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Tue, March 31

Column | Humanity strong: Using words to reduce fear and increase our well-being

Language is paramount in our lives. Linguists have postulated that language determines not only how we see our world, but what we see. Our words guide our behaviors and mold our feelings.

As we face another disease that threatens us as humans, one of the things we can do is look at how what we say about it determines our reactions. If we use different words for some current coping necessities (notice I’m not using quarantine or lockdown) our words can build us up, instead of hurting, creating fear and dragging us down.

Substitute “urgency” when “crisis” is used about what is happening. The situation is urgent, but we not need to be in an uproar, disturbed/distraught about it – which is what “crisis” evokes.

When individuals go into crisis, the brain – or at least the frontal cortex – shuts down. It makes rational thinking, good decision-making and even self-preservation, harder. But when confronted with a sense of urgency, we are empowered; we have a sense we can accomplish the task and we become more creative and alive. Right now we need to feel strong and alive.

Calls for “social isolation” or “social distancing” are all around us. The Miner, among many other kocal businesses, had the phrase “social distancing” on its door this past week.

But the term “isolation” has many negative connotations and associations. The word itself leaves one feeling alone. If we’re in social isolation, we become an outcast, pariah, isolated, on the edge. Labeling good illness prevention “social isolation” makes us withdraw from contact, from interaction at a time when we need community most. The immune system does its best work – what we need right now – when nourished by love, caring and emotional contact, as well as the physical supports of rest, good nutrition and sanitation.

We can conceptualize this time positively – not as ‘lockdown’ – but as a retreat, enrichment, or rest. “Cocooning” has been suggested. That means finding shelter, warmth, quiet, so that transformation may happen. Then, rather than creating loneliness and isolation, the words themselves support and encourage growth.

The more accurate term “physical isolation” has been recommended. During this sense of urgency people do need to not spread a virus by close physical contact. We DO need to stay 6 feet away, to wash hands, and cover coughs and sneezes. We do need to be aware of the danger of large crowds, surfaces that can hold nonhealthy life forms. But we do not need to be alone and disconnected. Humans need more than ever TO BE socially connected, to recognize that we are all living, caring beings, whatever our social status, nationality, health condition.

We need to touch with our hearts, with our caring, not our hands. That may mean calling not only our family and friends, but also the neighbor/acquaintance/work colleague who has a limited family/social structure. It can be calling, sending cards, or greetings to those in hospitals, assisted living or other care facilities. It does mean meeting more on-line, in chats, on Zoom/Skype/face time platforms. It is not excluding others, not siloing, but rather reaching out, connecting, affirming our shared oneness. Perhaps we should adopt HUMANITY STRONG during this time.

Andrea L. Shields, Ph. D, of Kingman is a psychologist with a specialty in Health Psychology, and Life and Executive Coach.

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