Social Distancing Strain: How to Remain an Empathetic Listener
By Annmarie Caño
COVID-19 has revealed a great many things about our world, including the vulnerabilities inherent in our economic, health care and educational institutions. The pandemic and the resulting orders to shelter in place have also uncovered vulnerabilities in our relationships with others.
Many of us are not just dealing with our own feelings of anxiety, anger and sadness; we are dealing with the anxiety, anger and sadness expressed by the people with whom we live and other loved ones with whom we've maintained virtual connections. How do we respond with empathy when we are feeling a host of emotions ourselves? Is it even possible?
As a clinical psychologist, I have spent the last two decades studying how couples facing chronic stressors can be there for each other in the midst of their own personal suffering. My research and that of my colleagues has shown that it is possible, and even beneficial to oneself, to others and to our relationships if we learn to practice empathy and other skills even when we're not feeling at peace with the world. Considering that we will not be required to shelter in place forever, it makes sense to put in the effort now to preserve and promote healthy relationships that will last far beyond the time of COVID-19.
Sharing Emotions is Good, but Listening is Also Required
Expressing our emotions to loved ones is a natural response to feeling stressed. In fact, we share our feelings with others for a number of reasons: to bond with others, to be comforted or to seek advice. Sharing our feelings with others can help us get a handle on our emotions.
But it's not just the act of disclosing emotions that helps us feel better. Having a listening partner who is emotionally responsive and "gets it" is key.
It's difficult to really be there for someone when we are feeling stressed out ourselves. In fact, listening to our loved one's suffering can adversely affect our well-being. My colleagues and I have found that couples in which one or both partners experience chronic pain report feelings of isolation, helplessness and resentment in their relationships that affected their emotional and relationship well-being.
Even when both partners have chronic pain, they may experience it differently and have different coping strategies and emotions surrounding an uncertain future with a chronic illness. Yet, couples found that building what we psychologists call relational flexibility skills supported their quality of life and their relationships.
Practicing a New Set of Skills
The ability to share feelings with a partner and listen to a partner's feelings in a nonjudgmental manner that respects both partner's values is something that we therapist calls relational flexibility. Our research has shown that there are several ways to cultivate relational flexibility skills.
1. Reconnect with your values: We can get caught up in the moment and forget what is really important. Therapies like acceptance and commitment therapy and spiritual practices can support realign our actions with our personal values so that external worries, time pressure or other factors do not drive our behavior. Imagining what we want people to say at our retirement, birthday or anniversary party or even at our funeral can bring your values into stark focus.
2. Be curious: Stop and consider how we would want our listening partner to react if we were sharing these same feelings. And consider why they may be feeling the way they do. What might they need right now? You might be surprised to learn that your partner may not always want you to problem-solve when they are upset. Often, they already know what to do but are seeking emotional support instead. Match your response to what they want. When in doubt, ask.
3. Validate: Emotional validation, a key part of therapies such as dialectical behavior therapy, is a powerful signal that you accept someone for who they are. We can express emotional validation by paying attention to them, acknowledging that what they feel is real, reflecting back what we have heard them say, expressing our sorrow or anger about what they've experienced, and asking questions about what you can do to support them.
4. Pay attention to the present moment: It can be hard to hear about a loved one's suffering. Sometimes we disengage, become distracted, jump into problem-solving mode, or change the subject because it's distressing to listen to a partner's distress. With practice, you can monitor, become aware of, and accept your own feelings even as you calmly listen to another. We adapted meditations from mindfulness practitioners and researchers including Jon Kabat-Zinn, Thich Nhat Hanh in our couples interventions and there are many more available on the web.
5. Spend time with your loved ones in valued activities: This is a staple of couple therapies such as integrative behavioral couple therapy and may seem like a common-sense solution. But spending quality time with loved ones is more difficult when our attention is split between working from home, homeschooling and caregiving, managing a variety of pandemic-related stressors, and leisure activities. Recall your values and make appointments in your calendars for mutually valued activities. The positive feelings that come from these activities will sustain you both.
Limits to Listening
To be sure, we have our limits when listening to another person's pain. Even our most tolerant and loving partners may not be able to respond the way we hope. This might be because they need to decompress. In this case, it may be wise to seek out others who share your situation or circumstances for peer support. And if you are the listener, and you feel overwhelmed by another's pain, it's important to take care of yourself and let them know that you are not able to give them what they need. And if you or your loved one discloses that they are feeling so down that they are thinking of harming themselves, it's time to seek emergency support.
For those of us sharing the good, the bad and the ugly with loved ones during this pandemic, let's recognize that we have much to be grateful for our relationships, however socially distant we have to be right now. This time of great stress will eventually pass and we will be out and about again. Practice relational flexibility to ensure that you and your loved ones will enjoy that happy day together.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.