Episode 99 – Lori Gottlieb, Advice for Being Resilient

Today we’re getting “therapized.” As we continue our Resilience Series, Jessica sits down with her special guest, Lori Gottlieb. Lori is a psychotherapist, New York Times bestselling author, nationally recognized journalist, and weekly “Dear Therapist” columnist for The Atlantic. Jessica and Lori discuss some of the ways we can be proactive in pursuing resilience during these confusing times. It’s such a powerful and practical conversation – enjoy!


Jessica: Hey everyone, welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. This is your host Jessica Honegger, founder of the social impact fashion brand Noonday Collection. Well, welcome to May. I think this month is going to bring maybe a little bit more social interaction than we were able to have in April. But I have to say, April will forever go down in the history books for me — I know it will for all of us, but when the shelter in place went into effect in March, Noonday Collection, the brand that I started and now just humbly get you run, we are built on the idea of in-person connection. We gather in women’s homes around the country; hundreds every single month, in the thousands on some months, and our business tanked in March. And it looked extremely, extremely grim. We began to forecast down 65-75% but we pivoted quickly, and we launched something called Gather for Good trunk shows, which you can actually do now. They’re virtual online gatherings where you can shop, gather with your friends and then we give 10% back to any local need that you have identified that’s been affected by COVID19 with the shelter-in-place and its economic effects. And we’ve been able to raise over $50,000 for Gather for Good initiatives. And I just have to say that we ended April with the same revenue that we did last April, and it’s because of you.

I know that so many of you have purchased from Noonday Collection, have told your friends about Noonday, you yourselves have gathered, you are an ambassador, maybe you’ve been an ambassador, and what I have just been rooted and planted in during shelter-in-place is Isaiah 58, which actually is where the name Noonday comes from. Isaiah 58 says if you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourself on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the Noonday. God will guide you always, He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden like a spring whose waters never fail. And we carry so much at Noonday Collection we walk so closely with the most vulnerable people around the world and during a crisis the vulnerable only get more vulnerable. And you all rallying around Noonday, you all continuing to shop and gather your friends virtually has met that our artisan partners can get more of what they need during this time.

So, I just want to thank you so, so much. You can still host about the virtual Gather for Good this month, so contact an ambassador and then if you want to join us, we had over 200 new women launch Noonday Collection businesses in April because it’s an opportunity to earn an income from your couch. We would love to have you. So, it’s only $79 in May to start your own business so DM me, you can reach out to an ambassador. But I just needed to stop and say a huge, huge thank you for that before we get into today’s show

Today’s show is such a treat. I absolutely love our guest today. Her name is Lori Gottlieb, and she wrote The New York Times best-selling book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. She’s a psychotherapist, and she writes for the “Dear Therapist” advice column for The Atlantic, and so, I love it. And I threw out some “Dear Lori” advice to her at the end and she answers us right on the spot. She’s written for the New York Times magazine, she’s appeared on Today, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, CNN. She lives in LA and you are going to just walk away with a lot of practical tips on how we can continue to practice resilience during this time.


Lori Gottlieb: Advice for Being Resilient

Jessica: So, we are in the middle –we’re wrapping up, actually, the series that we’ve been doing on resilience, and we have interviewed Dr. Edith Eger who wrote The Choice and is an Auschwitz survivor, Jen Gotch, who’s been thriving with bipolar II disorder, Jessica Buchanan, who was kidnapped and held for ransom in Somalia, Ruthie Lindsey living with chronic illness, and many others. And so, this is the point in the series where we say, "Now we’re gonna bring in the expert."

Lori: Well, yeah, no, I’m happy to share. I am aware of all of those other guests that you’ve had, and I actually reviewed Edith’s book in The New York Times when it first came out. So, I know her story very well.

Jessica: Oh, my gosh. That book just absolutely moved me to my core, and so thankful I read it before going into this current crisis. But before we go deep, I have to say, you spent a stint in Hollywood, and well, now, technically you still work in LA. And when I think of resilience, I often think of people in Hollywood because I think you got to have a lot of grit. There’s a lot of rejection, the percentage that you’re actually gonna be successful is small. Do you have a story of resilience in your own life from that time in Hollywood?

