Exhausted? Top Therapists On Fighting ‘Pandemic Fatigue’
Renowned therapists Lori Gottlieb and Guy Winch on launching a new podcast, “Dear Therapists”
Our mental health crisis has recently… exploded. Renowned therapists Lori Gottlieb and Guy Winch, are here to help: “We want people to hear they aren’t alone.” Their new podcast, Dear Therapists, brings listeners into sessions where they guide people through difficult personal situations — like a teacher who’s struggling with her inability to help her students right now. Lori and Guy weigh in on the project, fighting “pandemic fatigue,” and more, below.
Lori and Guy, your new show Dear Therapists is launching right at a time when many Americans are experiencing increased mental health distress. What would you say to those of us struggling with this new normal?
One of the reasons we feel like this podcast is so relevant at this particular moment is that we want people to hear that they aren’t alone. It’s such a basic human need — whether in “normal” times or during a global pandemic — for people to feel: I see you. I hear you. I understand you. And yet often we keep so much of ourselves hidden because we feel like either we should have it all together because we’re under the misguided impression that everyone else does, or because we minimize our pain.
The thinking might go that if I have a roof over my head and food on the table, then my sadness or anxiety or relationship issue isn’t “that bad” compared to people who seemingly have it worse. We don’t do that with our physical health. If you break your leg, you don’t say, I’m not going to get this treated because somebody with, say, cancer, has it worse. We need to treat our emotional health the same way — if you’re not feeling well, get that checked out. … We’re inviting people into these conversations about what it means to be human, letting them be a fly on the wall in our sessions that normally only we have the privilege of witnessing.
Some people are experiencing what’s being referred to as “pandemic fatigue.” First, could you explain what exactly the term encompasses? And what are some things we can do to take care of ourselves during this time?
The thing about the pandemic is that it’s not a discrete stressor with a clear beginning and end. We are living in ambiguity — how long will this go on? And how do our circumstances change week to week or month to month?
So, first, we have to have a lot of self-compassion and notice how we talk to ourselves. Do you know who the person is that you talk to the most in the course of your life? It’s not your partner, or parent, or best friend, or sibling. It’s you! And often what we say to yourselves isn’t kind, or true, or helpful. We need to give ourselves a break and acknowledge how hard it is to endure a stressor with no clear end in sight.
And then we need to look at how we frame this story for ourselves. For instance, we aren’t isolated in a dark jail cell in solitary confinement. We need to be physically distanced, but we can still walk outside, Facetime with a friend 24/7, catch up on our reading, laugh with family or friends. And maybe this is a time when we really look at our lives with more intention and shift our priorities — what’s meaningful and what can you let go of, not just now, but as we emerge from this.
We should also pay attention to how we label what we’re feeling. We keep using the word anxiety in a negative way, but there are two kinds of anxiety: productive anxiety and unproductive anxiety. We can turn our anxiety into something productive (using our worry to take actions such as hand-washing, social distancing, sending meals to elderly relatives, or calling a neighbor who lives alone) or unproductive (spending all day clicking on the latest coronavirus headlines).
One thing we do in the podcast is help listeners to edit their stories. We’re all unreliable narrators, and when people present us with their story, we help them to see it from a new perspective, which in turn helps them to have agency and make positive changes in their lives.
Now, onto your podcast! Many people are working remotely right now — did working remotely pose any difficulties for recording your podcast?
Well, we started taping the podcast at the iHeart studios, and soon thereafter everything closed down. Fortunately, we were able to use the wonders of technology to tape from our respective homes, with our producers and editor working from theirs — but there were a few glitches at first.
With one guest, we discovered in the editing that there was a TV on in the background, something you’d never have to worry about in the studio when the equipment would pick up those sounds and we’d fix it before taping. And the first time we taped the behind-the-scenes part of the show, where we share our perspectives on the guest’s dilemma before we offer our advice, somehow the recording didn’t take. Just … poof!
But other than that, it’s actually gone surprisingly smoothly. Our guests have been so open and vulnerable, so willing to try out our advice and then report back to us the next week so we can see what worked — or didn’t — and what we can all learn from it. Taping remotely may even have made people more willing to open up to us, because we’re all in the same boat right now.
Your show allows listeners to listen in to intimate therapy sessions — what are some of the more powerful stories you’re featuring this season?
Our first episode features a woman who’s going through a painful breakup. Recovering from heartbreak is difficult at the best of times but it’s especially challenging with social-distancing and a pandemic limiting our options for support and making it harder to ‘get back out there’. We also have a couple who’s been struggling with the same big problem for years — they’ve even been through two rounds of couples therapy and are still totally stuck — and they want us to help them figure it out in a single session. And we have a man who fell in love with a colleague at work, left his wife for her but feels tortured by guilt and he’s wondering whether he really is — in his own words — the “scumbag” everyone around him believes him to be.
No matter what the dilemma — we guide people through the everyday and extraordinary challenges of life — we choose stories that may seem specific on the surface but that are entirely universal at their core.
What advice would you have for anyone considering therapy for the first time?
Psychotherapy research clearly points to one essential “active ingredient” when it comes to good outcomes —and that is the fit between the therapist and the patient. That has two implications for first timers. (1) Be very open with your therapist and put everything on the table so that (2) you can find a therapist who truly “gets” you and makes you feel understood, supported, and hopeful — because if you’re not totally honest, you won’t know that. Speaking to a therapist for the first time can feel intimidating and one of our hopes is that by sharing these sessions with our listeners, they will feel less apprehensive about reaching out to a therapist if they need to do so.
Lastly, many therapists are holding sessions remotely now — do you think telehealth therapy is here to stay?
Telethealth will certainly be with us as long as Covid-19 is a factor in our lives. Video sessions are not exactly the same as in-person therapy but they are quite effective. Our listeners will be able to hear that for themselves in the sessions we have with our guests — which are all on video calls. The question is what will happen after Covid. My guess is there will be plenty of people who, when faced with spending two hours commuting to their therapist’s office and back, will be like, “Nah, it’s raining. Let’s Zoom it.”
Lori Gottlieb is a psychotherapist and author of the New York Times bestseller Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, which is being adapted as a television series with Eva Longoria. In addition to her clinical practice, she writes The Atlantic’s weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column and contributes regularly to The New York Times and many other publications. Learn more at LoriGottlieb.com or by following her on Twitter @LoriGottlieb1 and Instagram @lorigottlieb_author
Guy Winch, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, author, and in-demand keynote speaker. Dr. Winch’s viral TED Talks have been viewed over 25 million times and his books, including The Squeaky Wheel (Amazon KDP), have been translated into 26 languages. He also writes the popular Squeaky Wheel Blog on Psychology Today.com and the science-based advice column Dear Guy, for TED. Learn more at guywinch.com or by following him on Twitter @GuyWinch and Instagram @GuyWinch.com.
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