The Physical Effects of Lending a Hand

Perhaps because I'm not working in an office any longer, and therefore have much more solitary time, my contacts with people seem much more charged. This is mostly wonderful; I feel more engaged and focused on the pleasure of anyone's company. Two things recently happened that reminded me why it is so important to watch who you tangle with--our interactions most certainly have an effect on our health, but in the mad swirl of everyday activity, we lose track of that, so the negativity works insidiously and catches up with us when we aren't looking.

In the first case, I opened up a mean-spirited comment from an anonymous poster on this blog. It was particularly upsetting because it was in response to a very honest and open post on depression. As I read, panic fluttered up inside me, my mouth went dry, my heart began to pound, and I felt frozen. (Yes, strangers have that power--and when friends turn mean, it is even worse.) My pulse raced--flight! Get away! Danger! Then anger surged through me--how dare this person defile my house! Fight! I calmed myself down, went outside, walked it off, and felt better. But the rush of adrenaline and cortisol stressed me out. Too much of that, day in and day out (as in, high stress job in merciless company, etc.) must take a toll; I had tuned it out for years, but the corrosion went on nonetheless.

In the second case, I was walking along a very busy Manhattan street. A frail, elderly man was shuffling through a crosswalk ahead of me. He was holding hands with an adolescent woman who was clearly mentally handicapped--but functional enough to understand traffic lights. When the light began to blink a change, she grew anxious, tugging on the old man's hand with increasing urgency, and yelling at him to move faster. He couldn't. Cars began honking. I stepped into the crosswalk, held up my hand like a traffic cop, and stopped the cars in both directions until the man and his companion could get across. It took two light changes. I was simply astonished at how rude some drivers were, and at how valiant and determined the old man and the young girl were. They made it across, and then so did I. When I stepped onto the sidewalk, a man around my age who had been watching it all smiled hugely and said, simply, "Thank you for doing that." A powerful rush of something--good heart? love? relief? gratitude that I could help?--flowed through me; I felt lit up. This feeling suffused my entire being, and I floated through the day--literally, it lasted that long, and was that strong.

These hormonal (is that what they are?) responses to negative and positive acts are supercharged. They add up. I know there are technical, scientific terms for what happened--I read all those articles about stress. But it is quite another thing to experience them. How do we build more "lending a hand" moments into the day? And learn to avoid toxic encounters?

All this reminds me of a very long conversation I once had with Theo, my younger son, who is philosophically inclined, and temperamentally oppositional. He was about 10 at the time. The gist of it was: I was talking about love and my heart, and he said, no, love comes from the brain, not the heart. All emotion comes from the brain--that's scientific, Mom. I said, then why do I feel it in my heart? And why do we draw pictures of hearts with arrows in them, not brains with initials on them? He said, well, maybe Moms' hearts are different. I love that. With all my heart.


Stirling Davenport said...

This really touched me. I just discovered your blog this morning. I will be back .... thanks.

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness! I cannot believe someone would be so horrible to a) leave a nasty comment on your blog and b) comment rudely on something as serious as depression!
I read that post, loved it, and thought it was so great, and the more awareness the better!
I am so glad you got a boost from you good samaritan deed, as life is such a crazy rollercoaster ride of emotions... and you just can't imagine what is around the corner.. so try not to let others get you down, ok?
:) Flick

Delphyne said...

Me, too - just discovered your blog via the Care2 folks who had a write up about your book - which is now going on the to read list.

People can be so rude - it's a shame. They can be especially so when they comment anonymously. They're cowards, really.

Loved you're holding up traffic for people who obviously needed it - it is shocking that drivers have so little empathy.

Looking forward to catching up on your writings!

Diana said...

Just discovered your blog this morning (also through Care2). I can relate to your feelings...only too well. I left a successful career that I worked hard to attain and thought would be perfect, only it left me empty inside...anxious all the time and it was crushing my spirit. The corporate world doesn't allow for feelings and caring for people anymore (did it ever? I'm not sure). I can get a hundred positive comments, but the one negative one holds my focus. I think being aware of it helps you control it better. And, I have been volunteering more...as a way to force the 'lending a hand' moments, in case they don't happen often enough.
Thank you for your blog...I will be back!

