Social Distancing: How to Avoid Judgement and Hostility Toward Others

Interview with Dr. Colleen Cira:

Dr. Colleen Cira is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who specializes in Women and Trauma, and has worked with hundreds of people struggling with mental health issues.


Talking Points from Dr. Cira on the Judgement and Hostility
Surrounding Social Distancing:

What we’re seeing right now is SO MUCH JUDGEMENT and hostility about people who make different choices than us. If you’re taking a run with your baby in a stroller, should you be on the street or the sidewalk? If you’re taking a walk, should you be wearing a mask or is it Ok to abstain if you’re social distancing? You-should-be-taking-social-distancing-more-seriously vs. you-can’t-control-me. Sigh. Craziness.  

Why We Are Prone to Judgement

I put out a video today on CCBH’s social media explaining why we’re all prone to acting out in judgement (brain likes to categorize/doesn’t like complexity; we’re all anxious, but a lot easier to snap on someone than meditate), the psychophysiology behind it (sympathetic vs para-sympathetic; anger/anxiety – sympathetic activation; chronic sympathetic activation = lowered immune response = bad news right now) and what we should be doing instead (focusing on our OWN anxiety, frustration, sadness, etc and working on THAT).

  • So. Much. Judgement. Always, but especially these days. Whether people are fighting about social distancing, wearing masks, taking COVID seriously, etc, there always seem to be two camps who are judging each other, quite harshly, thinking they *they* are 100% right and the opposing side is 100% wrong.  Why?

  • Well, quite frankly, we’re all prone to these either/or, black/white thinking for a couple of very good reasons:
  1. Our brains like to categorize everything and don’t like complexity.  Complex things take too much time to think about and brains are all about EFFICIENCY.  No time for empathy or nuance or curiosity. Judge it, file it away, move on. It makes sense that our brains were designed like this—if we attended to every piece of data that was available to us, we’d be absolutely paralyzed with the flood of information.  BUT, it doesn’t lend itself to understanding complex situations.

  2. We’re all either a little anxious or severely anxious right now. This means that we’re living in the side of our nervous system that is designed to help us survive, NOT think, let alone connect with others. But rather than attend to, get curious about and manage our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors, it’s often a lot easier to focus on trying to control someone else. Getting into an argument on Facebook is WAY easier than trying to meditate for 15 minutes
  • So it all makes good sense, but there’s a major problem with this approach: when you’re all fired up, telling someone else how they should be living their life, you’re engaging your sympathetic nervous system, which floods your body with stress hormones. If you are basically LIVING in the sympathetic nervous system, instead of just visiting that side of the nervous system when there’s an actual threat, this is REALLY hard on your body.
  • So the irony is that you’re worried that you or you loved ones will get sick, so you run around metaphorically (or literally) screaming at people to wear masks or social distance or stay in their homes, etc., etc., etc., but chronic sympathetic activation, actually decreases your OWN immune response and makes you more vulnerable to illness and infection. Kind of the opposite of what you’re going for right?

How to Respond in a Healthy Manner

What we should all be doing instead is using that perfectly normal response of judgement and anger toward others to instead:

  1. Take a breath. Before going off on someone, on social media or in real life, pause and breathe for a minute.

  2. Now that your heart rate is back down and you can actually think, reflect: what’s going on with me? Am I worried about something? Am I feeling fearful? Am I stressed out? Questions can help frame the emotions you’re feeling inside.

  3. Once you’ve figured out what’s going on with YOU, not the stranger you want to lecture, do something to take care of YOU.

By doing this, you re-engage your parasympathetic nervous system, which is where we really need to live to experience optimal health and well-being, and you save your precious emotional resources for you . . . which is the only thing you have control over anyway. 😉


Available for Interviews: Dr. Colleen Cira

Dr. Colleen Cira received both her Masters and Doctorate from The Illinois School of Professional Psychology and is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the State of Illinois.  She’s the Founder and Executive Director of Cira Center for Behavioral Health, PC, a boutique group practice specializing in Women and Trauma with locations in Chicago and Oak Park.

She was named one of the “Top 100 Women in Chicago Making a Difference” by Today’s Chicago Woman. Dr. Cira is a trauma and anxiety expert, clinical supervisor, writer, speaker, consultant, activist, wife, and Mommy to two little ones.

Jo Allison
Managing Editor
Success In Media, Inc.

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