powerful techniques that
can humanely use on. Our people are gonna, think shocks, but it's not accede. Shocks ray. I would argue that it's worse than shocks, actually it's like public speaking YAP, public speaking, I would which I think is worse for many people than physical harm and when they got into lobby, told them. Today we want you to give us a speech on why you're, ideally qualified to land your dream. Job the total surprise for participants and Rita you can't take any notes, and so this is a very reliable way of inducing social threat anxiety. So after we get, everyone stressed out, we basically randomly assign people by the flip of a coin to one of two groups in one condition we say in one of the things are interested in the study are the different ways of people for preparing themselves psychologically before having to give public speeches, some people report trying to work through and make sense of what their feeling in the first persons. That's what I'd like you to do. Ask yourself why I feel in this way in the their condition, we give me
will the exact same set of instructions with one difference? We say some people report trying to work through their feelings using her own name and other non first person pronoun. So that's we like you to do wise, in future. In this way and so one condition its. Why am I and the other conditions wise Ethan? That's the only difference between the two and they interest. Using these different parts of speed for about three minutes when that face The studies done we take down the hall to another room, there's an x a floor in masking tape. We say stand right there, they look up either right in front of them are three actors who are there told her evaluators? We train these actors that to maintain Stoa, disapproving facial expression, so not pay it is when you look up at them and right behind them there is it a giant video camera with like a blinking red light, that's recording what happens, and then we have. The participants gave their speech. They do the presentation when this
he's done. One of the things we do is we. We have judges who don't know what condition the participants were assigned to rate participant performances for how space where their speeches and and what we find is our participants who use their own name. Our red as having delivered more persuasive speeches. That means to me, as all other things being equal about participants in the two groups. It's there. Participants who use their own name. That are more likely to get this charter interviewing for now also did a few other things in this study. So we asked people how much shame and embarrassment they felt right out they gave their speech participants. User name felt less shameful, they felt less self conscious and embarrassed and then what we also did is we had people.
Down in another room you can think of. This is like a stewing period and I'm imagining like, if I'm a subject in a study, I'm gonna sit there and think I did a really crabby job. I saw like you just gonna believe that I'm sure your subjects are does ruminating by how terrible that's exactly what we wanted to look at, and so we had people self report, How much time they spent ruminating about? What did. Oh, my god. I can't believe I said that I strike I kept thinking about what I could have said better, and then we also had them describe in writing. The stream of thought that were flung through their head ensure enough parties Vince could use. Their own name showed that they were ruminating less about their performance. The participants in the other group, which is kind of crazy when you think about it, because it's really just changing one word in the way you're talking to yourself and as these incredible consequences, it's pretty crazy, Yeah is, and I would encourage listeners to just try doing this linguistic it also by
do it? Silently? Not out loud all of the science that we ve done on this deal but these silent shifts and how people use language it think about themselves. We have not done it. Looking out loud to yourself actually may well be useful, but it up importantly also violates lots of social norms that exist about not talking to yourself out loud. I would not encourage that you also been showing that this isn't just a strategy the adults can use. This might be the kind of thing that parents can employ when talking to their kids and this really stressful time to get them to help regulate their own emotions. One of the most powerful manifestations of something called the Batman effect, which development psychologist. Seventy Carlsson and Rachel White have Everley pioneered what they show is that if you have a kid engaging in a really stressful task, they don't want to do in their tempted to do other things. If you ask them to just
pause and reflect on. Why they're doing, let's say their homework in one condition, you say well think about what you're doing and why am I doing it, and the other condition you might say imaginary, men. Think about why Batman is working on this hard, difficult task and when you have a key, think about themselves like a superhero turns out, they perform better they feel better and there's even some evidence that those techniques are most useful for the kids who have the money, difficulty controlling their emotions have also shown that this Agnes works in the face of the kinds of pandemic threats were facing. Now you done some work in the context of the evil, a crisis from a few years ago, showing that this works as well right. So you bowler was a really interesting phenomenon, bows actually quite different from crone of ours, and we will talk about little bit, but it proved It is with a really interesting opportunities, see how these linguistic shift work outside the lab, in daily life, and people are dealing with a threat It was interesting about Ebola. Was there were
actually lots of reasons why people shouldn't be worried about the threat of an evil outbreak in the United States? It's not an airborne disease. The medical restructuring aid seeds is much better than in Africa, where there were outbreaks in yet You still had lots of people see me. The incapable of acts? saying those fact, based reasons why things aren't getting South really fast, and so everyone was zoom in on the thread could resume them out help them get a sense of the bigger perspective in ways that would alleviate their anxiety and right. When the threat was speaking, we did it Study online with over a thousand people spread across all fifty states. Em half of participants think about air concerns about evil in the first person and the other, half of participants were asked to do so using their own name. We found was that the more people use their own name to think about this problem to work through their feelings.