Cristina said...

here I am, me too having just discovered you through the daily mail I get by Care2.
they are absolutely right: you do have a special knack for expressing in a beautiful way what goes inside us. and you do it without arrogance nor weepy complaint, but only with sheer passion. bravissima!

Anonymous said...

oh my goodness. how i can relate to your "negative" comment spriraling you day down into oblivion. i take the way my coffee cup faces me personally some days... :-)
joking aside. i do feel you. but it's my battle: that cortisol stress when i'm feeling attacked about stuff that really in the big picture has nothing to do with me (it's them).
i'm new to your blog (2 months), but i saviour each post.
you came to me at the perfect time.
as it always seems to happen in life.

Mrs. Blandings said...

I am so sorry about the nasty comment. After three years of blogging I can tell you that it doesn't happen that often, though it does happen with some regularity. They always sting. It never gets easier. It is usually the most personal posts. It always leaves me gasping and flushed and amazed that anyone would feel the need to something so cowardly and unkind. The recovery time does seem to get a little shorter.

Anonymous said...

I too have found your blog through Care2...especially enjoyed your comments about a mother's heart being different. So true! I'll be back for more insites; thanks for sharing with us!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I have felt that horrid rush of adrenaline you speak of. It starts at the toes and flies upward, lashing your entire body to panic. The most unpleasant feeling ever. Fortunately, my readers are always kind, so my comment page us generally a safe place to go. I have never understood someone writing hateful comments. Funny that they are always anonymous, isn't it.

I have also felt that surge of goodness that is precisely the opposite feeling. I think it must be God that hands that one out.

vicki archer said...

Perhaps we sometimes need a touch of the bad to appreciate the wonder of the good.

Anonymous commentators are just that...anonymous...Your posts are heartfelt, honest and a delight to read; never forget that. xv

betty said...

I also found your blog (and books, which I've just ordered) through Care2. This post is fascinating- I had been aware of the negative affects of hormones, but I had never even thought about the positive effects that result from positive and helpful interactions!

Thank you for the enlightenment.

ClareMom said...


There are some people in the world who are so poisoned by jealousy that they cannot help trying to tear down those who espouse a return to authentic living.

I was a faithful subscriber to House and Garden until its demise in 2007 and always enjoyed reading your column. I have not read Slow Love yet, but intend to. Your voice has always been clear, strong, and authentic.

It takes a tremendous amount of courage to put yourself "out there" to talk about the issues you've broached on your blog and in your book. But this is your style - you've always been authentically who you are. And you will have your detractors...we all do.

For those of us who do "get it," keep on keeping on, and we'll keep reading.

By the way, I love the photograph of your reading spot. I, too, have a wallered out spot on the couch and a well-loved quilt and a book is always within arm's reach!

William said...

I can certainly understand your reaction to that comment - epsecially since it was such a personal attack in an open public forum. Unfortunately, it should be expected - you've written a very honest book and now are presenting your thoughts on a blog - toxic lunatics are everywhere and especially concentrated on the Internet commenting anonymously on blogs. That comment clearly was vitriolic, mean-spirited and just frankly, nasty. I implore you, however, to let those comments stand as written. There is nothing less interesting and banal than a highly edited blog comment chain that includes only "you're wonderful" comments. Just think of all the great subsequent comments and discussion it inspired. My advice would be to just let it go - let those comments stand - and you will end up with a much more interesting, textured and meaningful blog.

Anonymous said...

I do wonder if we are left very sensitive to adrenaline/cortisol if we have been in a high-pressure situation a long time, and then find our way into calmer waters. I was such a tough old bird (I thought!) for years, but now simply do work I love, from home, with my media dragon days well behind me, and I can feel quite shaky when someone is unpleasant!

And: the last time it happened was when I forwarded the link to your post on depression to a dear young blog friend - not from her, but from others! It seems to arouse strong fears.

size123 said...

