Personal protective equipment, or PPE, is getting lots of press these days during the Coronavirus crisis that is our nation’s current reality. Doctors and nurses on the front lines of the medical battle are clamoring for PPE that is in short supply to protect themselves from the virus as they care for those fighting it. This novel virus has made us all very aware of the germs we spread in our daily lives, especially those in medical treatment situations.

While I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of viruses and germs, there are others contagions worth considering and those are emotional contagions. Please hear me, emotions in themselves are not toxic. I am not suggesting that emotions should be contained like we are working to collectively contain COVID-19. But emotions can be contagious from person to person and they often require a response, especially if it is a negative emotion such as anger or sadness. And just like medical personnel and first responders put on PPE to protect themselves against germs and viruses, we also have responsibility to put on our own PPE in emotional contagions.

In CRA language, this is what we call “Boundaries.” This is the capacity to own what is ours to own and move from “I deserve” to “I am responsible for.” Boundaries are especially true in the area of emotions. So whether you are trying to figure out how to stay emotionally healthy in a time of social distancing and self-quarantining, or you are just trying to get healthier emotionally in daily life, here are some tips:

  1. Put Your Mask On. You are responsible to take care of yourself first and I am responsible for me. If you and I are not in our own healthy emotional place, there will not be enough empathy or energy to care for those we love. Our nation’s medical staff is demonstrating this so well for us right now. They know that if they aren’t protected with masks, they run the risk of contracting the virus themselves and not being useful in their work. The same is true for you (and me)- maybe we need to care for our self and our soul, maybe we need to refuel by reaching out to one of our friends to get our own needs met relationally or spending quiet time in meditation, maybe we need to practice gratitude or honor our negative feelings. Whatever it looks like, put your own mask on.
  2. Distance Yourself. Experts across the world are encouraging us to distance ourselves to “stop the spread” of Coronavirus.  And many of us need to “stop the spread” of emotional toxicity in our circles of friends and family members. We do this by developing our sense of self which allows us to grow in our ability to separate from toxic emotions of others. Unhealthy people in our lives know how to use their situations to pass on emotional turmoil to us. But we get to choose if we take that on or not. Sometimes we are in a healthy place and can step into empathy, grace, and compassion. And sometimes we just can’t- and that’s okay too.  When we develop a healthy sense of self, we become aware of what are our emotions and what are the emotions of others.
  3. Flatten the Curve. We have to be intentional about de-escalating our own emotions in heightened or intense situations. Our ability to self soothe is the buffer between our internal feelings and our external expression of those feelings. We get to activate our self-soothing whether the people around us do or not. Through developing distress tolerance and emotion regulation, we create our own internal regulated pattern even if the world around us is unregulated.

Most of us are hopeful that our life returns to pre-Coronavirus status soon.  Some experts are saying there will be a “new normal” or new patterns that emerge because of this pandemic.  But I also want to encourage you to develop a new pattern of emotional health by developing boundaries using Emotional PPE. You have the power to protect, sustain, and improve your quality of life because healthy emotional boundaries actually enhance relationships.

By Stacey Ruberg, Clinical Director of Compass Rose Academy