The more. They were able to think about the reasons why they shouldn't be worried. The more they generate fact basis. It's not while the infrastructure is better and so with and so on and on surprisingly, the more people thought out these reasons, not to worry the less they actually worried and the lower they thought there was a risk of a widespread outbreak, and so that was a nice way of looking at how these linguistic ships play outside the laboratory situation with of the corona virus is actually a little different. We are getting clear messaging about why we shouldn't be worrying about this pandemic. He turned into some channels or publications, and they say: there's no need to worry Other people will say no. Actually, the risk is quite severe, we're talking about millions of people, and so we don't actually know what fact what's not, I think, that's in part what is driving so much anxiety about the situation, so
contacts, I think they're. There are still benefit can be had from distancing, but the technique that I've been recommending to people it's something also. We call temporal this and saying- or you might think about- is mental time travel. So One of the things we know- and this is The fact is that what we are now going through. We have it Sperience Ass, a species before they have been. Their pandemics that have occurred. Varied in their intensity, but they ve happened and importantly, were still here capable of talking about them, so they happen and we ve gone through it, and so what temporal distancing. If I asked you to to think about how you feel not right now, but how are you going to feel two years from now right when Most forecasts suggest this will have subsided, will have vaccines heard immunity had, will likely develop and so forth. Theirs lots and lots of research which show that
engaging in this form of mental time. Travel thinking about how we're gonna feel not right now in this moment, but six months from now or a year from now or two years from now what it does is it highlights the impermanence of what we are currently experiencing, and this is their strategy that we use when we are giving advice to each other like go now I talk to my college students about some threat that they see right at the moment. You know, there's gray, that's looming. They got a really horrible grades. I hate in three years time this, isn't gonna really matter that much like the coaches from outside can give you some psychological distance by heart, seeing how you're gonna think about things in the future, if it just we're just do the same thing insider on heads exactly and you know there are- there- are countless distancing techniques that exist. We ve talked about right. This linguistic shift, now we're talking about Temple, distancing the key here, think about which distancing tactic works best in this particular.
Situation. There's a reason why we have these different strategies are all related, but they a little differently. So this is revised because it seems like we can use each of these strategies in the crown of irish situation, but at different times. So when I'm going to the grocery store, I'm just super anxious and aid to calm down. I can talk to myself in the third person like lorry. Like you know, you're gonna get through this you're gonna make a good decision, etc, etc, but kind of collectively. The culture we might be able to use this temporal distancing strategy to really think hang on. Let's pause, our second we're gonna get through this. We ve gone through this before three years from now this is gonna, be fine, etc. When you use these strategies, self. Are you switching between them? Are these the kind of goat you strategies that you tend to use toad, they even get you together. This is gonna, be fine and the temporal distance, and I use those two interchangeably you. You actually did something that was really interesting when you just described how you share from using glory to the Temple and saying, when you are
describing the mental time travel stuff you you actually used the word we work in it through this. Not I'm gonna get through this. We we also another form of distancing rights. Not just about me it's about all of us together and so That's another illustration right there of how languages serving as this this can't do it that helping you distant in tat moment, my prediction, be, you may feel it. Different. If it was, I mean through this in an before use Nera, then we're gonna get through it. I want to end with the question of like. What's Ethan doing right now mean have you watch yourself, use these strategies and stressful situation. Lorry of, of course, I forced myself visa issues. This is all I do feeling anxious to, and I think that appropriate I know, I'm I'm I'm in it with everyone else. We human beings, people all of us are incredibly resilient and the human mind has amazing this amazing.
Facility for thinking flexibly about the challenges that we face and there's some evidence actually that these kinds of emotion, regulation tools or are even more effective when are under threat- because it's so much more negative, emotion, dobrynin under those circumstances, so I think they can help. Take me a job- and I think that's what we want them to do- take the edge off just a little bit can often be the difference. I think, between your worked on and not getting it on being happy she ran your family and not and so on. So I encourage people to try them so some sense. These are strategies that can get us back to normal functioning in a really abnormal time. Yeah thing that's a great way of putting it, that's the hope. I thought I plan to take etons idea start or should I say boys going gonna start taking etons ideas too hard floor is gonna, think carefully about what she can do in this crisis he's going to realise that she's been through things like this before and she's through them, ok and so
hope, you'll join me worry for the next Let us out of the happiness to having slab is made by me. Doctor lorries enters its pretty in Korean by Ryan Daily our original music is by Zachary Silver, we're Pushkin podcast, so She'll thanks go to Jacob Iceberg, Neil about other fain, highly migratory Julia Barton setting. A strange thing, happened to me in the library, while back I needed to pick up a few books. This was before the quarantine, a question was nagging me it isn't just nagging me for a long time. Older, killed truth This truth problem, it isn't just bad its deadly,
it's also way older than it might seem. This mystery its historical, Jennifer and I'm a historian at Harvard and staff better at the new Yorker has been a lot. Time trying to solve mysteries like this one. So anyway, I was at the library everything seem normal hum swiped my card, the elevator down to the basement upon volumes of the shelves and then I saw it something I never seen before down here, at the end of the road hidden in the shadows green door, was a sign on the door tarnished breastplate. We barely make out the words it read the letter archive.
Everybody, tv and radio. Confuse hello right. Right hello? How are you No one's there the voice from the past voices Ray we waited period prior, woe heralded the discovery which assured and who want to ban time was granted in here, he's lying before Corona virus, a congressional debate about the government's role in developing a vaccine, is there any other term for them as socialized medicine, old, horror, movies therein, here too,
punch cards from the forgotten history of the National Data Center network, referred to as being that work is now and operate in record's records of bird songs, considered America's foremost songbird hermits rush All these voices from the past sound Nobody is heard for decades. Maybe somewhere in this vast last archive this corridor of the mind I can find what Looking for, an answer to that question who, The truth. I decided to start a podcast. It's called the last archived hotel. Stories from hundred years a history of America, and our arguments about truth and evidence. If you wanted I found Mimi back here. I leave the door unlocked the last archived coming, brought to you by Pushkin industries.
Transcript generated on 2020-05-26.