With something like the nasty anonymous comment, it helps me to stop and realize that it is about them, not about you. That does not make the hurt and confusion go away, but it mitigates them somewhat, at least for me, and it makes it all a bit more understandable.

Ronnie said...

So glad so many of my readers over at Care2 have discovered your blog and book!

Here is the review: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/slow-love-shows-us-the-purpose-of-life-can-be-just-that.html

Thank you, Dominique for sharing your thoughts about nasty comments and the emotional responses they stir up. I've been writing for some websites for a few years now, and it is amazing how flip some folks will be about things that matter to you. While I don't get many nasty comments, when I do, it does sting like Mrs. Blandings says. I tend not to give them any more fuel to air their foulness.

And, yes...moms hearts are different!

Virginia Johnson said...

Dear Dominique,
I agree w/William...leave them (the nasties) here as it does add to the layering of this most-looked-forward-to-blog. Goodness, don't people realize there IS a way to disagree or comment without mean-spiritedness? Where are their manners?

Moms hearts are HUGELY different!

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Like Mrs. Blandings, after blogging for a few years, you find that the negative comments tend to come infrequently. However, for some reason, maybe the popularity of blogging lately, they are coming more regularly. I have found it is best to delete the comment and not respond. Otherwise, you run the risk of a firestorm of negative comments. They do hurt, but they're not coming from a truthful (or personal) place. Try to keep that in mind next time. Hopefully there won't be a next time!

tru dillon said...

Those negative beings are called Trolls! Ignore them and they go away!
So sorry that happened to you.

Tricia said...

I was deeply touched by your act of kindness in stopping traffic for the pair to get safely across the street but what brought tears to my eyes was the comment from the smiling gentleman on the other side. It was a reminder to me to express my appreciation to those who stand up for, look out for, or are helping others. The responsibility belongs to all of us and we should be apprecitive when one of us steps up to the plate.

You have a wonderful gift of written expression. I am so happy to have found you again after House and Garden.

Tricia O'Brien said...

Thank you for sharing this not all that uncommon experience in the real world. I find when I stay upbeat and positive it has an effect on other people and we can really make change with our attitudes. When I feel down or sad, everything seems to look and feel that way....of course, you can't stay that way forever as we are mercurial humans with flowing energy....but I loved your awareness and it is inspirational to us all. As for the evil commenter....I hope that you blocked him/her forever.... LOVE your blog!!!

Windlost said...

Hi Dominique, I really enjoyed reading your observations on this topic and I think you might be on to something!

On Saturday I awoke with an especially terrible headache - my husband had already gotten out of bed - so I decided to sleep a little longer. At 9:30am the phone rang - my mother-in-law - for nothing important. She knows I like (and sometimes need) to sleep in on Saturday. Well, I was angry with her ALL DAY. I was venomous, incensed and irritated. I hated her all day!

And this was after weeks of recent counselling (for depression and chronic headaches) in which I've been working on "attaining inner peace". I will need a lot more work on that topic.

Anyway, I noticed that my heart was racing all day and I was so agitated and thought several times about how unhealthy my feelings right then were. But they felt out of control, unleashed angers of all kinds.

Yet, I am also one of the "nicest" people around, according to some. I am the type to lend a hand and smile at strangers and go the extra mile and cheer for the underdog. Sometimes, oftentimes, that feels thankless. Why am I smiling at a miserable grounchy colleague who barely grunts in my direction? Sometimes all this feel-good do-good stuff tires me out and I feel like maybe I should be cold and uncooperative like everyone else (those honking drivers in your story).

Anyway, all this to say I totally get your experience and have reflected on all of this a lot. The world is a complex place and we are complex beings and it takes a lot of work to keep our minds under control and our spirits and hearts open.

By the way, I cannot wait to read your book. I have been thinking for a long time about converting my decorating blog to something a little more philosophical (but fear losing my favorite reader-friends). Your blog hits just the right note with me these days.

Sorry for such a long comment! And sorry for the rude commenters you've encountered.
xo Terri

Annie said...

