Ep. 10 | Dr. Vanessa Lapointe + David Loyst | Adapting In An Age of Anxiety
~ David Loyst
This episode walks the uprooted and unsettled ground of our world health pandemic. Life is disrupted and stress and anxiety are natural responses in the midst of health, financial and family concern. Child Psychologist Dr. Vanessa Lapointe and Family Therapist David Loyst, share their personal and professional understanding of finding balance when life seismically shifts beneath our feet.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe + David LoystDr. Vanessa Lapointe is a child psychologist and bestselling author. David Loyst is a family therapist and autism specialist. Together, Vanessa and David specialize in helping families survive and thrive amidst the complexities of life. They teach and practice with a transparent candour that is engaging and enlightening.
Transcript | Ep. 10 | Dr. Vanessa Lapointe + David Loyst | Adapting In An Age of Anxiety
Rachel Cram – So welcome to this special edition of Family 360. I’m here with Child Psychologist, Dr. Vanessa Lapointe and Family Therapist David Lloyst, who are speaking to us over the phone, from their home.
David Loyst – Thanks for having us Rachel.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – We’re glad to be connected to you.
Rachel Cram – So you guys are in the midst of jetlag.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Yeah, we are. We actually had been on a tour in Australia for my latest book releases, Parenting Right From The Start, and when we left Canada this wasn’t happening or there were just kind of whispers of it in the air.
And then, realizing very quickly that things were starting to go sideways, that we were going to have to actually cancel the last two thirds or so of our tour and figure out how to rebook tickets and get home. So we were amongst the lucky ones that were able to get back in good time and arrived to, you know, a sea of uncertainty.
We aren’t with our children because we’re in isolation, having been international travelers. So we’re living out our 14 days in seclusion. I have my tears about that several times a day right now. And we’re, you know, we’re finding our way through.
Rachel Cram – Fun for you as a couple?
David Loyst – That’s right.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – And, that’s also not without its challenges.
David Loyst – Yeah, there’s lots of fun times and there’s lots of times that it’s really stressful.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I think all of us are beginning to become aware of how different this way of living together is, and having to kind of navigate what that means to us as a couple.
David Loyst – And so, there have been a lot of times that Vanessa and I have been upset and been challenged. And sometimes we take it out on each other and that’s a great opportunity for us to practice some of the skills and some of the principles that we’ve learned along the way.
Rachel Cram – Well, these things all come up when life is interrupted in this way. I’m wondering from a psychological and even a biological point of view, can you describe what is happening inside of us when we’re experiencing this rapid reality shift?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Yeah. And the keyword is rapid because the change came about so very quickly, where we went from kind of living relatively normal lives to being isolated in our homes within a matter of days. So right away we have to come to terms with a change that is beyond our control. And when we can’t change what’s happening outside of us, we are forced to change what is happening inside of us.
And so really we start with the resistance of, ‘No, but we don’t want it to be that way!’
And gradually what you’ll have noticed is that people have started to acquiesce to that. They’ve started to realize that it actually is going to be this way. And so then we start to adapt and move through. And along the way we have to have a lot of big feelings about that. You cannot adapt in a sterile emotional kind of state. To be adaptive and to flex and change to what is happening in the world around us requires us to hit the bottom and bounce back and not just once or twice probably several waves of that as we continue to move through this experience together.
Rachel Cram – Go ahead David.
David Loyst – And neurologically, essentially something happens and we have an emotional response often. And that’s our limbic system. That’s our emotional center. And neurologically, when you get a bit of information; like we’re in Australia, Trump closed the borders. As soon as we heard that, both Vanessa and I were quite scared. Are we gonna be able to get on a plane? If we get on a plane, are we going to be stuck in an airport in quarantine?
We don’t know any of these things. And so there’s this 90 second kind of panic response, fear response, that is our limbic system. And then what happens neurologically is, that passes and we move into our cortex.
Now we can actually stay in fear by telling ourselves, “This is not going to work. We’re not gonna be able to get out of here.” But that’s our opportunity to decide whether or not we want to believe our thoughts. And so we had lots of practice of avoiding the panic if you will, by watching our thoughts.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – There was so much of that actually, that by the time I actually arrived to the airport in Sydney, we still weren’t sure if we were actually getting on a plane and going to be allowed to come home. And when they issued us our boarding passes, I promptly burst into tears because you‘re holding it together for so long. And the idea that you’re going to get through that, and be on to the next step of this, was so relieving.
