Two Kinds of Distancing to Feel Less Anxious

The disruption of daily life by the coronavirus pandemic has forced most of us to adapt and maybe even to acknowledge routines that we took for granted. Spring also brings holidays that many of us have to observe under conditions we’ve never experienced before. Where family gatherings and religious services had been the norm, we’ve been forced to find new ways to sustain rituals, or to create new ones altogether.

Under the circumstances, it’s not surprising reflection can lead to feelings of anxiety and sadness. That’s where a couple of techniques might come in handy not only to manage stress, but even to foster feelings of hopefulness. Ethan Kross, a professor at the University of Michigan and director of the university’s Emotion and Self-Control Laboratory, has advanced findings on the practices of self distancing and temporal distancing and their benefits for adults and teens, in conjunction with researchers including Angela Duckworth, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and founder and CEO of Character Lab.

Self distancing reframes your perspective on a negative experience, from immersion to observation. Ross and researchers have examined the impact of a change in self-talk, from using first-person pronouns to using non-first-person words, with positive results. One way to try this out is to describe your experience as if you were naming a friend: “Jody felt nervous,” instead of “I felt nervous.” Compared to remembering and re-experiencing your feelings in the situation, this approach can lead to a more empathetic and solution-oriented view that allows you to untangle your feelings and consider your response under similar circumstances in the future.

Temporal distancing is another way to reframe your perspective, by putting yourself in the future. Kross uses the coronavirus pandemic as an example in Character Lab’s tip of the week: Imagine yourself years from now, describing to friends or family how you felt and also how you got through the pandemic of 2020. Envisioning that future scenario might even help you begin to think about how to get there.

No question, worry and anxiety are normal responses, and pausing to reflect can heighten those emotions. Self distancing and temporal distancing probably aren’t going to eliminate those feelings, but they might help you navigate them in uncertain times.

Photo credit: prottoy hassan, Unsplash