Dear friends,

Washington is entering its second month under Gov. Jay Inslee’s shelter-in-place order. Few of us have experienced a global crisis of this scope, and many of us find ourselves managing unprecedented levels of anxiety, fear and stress.

There is no “right” way to feel during a global crisis. Mental health professionals agree that the fear caused by a global catastrophe is enough to inspire collective trauma. Atop that trauma sits the cold isolation of social distancing, looming threats to financial stability and, for many, the relentless stress of managing work, children’s education and daily life.

Especially during this tenuous and unpredictable time, I find myself attempting to regain a sense of control by trying to “fix” my tough emotions. 

Feeling anxious? I better increase my daily meditations. 

Feeling tired? I better start my day with some cardio. 

Feeling guilty? Some affirmations should do the trick!

Instead of allowing myself to experience my feelings fully, I move immediately into fix-it mode. Can you relate?

This is one of the pitfalls of self-help culture. We’re promised that if we drink the right smoothies, do the right yoga or journal every day, we can “get rid of” our anxiety, our resentments and our fear. Self-help culture depicts uncomfortable emotions as problems that we can eradicate if we try harder or buy more stuff. Of course, we never fully succeed because uncomfortable emotions are as human as the air we breathe, and so we carry on, convinced we’re not doing “enough” to improve ourselves.

It is a toxic cycle of self-abuse. While there’s power in taking action to self-soothe, there is no magic pill to “solve” our many worries during this time. Uncomfortable emotions are a normal, natural and inevitable part of human life ?— all the more so during a global crisis. 

In her book “Stroke of Insight,” neuroscientist Jill Bolte-Taylor explains that the physiological lifespan of an emotion in the body and brain is 90 seconds. Emotions linger beyond 90 seconds when we stay stuck in mental loops such as “I shouldn’t be feeling this way,” or “This shouldn’t have happened.”

Bolte-Taylor’s research makes a simple yet powerful point: The most expedient way to let go of unpleasant emotions is to feel them, physically and emotionally, and then let them go ?— without fueling the fire with judgments or stories. Problem-solving tough emotions away may, counterintuitively, make them last much longer than intended.

Relieve yourself of the impossible burden of trying to problem-solve your way into a pain-free existence. You don’t need to work harder. You don’t need to be “better.” Your only job is to feel the emotions as they rise, and release them as they go.

With care,

Hailey

P.S.: Do you feel like you’re the only one facing a particular challenge or struggle? Or perhaps you have a question you’d like to see answered in the column? Email me at hailey@haileymagee.com for the chance to have it included here.