Rachel Cram – So you’re saying, “You’ve been holding onto it for so long.” And I think that is something that we’re feeling right now. That we’re holding on to it. So, what do we need to be thinking about right now in the midst of all of this?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Well, one thing to know is, just to sort of demystify some of the things that are gonna be happening inside of you as a result of being human in amongst this kind of a situation. And the brain has this thing called, ‘the negativity bias.’ This inborn survival mechanism, where we are Velcro to the negative and Teflon to the positive.
And so that doesn’t make your thoughts true, and may even begin to overwhelm you if you attach to those thoughts too much. Those thoughts are a result of many many years of us evolving to be sensitive to potential alarm on the horizon. And so our brains necessarily are going to be absorbing a lot of information, most of it which is fear based, if we allow for that to happen.
David Loyst – We can’t stop our thinking but we don’t have to believe our thoughts. And I want to just read something from Dr. Bruce Lipton, who wrote, The Biology of Belief. He says that, “Stress is responsible for up to 90 percent of illness, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes. When an individual is in stress, the release of stress hormones shuts down the immune system to conserve the body’s energy for running away from the perceived stressor. Stress hormones are so effective at compromising the immune system that physicians therapeutically provide recipients of organ transplants with stress hormones to prevent their immune system from rejecting the foreign implant.”
Rachel Cram – So as I’m listening to you David, there’s one side of me that goes, “Phew, it is only stress.” But then the other side goes, “But how do I control that stress?” So are there strategies? Are there techniques that we can apply to deal with a narrative that goes to our heads?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – And so, the number one thing is to be engaged in a practice of mindfulness, where you are watching your thoughts and noticing the direction that those thoughts are taking and really sitting with some curiosity about whether or not it‘s perhaps going to serve you and your family better to begin an effort towards transforming those thoughts. You can be really sad every morning when you look out your window and you see that the rain is falling again, or you can look out your window every day and notice that rain is falling.
When you transform the thought from the negative to something neutral or perhaps even something positive, that’s what the practice of mindfulness is all about. And to be really kind of mindful about being mindful during times like these. The other thing is that if you can introduce some daily practices into your life that are naturally going to invite your mind to be landing on things that fill you up, rather than deplete you. So, for example, a daily practice that may be very helpful would be a daily practice of gratitude. Before you get out of bed in the morning, in that period between sleep and awake, you allow your mind to float to two or three things that you’re just extraordinarily grateful for as you begin this day. To re orient the mind towards the potential and the opportunity in all of this, rather than staying stuck in the dark of it.
Rachel Cram – David you’re nodding. How does that resonate for you?
David Loyst – You know, this time away, it’s an opportunity for us to connect to our family and our children. Maybe in closer ways than we had before. To reset our family values. We are organisms of attachment. We need connection to thrive. And so remembering to listen. Remembering to honor another person’s feelings, so that they can stay connected with you and with themselves. And then becoming, being the people that we want to be for those around us.
Rachel Cram – I think that in the typical business of our lives, this is the kind of thing that we’ve longed for. Weeks, or more, to unplug. And now here we are, it can leave us really in a foreign place, where we don’t know how to step into this kind of solitude and this type of quiet.
David Loyst – And remember that our reactions are a choice. So, if I find that I’m reacting and I’m on social media all the time and I’m on the news all the time and I’m just feeling so afraid because I am consuming that. I can actually choose to be aware of those things and then find the things that fill me up, that feed me. And I can notice my thinking, that it is a choice.
It is a wonderful opportunity for us to have a period of rest. How many of us say, “We’re so stressed out and we’re so busy and we’re so blah blah blah,” and then we get this opportunity and all we do is consume ourselves with fearful thoughts. We could actually choose to be at rest at this time but it is a choice. We have to be mindful, as Vanessa said, that we are making that choice.
Rachel Cram – Now the reality for many of us is we are home with our children, which does take away a little bit from that restful perspective. So, I wonder if we can look, as we navigate these times and deal with our own stress levels, which I think is a first stop shop, to look at our own selves first. What do we need to keep in mind as we’re caring for our children? Role modeling before them. How are we to be with our children?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – So, I think there’s a few things that we can kind of be chewing on here. The biggest piece for parents to know is, you were made for this. You may not have all the answers right now but you can be the answer that your child needs during this particularly interesting time.
