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Emotions are Contagious

Human beings “leak” emotions to one another

Humans are social creatures. Like un-watered plants in a dark corner, we wither and weaken without contact with others. Even introverts like me need relationships to thrive. In this time of mandated social distancing, it is critically important that we all do what we can to stay connected to one another.

Our socialness is hardwired into us. Our nervous system contains neurons called mirror neurons that allow us to match each other’s emotions unconsciously and immediately. (Nick Morgan, Forbes, 9/1/2015) We actually leak emotions to one another!

In times of crisis, this “leaking” intensifies

In times like this one as we (all of us, around the world) navigate this pandemic, we are feeling the impact of this “emotional leaking” more than ever. Every single morning, we awaken to updates about the spread of the virus and new limitations put in place to keep us safe.

If you’re anything like me, it takes supreme acts of willpower to resist the urge to let your thoughts roam to how long this will last, or will those I love stay safe and well, or will there be food in the grocery store next week. To say we run the risk of “leaking” worry and fear to one another is an almost comical understatement.

Even the most well-intentioned journalists (I’m thinking specifically of ABC’s Dan Harris, here) are clearly working harder than usual to keep messaging both useful and calming. Even if you’re lucky enough that you and yours are well, it takes constant, deliberate mindfulness to stay focused on how OK you are right now, in this moment.

Yoga can help keep you calm for your own sake and for the sake of others

A mindfulness practice such as yoga can help a great deal with this individual struggle in two ways. Practicing yoga increases self-awareness so that we notice when our minds have wandered off. Regular time on a yoga mat also helps us develop the skill of choosing our focus – whether it’s our breath or our alignment or what we are thinking about.

A yoga practice also helps with “emotional leaking.” After all, the word yoga itself means to connect and the philosophy of the practice reveals that we are each unique and important parts of a grand, inconceivably gigantic whole. Every word we speak, every gesture we make and every thing we do affects the world around us.

When we are truly living our practice, we are keenly aware of this connection. We are mindful of the ripple effects of our actions. We are conscious of the many ways we impact the world around us.

In the microcosm of my suddenly shrunken in-person community (I am currently sharing my home with my husband and recently-returned-from-college daughter), living my practice means that I am quite careful about keeping some of my more irrational worries and fears to myself. I can work out those crazies on my mat or on a long walk with the dogs.

It also means I am managing my moods and reactions with much more care. And I’m trying to be forgiving and gentle when one of my housemates is in a mood of their own. I’m trying to be quiet rather than sharp. I’m trying equally hard to not be exasperating and to bite my tongue when I feel exasperated.

T.H.I.N.K. about what you choose to “leak” into the world

We can all practice mindful “emotion leaking” whether we’re in the grocery store, out walking or on the phone or video calls with friends and family. As we engage with the world around us, we can make sure our T.H.I.N.K. filters are in place by making sure the things we say are True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind.

This level of awareness will help each of us to stay in the moment, which, as yoga teaches us every time we practice, is the only place we can find some peace and calm. More importantly, when we’re feeling calm (or at least calmer), we will “leak” a little of that sense of calm to the world around us.

If you need an outlet to “leak” some of your worry and fear, please reach out for a spiritual direction session. In this safe, confidential space you will find healing from expressing your fears and connecting with a listening ear. I’m currently offering these sessions over the phone, via FaceTime or Zoom video calls.