Ask the Pros by Angela Grace

Developing Rational Detachment

Let’s look at recent events: total eclipse of the sun, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Jose, Hurricane Katia, 8.1 earthquake in Mexico, solar flares and for our friends in the Northwest, fire with raining ash. In addition to massive events like natural disasters we have the daily, bizarre, in your face, disturbing political actions (transgender military ban, pardoning the racist sheriff), outrageous words of support for Nazis & KKK, and the on-going election campaign of the President. So how are you doing?

We live in a 24-hour crises news cycle. The news is often violent, disturbing, overwhelming, sad, upsetting, frustrating and downright disgusting. How many friends do you have that experience at least one of these: fear, anxiety, anger, or overwhelming worry? Sometimes the events being reported are heartbreaking. Did you get caught up binge watching Hurricanes Harvey and Irma? Did you have an emotional response, stress, from seeing the destruction, the hurting people?

As authors, stress and anxiety play an important role in how well you think, how well you can plot out a story line, how long you can sit in the chair and write. Stress affects our appetite, sleep and ability to concentrate. Along with the emotional toll, stress affects our bodies. The backache, the tired jaws, the sore shoulders are most likely stress driven.

One way to deal with this stress is to develop within yourself, Rational Detachment. That is, having the ability to think clearly, sensibly and logically by separating oneself from emotions. Growing your ability to rational detach from potentially emotional circumstances is a skill that will benefit your writing and health.

The following conversation with my Mom is an example of how people allow emotions to overwhelm an event. Earlier in the summer I visited my Mom. When I pulled into her driveway I could see that a large tree branch had fallen from her tree, hit her neighbor’s garage and slightly damaged the roof.

After hellos and hugs:

Me: When did our tree limb fall on Kim’s garage?
Mom (immediately upset): What? What happened?
Me: A tree branch from that tree behind the shed fell on Kim’s garage.
Mom (voice getting louder): It did?
Me: It probably fell during the storm this morning. It’s laying on her roof.
Mom: Oh no! I hope that Kim doesn’t get upset with me about this!!! We have a good relationship. Do you think my deductable will cover it? I’m worried that it won’t be covered. You know, Aunt Donna had a tree fall … cost her … I don’t know what to do … do you think Kim will be mad at me? … she’s been such a good neighbor … etc.
Me: We can take a look at the damage and decide what to do next.
Mom (agitated and slamming her hand down on the table): You know, that makes me mad! I called the township a few weeks ago about that tree. They should pay for it …
Me: Mom. Stop.
Mom: What?
Me: Mom, let’s stop and think about this for a minute. Not everything is emotional.
Here is what happened: The wind blew, the branch broke, the branch fell on Kim’s garage. That’s it. Everything after that are emotions that you are piling on. I know that you are feeling angry and worried. I don’t want to take away from how you are feeling, but, the wind blew, the branch broke…..
Mom (tearing up): Kim visits me quite a bit. I hope this doesn’t cause problems.
Me to myself – deep sigh.

We seem to be automatically geared to place an emotion on events in our lives. It may be a way for us to put the event into perspective or it may help us to remember the event in the future. Sometimes it’s beneficial, sometimes it’s not. The good news is with practice, you can consciously decide to detach from emotions and think instead of feel.

So, what do we do when we find ourselves adding layers of emotions to events? Start by reminding yourself “not everything is emotional”. Ask yourself what emotions you have heaped on the event or how your emotions are making matters worse. Keep a sense of perspective relative to the event’s importance or direct impact on you.

If you know you will be entering a stressful or emotional situation, visualize beforehand how you want to feel. What emotions do you want to attach to the situation? First responders practice this over and over in order to be emotionally prepared so they can think logically and act reasonably instead of freezing or acting out of fear.

Take a break from the stressor.   Step away to get a better perspective;  try to see the big picture or just give it a rest. It may be a good time for a walk, turn off electronics, or try a new recipe. Do whatever you do to rest and relax for an extended period of time.

As we watch and listen to national and world events we are allowing those events to ransack our emotions. In reality, we are not actually directly involved. It’s about other people who are miles away. So, remind yourself the event is not about you. Recognize what you can or can’t do. Ask yourself if you can help the people who are hurting. Most often, the answer will be that you cannot help except to pray and to offer positive thoughts. Sometimes, we can give financially or write a note offering support. Still, in the vast majority of “breaking news” events, we are not actually physically or financially harmed.

In my job as a psychologist, I have to say hard things sometimes. I give my clients fair warning that I need to say something that may be hard to hear. Authors, here it is. We cannot continue to take on the burdens of all others and expect to stay healthy. We need to use rational detachment, look at circumstances for what they are and move on. When we add layers of emotions to events, it takes a physical and emotional toll. When our bodies have had enough stress, it rebels.

What I am suggesting is that you take control over how you respond to events. I believe that we can have conscience control over our emotions. Rational Detachment takes practice. Removing emotions from world events and looking at them practically is not only necessary for living in today’s world; it is a must for your health.