And so, if I had to say, ‘What is the big challenge that we as parents and other big people face with our children right now?’ It’s that our children, as a group, are in the lead. And this has become a real problem over the last 20-30 years. And so what our kids actually need, in order to be able to go and grow in the best possible way, is to be led and guided by parents and other big people who are very definitely in charge, in the lead, full of confidence and can guide them.
And at a time when everything is so uncertain, what better space does that create for us to really step in and be large and in charge. Even if we don’t know the answers. We can be the answer.
So that’s the kind of energy that you would want to be manifesting in your homes right now alongside your children. And know that your children are really sensitive to energy. They’re going to be reading the energy in the air. And you can create a time around all of this, that has them actually looking back, where they remember the blanket forts in the living room and the picnic dinner that you set up in front of the movie or whatever it is that you do to kind of inject some joy into your home right now. Rather than a time of worry and concern and alarm.
Rachel Cram – I love that. I wonder if we can look at children, young kids at home who may not be even really aware of what’s going on but the routine is changed because mom and dad aren’t going to work. Maybe they’re not going to daycare. Plus, they’re not going out to play dates. They’re not going out to parks in the same way. What do we need to be attending to for them in this changed experience?
David Loyst – Play with them the way they like to play. So we were in Australia, at a lunch. And there was a little guy. He was 14 months old? And he was an active 14 month old. Big and strong. And he just wanted to walk. And this mom and Vanessa hadn’t connected for a while, and so we walked around the restaurant.
He found this big planter that he wanted to look in the top, so he grabbed the rim and I helped him up. And he looked in. And then he went down. And then he pulled himself up. And he looked in.
All kids want, are their Mom’s and Dad’s attention. What a beautiful opportunity to give them that. If we choose to be present and be engaged with them. So you know your children. You know how they like to play. This kid just wanted to walk around and explore. He wanted to go outside. The door was locked. But he got so many ‘yeses’ in that lunchtime, that he didn’t react to my ‘no.’
He was like, “OK, I guess we’re going to do something else.”
And I said, “Yes.” to that. We found little grass pieces on the floor and he whipped them around. He had the best time ever. Why? Because he just got to do what he wanted to do, with somebody who was really caring for him.
Rachel Cram – So many ‘yeses.’ I loved that term. And I think this gives us time to give those ‘yeses.’
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – We’ve got nothing but time.
Rachel Cram – Nothing but time. And we forget how to play. I know play is important. I know it’s essential for my emotions, for my rest. But it can be hard to give ourselves that space. So here it is. Learn how to play
David Loyst – And follow their lead. They’ll tell you how they like to play. You just follow their lead.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – As you flow into all of the changing routines, which sometimes you know our little ones especially can be quite sensitive to change ups and routines. We are creatures of habit by nature. And so they really like leaning into the containment that those routines provide. As you switch up those routines do it with swagger and do it with the kind of energy like you would tell them they’ve got to put their seat belt on. “No, we’re not going to the park. And guess what’s for snack time. You’re not even gonna believe it.”
So that you’re kind of, you know, flowing through those switch ups, without being like, “I’m really sorry to tell you darling but we’re really not gonna be able to head to the park today because we’ll share germs with all of our friends.”
And already your kids like, “Wow! What’s going on? Why are you being so weird?
David Loyst – Get your funky energy off me.
Rachel Cram – Well you know, as you were talking I was thinking, one of the things that’s hardest for kids and adults is transitions. Until we have a routine, we’re basically in one long extended transition. Which is hard on all of us. So, I like what you‘re saying. We need to find some new routines.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Yeah. And understand along the way, because, you know, this isn’t old hat to us just yet, you know, that your children might get a little bit discombobulated. And behavior’s communication.
And so, it’s OK for them if they’re having to ramp up a little bit and having to kind of act out a little bit more. That acting out is actually them just communicating to you that they’re feeling the effects of this. And we want to make all sorts of space and invitation for that to come out. We don’t want them to have to keep all of that inside. You actually do want your kids ‘acting out’ if they need to ‘act out.’ And you can respond to that in appropriate ways with a little bit of firmness and a whole lot of kindness.
Rachel Cram – Well in the midst of all that, that you’ve just described, I wonder if we can dial up to a little bit older kids now? Play for them; it’s going to look a little different. Can you dial it up to that middle school year of child? How do we address them?
