Stacey Colino is the author, with Lise Van Susteren, of the new book Emotional Inflammation: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equlibrium During Anxious Times. Her other books include Just Your Type, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including U.S. News & World Report and Prevention. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area.
Q: How did you and Lise Van Susteren decide to collaborate on this book, and what inspired the term "emotional inflammation”?
A: Lise and I met when I was writing an article about anticipated trauma and pre-traumatic stress syndrome for U.S. News & World Report several years ago.
We hit it off and talked at length about the vague state of anxiety, grief, angst, dread, and hyper-reactivity that so many people were experiencing in response to the tumultuous events in our world—and the fact that multiple surveys were showing that people were experiencing higher levels of stress than ever before.
Keep in mind: This was long before any of us had heard of COVID-19.
As we discussed the scope of stress-related symptoms people were experiencing, we realized that “emotional Inflammation” really captures the commonality of this phenomenon, whether people feel nervous, shut down, angry, or revved up in response to what’s happening in the world.
When we casually tested this theory with friends and colleagues, we found that people felt a sense of relief when they had a name for how they were feeling.
Q: The book looks at four different types of emotional reactions. How did you define the four types, and what do you think readers can learn about their own and other people's style of reacting to the stress around them?
A: Based on her work with patients and climate activists, Lise identified four primary reactor styles, though many people have a combination.
I think it’s somewhat comforting when people discover that they have a reaction style that others share; they also understand why they feel the way they do a bit better. And when they figure out how their family members and close friends may have different reaction styles, hopefully that helps build both understanding and compassion.
Q: What kind of research did you do to write this book, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?
A: We did a lot of research, examining different stress responses and triggers and how these reactions affect people’s bodies, minds, and spirits.
One of the things that was particularly interesting to me is that there can be a priming effect where when you’re in the throes of intense stress or emotional inflammation, you can become more sensitive, both physiologically and psychologically, to the next stressor you encounter.
That explains why so many of us are living in a state of high alert these days.
Lise and I also did extensive research on different interventions that can help relieve this form of insidious stress.
On this front, I was especially impressed by the research showing that being exposed to elements of nature—including the sights, sounds, and smells of forests, oceans, or a star-filled sky at night—can have soothing effects on our minds and bodies.
On a personal note, I realized how calming the sound of ocean waves are; my husband got an app that simulates the sound of waves gently washing onto the shore. Since we’ve been playing it at night, we have both been sleeping more soundly.
Q: In the book, you write, "In troubling times, your mind can be your best friend or your worst foe, depending on how you use it." What advice do you have for people struggling through the coronavirus epidemic?
A: This is an incredibly challenging time we’re living through, with this pandemic.
I think one of the most important things people can do is prevent their thoughts from spiraling out of control into worst-case scenarios or what-if propositions—because that doesn’t do us any good.
Instead, it’s better for each of us to take safety precautions to protect ourselves and our loved ones, tend to our bodies’ needs (with healthy food, exercise, and plenty of sleep), and use our minds to help us stay calm.
We can do that in lots of different ways—by engaging in deep breathing, meditating, listening to music we enjoy, immersing ourselves in a hobby (whether it’s drawing, painting, gardening, or something else) that puts us into a state of “flow,” and many others that are described in the book.
The key is to find the pressure-release valves that work for you and to use them regularly.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: As I mentioned, Lise and I conceptualized and wrote this book long before the coronavirus pandemic and it’s eerily prescient because we’re all now experiencing next-level emotional inflammation.
My hope is that the insights and advice in the book will help people get to the other side of this extremely difficult time more comfortably.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Stacey Colino.