As a wrap up, the wind blew, the branch fell, the tree company removed the tree, Kim still likes my Mother. Now, if I could just get Mom to rationally detach for the next event…like when she finds out I’m gay.

Angela Grace
Optimized Life Coaching



  1. Okay … let’s talk about Equifax. Talk to a person who DESPISES OWING, who has spent a – let’s just say – ‘long’ time obsessing over financial security, financial independence, financial responsibility, always doing the right thing (think about 4 vacations in 45 years because it was more important to keep my bills paid and save for my retirement) … and now my SS#, address, phone, etc., are out there for every crook in the world … AAARRRRGGGGGGHHHH!!!


    • nods. Thank you for the comment. The Equifax issue hits really close to home. I laughed when you said “I’m with your Mother”. She’s something else!!


  2. Thank you for the perspective. Add in the mix of 9/11’s anniversary and it’s a country under intense emotional strain with the recent (and on-going) events.

    When 9/11 occurred, I was paralyzed. I grieved by binge watching the news for days until my mother finally put her foot down for the entire family – not one more word about it, she couldn’t take it anymore. We all needed to go out for a walk or bike ride or something, get some perspective and just stop. Her words mirrored your advice to reflect practically and take control. There was nothing we could do to directly help, we don’t know anyone involved, it didn’t affect us directly, and we needed to move on with our daily lives. Work needed to be done, bills needed to paid, grass needed to be mowed, and none of it would stop because of something happened on the other side of the country.

    At the time, I thought she was being cold, insensitive and callous to those who lost their lives. I have grown to understand the rationale behind her words, and appreciate the techniques behind the process. It definitely eases my emotions to analyze the barage of events/news, reflect, offer prayers/donate/help if I can, and respectfully resume my individual life and responsibilities.


    • Kat, thank you for commenting. We need to keep ourselves healthy. One way to do that is to put into perspective what we can and cannot do. Then, do what we can and let the rest go. I believe your mother got it right.


  3. Rational detachment is good, but at the same time we don’t want to become robots. On a larger level, we SHOULD all be anxious about what those cyclones, floods and fires potentially represent (climate change), and how we personally are contributing to it. I am also suspicious of individuals who use ‘non-attachment’ or spiritual bypassing to avoid engaging emotionally with family and lovers… but that’s another story. And definitely good luck coming out to Mum! We are in the battle for Marriage Equality here in Australia (SO BACKWARDS), and I know a lot of the queer community is struggling to remain ‘detached’ in the face of the horrible ‘No campaign’… but that’s another story too, sorry : ) Cheers, gabrielle


    • Gabrielle, I appreciate your thoughtful response. When I mapped out this blog I considered which direction to approach the concept of rational detachment. My predominant ideas were from the perspective of how stress and anxiety harms our physical bodies. I did not write about that in detail and only made passing reference. Our bodies cannot cope with extended periods of overwhelming stress. Since the news cycle will not be slowing down, tragic reports will inundate the press, I encourage people to place boundaries on the amount of heartache, fear, etc they absorb. I agree that we should all be mindful and aware of what is going on around us. And, we should involve ourselves in the things we can impact. The other, we need to let go because of long term affect stress has on our bodies.

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  4. I’ve learned after many years of worrying about stuff I couldn’t control was that I was worrying about stuff I couldn’t control. Does that make sense? I would be somewhat like your Mom and almost make myself sick with worry. I don’t know when it happened, maybe it’s just an aging thing but it did happen. You can feel out of control but that’s just a part of life and the sooner you figure that out the happier you will be. Not everything is for you to control. Life happens and so does death and the only this we can do is try to control ourselves. If that’s rational detachment then I’m there.

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    • Pat H. I believe you have hit the nail on the head. Something I say often to myself is, Angela, don’t waste another moment of your time (worrying, stressing, being upset, etc), INSTEAD, ______________________.
      Thank you for sharing your life learned wisdom.


  5. The news is indeed full of crazy, violent and depressing stories. Awful things happen. But they always did. Maybe we were better off in the old days, not knowing what was going on in the town next to us, never mind in a city on another continent. Now, with modern communications, we get everything, all that is happening in the world. Not only the broad facts but analysis, video from the scene, tweets on the topic and on and on.
    It never stops, it never lets up, there is always something.
    Personally, to combat this onslaught I do switch off. I find I have to. I have days with no news. Lovely quiet introspective days and that always makes me feel better able for the media maelstrom when I tune in again. I don’t think any of us are mentally equipped to handle everything that is going on in the world.
    Ultimately, I think the trick is to detach when we have to. But also to recognise that good things happen too, we don’t often get that perspective, but on a human level, often closer to home, there is good stuff. Sometimes it is good to linger on that.


  6. Jean, I agree. Taking time to get away from the news cycle is just smart. When we are mindful of ourselves, how we feel emotionally, how we feel physically, then, we can take healthy action. I’m glad you pay attention to you. Thank you for writing.


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