David Loyst – So first of all, we want to listen to them. You know it’s such a knee jerk for us as parents to tell kids, “Oh, don’t worry about it. You know, we’re doing this for health,” and all of that. And what they really don’t get is an opportunity to get their feelings addressed. Right?
We want them to bring up their feelings and yet sometimes in those conversations we want them not to feel that way, so we try to talk them out of it. But really what we’re doing is trampling on their feelings. So really coming alongside and saying, “Oh sweetheart, I really get it. That really sucks for you that we’re not going back.” And allowing them to feel their feelings and being heard for that. Kids at that age; they can be concerned for themselves as well, not only just that they’re not going to see their friends, they might be worried. Our mind is such a powerful medicine and we want to have ‘swagger’ as Vanessa says, allowing them to get their feelings addressed.
Rachel Cram – Vanessa you have this story about being on a plane in a really turbulent time. I feel like it’s a good metaphor for where we as adults can be sitting right now.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Mm hmm.
Rachel Cram – Do you know what one I’m talking about?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I do yeah. I was flying back to Vancouver from Calgary, and we were headed over the mountains, and the turbulence was so bad it felt like we were gonna fall out of the sky. One of my kids was on my lap and I was holding him close to me as you were meant to do when you have a child on lap during a really bouncy plane ride. And I had resigned myself to death. I was thinking, “OK, this is how we’re all going to go. At least I’m going to die with my kid in my arms.” Right?
And I see this mom who’s sitting across the aisle from me with her children. And she’s going into a panic attack. And she has a little one, also sitting in her lap, and then she’s got other children sitting beside her who are also very young. And they really needed their mom to be able to hang onto herself. And so as this woman begins hyperventilating, I know that my job is actually to hang onto this mom, so this mom can hang on to her children.
And so I found her eyes, and I held on to her eyes, and I just gave her that steady knowing stare of somebody who’s full of confidence and swagger and I just kept nodding my head at her. And she locked eyes back to me. And every time the plane would hit one of those hard bounces, I would look at her and I would nod, “We’re good! We’re just headed over the mountain range. Sometimes this is what it feels like. We’re good. We’re good.”
And you could just see her, as somebody else stepped in with in-charge energy, that she started to breathe again. She was able to regulate and come down again. And so if we use that as a metaphor for life. That’s what your children are looking for. They pick up on the energy around all of this. And certainly, if you have kids who, you know, they’re a little bit older, middle school or beyond, they’re chatting to all their friends. They know what’s out in the world. They know what everybody’s talking about. And so they’re looking to us, just like that woman on the plane was looking to me.
Make sure when they looked to you, that you are ready to receive their glance, and that you are certain in looking back at them, with an energy that says to them, “We have got this. We’re good. Here’s what we’re doing. We are no longer going to school. Crazy right! So, what’s the plan for this afternoon? I’m going to tell you.”
And you just kind of step through it with them.
Rachel Cram – Well, and you are saying they’re looking back to you and I think so much of it is done by look. More than even by the words that we’re saying. It’s the body language. It’s how we’re carrying ourselves. It’s what we’re doing with our eyes and our hands and our posture.
David Loyst – And that goes back to caring for ourselves; putting on our mask first on the airplane. And so when you have worked your thoughts, and when you actually get yourself to believe, that there is a reason for all of this. Nothing happens to us, it happens for us. And you come to gratitude for all the things that you have. Then when your kid comes and looks at you, you’re not actually fraudulent. You’re not making something up. You’re actually just being that for them. Because we’re not human doings we don’t say the right thing. We’re human beings.
They’re just looking for our being. So it goes back to, how do I care for myself so I can care for those around me?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – When you’ve addressed the being, the doing flows naturally from there. And so when we’re like, “Oh no! I’m supposed to be looking at my kid and I should really try and put on a confident tone in my voice. And I have to appear very certain to my child.” What’s happening there is, we’re focused on the doing before the being. So get focused on the being.
Like this is really a time, mums and dads, to go inside and address all the whirling swirling that’s happening within you. To really understand that you were made for this.
We are designed to rise up and be resilient in challenging times. You really do have this.
You might have years of programming that have convinced you otherwise in the moment, but I’m here to tell you today, you were made for this. So address that within your being and then you won’t need to think about the mechanics of the doing. The doing flows from the being.