I found you today and this is exactly where I need to be in my life right now! Life is a beautiful place if only we remember to slow down long enough to appreciate it. I finally put up bird feeders at my new home and just freezing in place and watching the birds come and go around me makes me smile and brings me peace.

elizabeth said...

The "heart-mind" Many studies indicate that the heart is our second brain; the mind, its job, simply to generate thoughts... 24/7. The affect of words, even simple yes and no, can generate exactly what you experienced from the blog response. Why? Perhaps too many similar or negative past experiences. Did you ever see the work of photographer Masaru Emoto? He photographed ice crystals after the words of love and peace where spoken. Pretty amazing! Our bodies are mostly water so words absolutely affect us

We all seem to speak more harshly to ourself than to others. Imagine what that person is like to him/herself! I teach yoga to help people who suffer from anxiety/depression and one of the things we emphasize is compassion when speaking to oneself. As a writer, did you ever start each sentence with yes...

In the process of reading your book and I love it! Look forward to reading your posts, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Hi there,
your message is on target. I also have to note that people who take care of others: parents, older siblings, etc do tend to look out for those others who need the occasional 'helping hand'. I am astonished when, due to pressing time schedules, frantic commitments and deadlines, I have ignored or passed by those who might have needed assistance..I mull over these actions and wonder "what was I thinking?".

rosenz said...

Horrified that anyone would post a vicious comment. Horrified (and puzzled) that someone vicious would be reading your postings. It's always such a delight when Slow Love Life is in my Inbox - a moment of meditation, a letter from a friend, an aide memoire amongst the hurly burly to breathe, read, think and appreciate. Thanks Dominique.

Tpony said...


It's your blog, on or off with the head.....some of us cherish the protection (though I will admit, it lends spice to the mix ...) and we linger here as guests dependent upon our hostess' prowess for hospitality and civility.

Random comments: Hardy is my absolute favorite author , but this weekend, bookending attendance at Trade Secrets (thank you for promoting it Dominique...I'd never been,) I read Henry James' "The Spoils of Poynton"; what a funny juxtaposition! It concerns a collector gone rabid. Some great Jamesian humor; altogether a delightful, engrossing eavesdrop.

My sister bought me your book at the Atheneum reading....great expectations!

And, do you have a
Ligularia, either dentata ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’ or Othella? Saw that on the grounds at LionRock Farm...what a beauty/big and bold and dark leaved.

Meanwhile.."Garden as if your Bees depended upon it!" (I just made that up...was gonna say.."knees"...but that's just nuts!)

Watercolor said...

The pedestrian ALWAYS has the right of way in a cross walk. Cars are ALWAYS to stop if someone is in the cross walk. Your action SHOULDN'T have been necessary but we are a mean rude me me me society these days. Someone almost rear ended me the other day when I stopped for a pedestrian in a cross walk not at a stop light. Der. Same for mean comments. What gets into people? Kindness, mercy, peace, gentleness. Where are those in ourselves? People are crazy and so self centered you want to poke their eyes out so they have to live a day or two needed to rely on kindness.

Maggie's Mom said...

Last week I was reading through my gardening journal and found a loose piece of paper. It was an article you wrote in July '08 titled, "Back to the Garden". It is one of a number of your articles that I have tucked away in special places. I thought about how much I had missed your writing so I Googled you. Imagine my pleasure to discover your blog. I immediately wrote to my daughter who is living in Japan and now she too is l loving your writing. I'm so glad you are back.

Carolina said...

I don't know why I feel compelled to "talk" to you, Dominique (what a beautiful name, btw).

I finally got Slow Love and I'm settling in ready to read it at a slow pace (difficult for me, I usually breeze through books, impatiently) because I know I want to ponder much of what you have to say.

So, my first "response" to you is right out of the prologue. Page 6.

" ... not much."

OH Dominique, it's EVERYTHING.

I think of being a mother, and that's just what I've always thought my job as one was: give them (children) a start. Roots in the ground. Nurture, feed their soul, watch them blossom.

Thank you. Again.
You speak for me in so many ways.

scribbler50 said...

Dominique, if you ever get a negative comment again (and I can't imagine why you got that first one, for crying out loud), just stop for a second and picture in your mind all these glowing comments you receive, week in and week out, and how you've touched so many lives in such a positive way since arriving in the blogosphere... THEN get up and take that walk in the garden. Believe me when I tell you your path will have been brightened!

Andrea said...

First, thank you so much for your blog. I feel a kindred spirit because at 50 I too lost my high-powered (albeit non-profit) job of 17 years.
It's been a slow comeback and I find my trajectory similar to yours.

In any event, I wanted to comment on "The Physical Effects of Lending a Hand." I know that physical bad/good surge well. I was at Target the other day looking for an available checkout stand to purchase my goods. Lines number 5-7 were crowded because in line 1, a mother was trying to calm her screaming baby who wanted out of Target as much as I did. Some people in lines 5-7 were plugging their ears and gossiping about the screaming baby. That sealed it for me: I went directly to line 1 and waited patiently. The decibel level was high, but the mother was staying calm even though the clerk was sweating and the bagger was casting dirty looks. Eventually the calm young mother and red-faced tot left the store. "Can you believe that?," opined the clerk. "Why didn't she just get that kid outta here!"
In the parking lot, I heard the baby again. The mother was trying to secure the car seat. I quickly packed my own car and strode over. The mother looked cautious; another comment about her parenting. "You're doing great," I soothingly said. "You are doing exactly the right thing." Tears welled up in her eyes. "I never know," she said. "Thank you. You've made my day."

That small interchange made my day, as well.

Julie said...

I love your description of the Reading Room. Our daughter once said that she learned to read early so that she could join her dad and me as we read our books. Now she is a librarian!

I must get a copy of your book. It sounds like exactly the type of book I would like. I learned about your blog from a blogging friend of mine, Lila and Indigo Pears.

From a fellow homebody,


m. heart said...

I recently heard Deepak Chopra talk about scientific studies on the cells of the brain and heart, and about how each of our thoughts become neuropeptides. I won't go into detail, but the gist of it was that the heart really can "feel" on a molecular level, the stomach really can have a "gut feeling." I'm not scientifically-minded enough to know if this is absolutely true but I found it interesting nonetheless.

(The whole talk can be read here: http://www.ascension-research.org/reality.html though the purple type/all caps is rough of the eyes).

susan springer anderson said...

Thanks for your post this morning. I just bumped into your blog and I'm so glad I did. I can completely relate to the physical effects you mentioned for both the positive and most definitely the negative interactions. I have certainly dutifully opened my work e-mail several times only to find a rotten tomato being thrown my way. Thanks for putting words to the thoughts.

austere said...

Not only was that decent but very brave.
I felt so proud in a teary way, reading that.

Thank you for that gesture.

tuto said...

your beautiful mind and heart
illuminates your words.
this gift you share with us.
thank you

mizzy said...

Every morning I open your blog first. You brighten my day so much. I gave your book to my niece who lost her job as a project manager for a Historic Preservation Developer. She in turn purchased more for her friends. You are an inspiration to all of us. Hang in there and don't let the bad guys get you down.

Sioux said...

Thank you. I have had those same feelings...and they seem stronger as I age.

Green Key said...

What a touching post - it made me teary. Thank you.
In Tibetan Buddhism the heart and mind are considered to be one thing, the "heart-mind," "bodhi" in Sanskrit.

Christina Lake said...

Dear Dominique,

It was such a pleasure meeting you at the Fairfield book signing last evening. My mother and I both enjoyed the intimacy of the evening, along with a few laughs. On our way home we thought of many questions we would have asked had we been sharing a glass of wine or a cup of tea with you. We have been following your writing in many forms since your beginning with H & G, and you have touched our souls with your honesty and genuine devotion to your true self, come what may. Thank you for a lovely evening!


Rug Cutter said...