Rachel Cram – We uniquely have our own default settings for stress and we all have our own strategies for dealing with that stress. As we’re all in a little bit of confusion right now, are there some general ways that all of us can manage our stress most effectively?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – So that which is to the greatest good of self will be to the greatest good of all. And so it is a really wise question to be asking. Like how can we be stepping in on behalf of our own well-being, to make sure that we can be our best during this time.
And so then I would ask, “What can you do for yourself that really would be full of love, full of compassion for you?”
You’ll want to be watching things like sleep, and making sure that you’re attending to that. And putting wonderfully nutrient rich food into your body. Cooking meals together with your family, and sitting down at the table to consume those meals.
You’ll want to be getting exercise in a physically distanced way, out in nature if you can do that, so that you’re feeding the soul and feeding the body the things that for all of time have made us be our best selves.
David Loyst – And the other thing I would think of is, a lot of us identify with our work.
We feel like we are valuable when we are working. And if we can’t work we’re not valuable. If you believe that thought, then you will infect everybody in your environment with your negativity. Maybe it’s an opportunity for me to look at what’s going on inside of me.
There are going to be so many opportunities for our own healing in this time of routines that have changed, transitions that are challenging. Could be an opportunity.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – You know, as we dive deep into our social media feeds, and the constant monitoring of news information, and all of the changes happening around all of this; we can get very very attached to the fear in all of it.
And so, on the one hand we’re dealing with the concretes of the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, an actual virus. But there’s another kind of viral transmission happening here, and it is that fear has become our virus. The virus is actually in our minds. And when we spread that kind of virus, we do a disservice to all of humanity. We literally reduce the capacity of our immune systems to tolerate the physical virus, that is Coronavirus, by spreading the virus of fear.
And so one of the big invitations that I am making sense of in all of this, on a global level, is that it is an invitation to spread love.
David Loyst – Let us be care mongering rather than scare mongering.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – There’s something about this idea that we are all in this together. Knowing that globally, the world is impacted by this. That is an incredibly unifying experience, when we are all, kind of faced with this sort of crisis.
And I always come back to Mr. Rogers quote, where he says, you know, “When scary things were happening in the world, my mother would always say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. There will always be helpers.’ “
If you set it up, so this is what you seek out; what you’re hearing now, it’s the stories of the helpers. You’re hearing about the people singing from their balconies. We had a colleague drop us a load of groceries this morning on our front lawn. And so there’s all these beautiful messages of compassion and community and we can choose to have that be constantly passing through our mind and through our field of vision rather than landing on fear all the time.
Rachel Cram – Well, connection and community is what we have been longing for, and we’ve had such a hard time getting that to flow between us. And I wonder what this will do for that.
I was talking to a doctor friend, and she was saying, “Although this is really hard right now, the reality is that children have been dying of diarrhea at far greater rates than the coronavirus will ever touch.”
And my mind is starting to have the freedom to go to thinking, “Could we be different than that after this?”
We’re responding to this because it touches every single one of us. We need to be more than that.
David Loyst – Well I think, if we recognize what is the anxiety and the fear in our thinking. We have been operating in very tribal units. We close our borders. Where do I close my borders? Right?
Where do I take care of my loved ones to the exclusion of others? And so perhaps the opportunity is for us to recognize that we have this fear based belief system that operates all around the world. With a fear based belief system, we don’t believe there‘s ever enough. There’s not enough money, so we hoard that. There’s not enough resources. So we hoard that.
So maybe COVID is exposing the real fear based thinking, that is the underlying problem with all of this in the world. Right?
And so maybe this is it. Maybe this will affect us so much that we’ll actually have to deal with the underlying problems that are going on within our minds.
Rachel Cram – It can be said, “You have to hit rock bottom before you can head back up.”
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – That’s right.
Rachel Cram – And if these ‘maybes’ that we’re talking about, can even come halfway to fruition,
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Right. Imagine the potential. You know we always talk about the world of opposites; that you cannot know light without having known dark.
So if there is a darkness that is this big, just imagine what the opposite of it is. Imagine how big and powerful that light might actually be waiting for us on the other side of COVID-19. And so, get curious about that.
Rachel Cram – I think those are good words to end on. We started this conversation really focused on how we care for anxiety with ourselves and our children. But I love where it’s gone.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Yeah absolutely.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. David and Vanessa thank you so much.
David Loyst – It’s great to be here Rachel. Thank you for inviting us.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Thank you.
David Loyst – Thank you. Roy.