Dominique, we met briefly last night at the Q&A. Thanks for the inspiration which couldn't have come at a better time. My last day of work was a week ago and I'm now struggling with needing/wanting a deserved break, having to find the next income making position and trying to maintain a structure without the 9-6 schedule.

I brought up the question with how a "Virgo"-like person who craves routine creates her own structure without the dictated schedule usually found with work. I'd like to continue to look for a job, follow through with my memoir, get out of the house...basically feel productive to remain positive and like this time is enjoyed. What kinds of rules do you put in place?


Pauline Esson said...

Here, here.
I'm with the guy thanking you for doing that. Thank you for doing that.

I love all that you're doing and the pace that you suggest....slow
I've declared this year as a 'Year of Pleasure' for myself and find most of what is a pleasure was there all along, or the opportunity is there all along, it's just taking a little time to notice and enjoy it.

Jane Flanagan said...

Have you read Siri Hustvedt's new book "The Shaking Woman"? I'm going through quite a lot of what you describe and have found this book so insightful and rigorous.

Pamela said...

How deftly you navigate safe passage to the next word!
We met many years ago through a dear friend on the advertising side of the magazine, she left some time before its demise. You have always had the most gracious literary presence. Perhaps, because the gods are practical jokers, there is anguish in the well-lived life. But there is strength, hope and good humor too, as you richly exemplify.

Dana Deraney said...

Sunday , I drove two hours to Connecticut to hear Dr. Bernie Seigel talk about just that same subject...how our feelings effect our health. It was a marvelous, funny, touching 3 hours. To be healthy we must be loved and love. I think it's hard enough to rid ourselves of the negative emotions we subject ourselves to but even more difficult when it comes unbidden from others. Love yourself and know you are love and you will be armored against such thoughtless people.

Anonymous said...

For what it is worth, your blog about depression was spot on for me.

And, in case you need permission: once you see the tone of a comment is negative, give it the axe and don't look back. Same goes for toxic people in general.

Thanks for taking the time to blog. Shannon

Jean S said...

I look forward to reading your book.

Re: the blog and cruel comments, I consider this your personal sandbox. You get to say what stays, what goes. Period, end of discussion.

It reminds me of something Annie Lamott wrote about self-respect in "Bird by Bird." I'm paraphrasing wildly here, but she essentially said that we all get our own personal acre-"you get one, your cousin gets one, even Tricia Nixon gets one"--and we all get to decide how that acre is cared for. You wanna do all dahlias? Dahlias it is.

cheers, and I hope the book tour gives you lots of nourishment!

nord said...

I try to remind myself that the people that persist on being nasty must have something in his/her life that makes them miserable. Or at least that is what I have to believe in order to ignore the mean comments or rude behavior.

Kindness goes such a long way and when I see it in others, it encourages me to be a better person as well. Thank you for your post- its nice to see my own feelings echoed.

Isabel said...

There are horrible people out there! What if a post like yours had been written by someone still in the grip of depression? What if the comment had been mean enough to send one over the edge? It would be plain murder! I work in the brazilian congress, so you can well imagine the kind of people I have to deal with most days.
So I should be used and immune to it by now. But it never, ever ceases to amaze me how much prejudice, ignorance, and just plain malice there is in this world.

Anonymous said...

I've always loved your writing, and I'm delighted that you have a blog. On the subject of where emotions come from (and where they go), you may want to check out the work of Candace Pert. Her book "Molecules of Emotion" is great.

mary said...

I have come to believe that all encounters offer the opportunity to bless another person and to grow into our God-given person-hood. Even the painful encounters with the nasty, sad and lonely people who are so stuck in non-living ways of existence. I am working on understanding the sad place they come from before I allow their negativity to cross my boundaries; I guess what I mean is that if I instantly view them with compassion, I am protected from absorbing their negativity. The truth is that we are all one (physics is proving this concept) and there is no way around that concept. The joy of helping another is the joy of connecting to them and God. Have a blessed day.

Thea said...

Sometimes it's good to let the harsh words stand for those who write them for all to see. Then we know them by their limp.