Lori: You know, it’s funny, I think a lot of people think of Hollywood as being very glamorous, but it’s a really hard business to be in. So, I don’t know that I have a story of resilience, I left to go to medical school. But I know that, you know, it’s not glamorous. I think it’s very hard, and people in Hollywood are very hard working. That’s the other thing. I think people imagine that everybody in Hollywood is just lunching and, you know, like driving around in their cars and, you know, what are they actually doing? People work incredibly long hours. Often, they don’t get home until like 11:00 at night. It’s hard work. And so, you know, I was glad I got to see that side of the business.

Jessica: So, you did a stint in Hollywood, you went on to medical school, you’ve written a couple books, you’re a storyteller, a journalist. What are you doing right now? How are you spending most of your time right now?

Lori: Well, it’s interesting because I have these multiple pieces of my career. And so, before I became a therapist, I did work in Hollywood. I then went to medical school, I became a journalist, I still am a journalist, and then I became a therapist. And so right now, you know, I still write my weekly "Dear Therapist" column from home. I’m launching a new podcast with iHeartRadio that Katie Kurtz is producing from home, you know, all this stuff was in studio.

In terms of my therapy clients, I’m seeing all of them virtually now from home. And so, my commute has gone from like, you know, three miles to three feet from sort of bed to laptop. And it’s been really interesting; as I wrote in my book, and Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, I really like the in-person work that I do with my patients and I don’t think that there’s a replacement for that. You know, a colleague of mine had said that doing Skype therapy is like doing therapy with a condom on. You know, it’s like it doesn’t have the same flavor, it doesn’t have the same energy or vibe and intimacy as sitting face to face with another person in the same room for 50 minutes and having that focus.

But what I’ve found is that there is a different kind of intimacy to doing sessions online during the coronavirus crisis, and partly because I think it shows that we’re all in this together. You go inside people’s homes and they go inside yours. And kids are running in an out of the room, partners are there interrupting, and cats and dogs are climbing on the screen. You know, it’s like we’re all experiencing the same thing. And the kinds of things they’re talking about are very much the kinds of things – the anxiety, the uncertainty, the loss – those are all things that I’m experiencing, too. So, I think never before has there been such overlap I think in the lives of my patients and in my life where it’s so parallel.

“And the kinds of things they’re talking about are very much the kinds of things – the anxiety, the uncertainty, the loss – those are all things that I’m experiencing, too. So, I think never before has there been such overlap in the lives of my patients and in my life where it’s so parallel.” Lori Gottlieb

Jessica: And if anyone was keeping it a secret that they were in therapy, it’s hard to do that when you’re at home.

Lori: Well, you know what’s funny, I think that a lot of people are trying to find a private space to have these therapy sessions. And so, some people will do it maybe in a back bedroom, or sometimes they can’t find that private space, so they go into a car, they just go and sit in the driveway, the car, or they go into a closet. But often people are on the toilet, meaning like they go into the bathroom and they needed first privacy and they’re sitting on the toilet seat, you know. And I had this session where there was this woman who was just sobbing because her aging mother was in a nursing home and there had been a confirmed case of COVID in the nursing home.

And she was so worried that her mother was gonna get it. And she was thousands of miles away and feeling really helpless to help her. And she leaned back while telling me the story and she flushed the toilet, like, by accident. And all of a sudden there’s just like sound. And I didn’t want to laugh because of what she was talking about. And we both sort of hesitated to laugh, you know, how do you laugh? Is it gonna be inappropriate? But she just burst out laughing. And it was contagious, and I started laughing. And at the end of the session she said to me, you know, "I really appreciate everything that you said during this session, but what helped me the most was when you laughed with…" She said, "What helped me the most was being able to laugh again and to feel a piece of myself that made me feel human again."


Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

Jessica: Wow. That reminds me of the story in your book about the "Namast’ay in Bed," which I was roaring in laughter. Why don’t you recount that story to us? Because it’s true, and it’s true that we are… like laughter is medicine, it is medicine. So that’s so beautiful that that was medicine for her. But tell us a story in that book because I have a feeling you can tell it much better than I could recount it.

Lori: So, one of the patients that I write about in the book is a young woman who goes on her honeymoon and comes back and is diagnosed with breast cancer and later terminal cancer. And I had just gone through a breakup the night before, and so I was kind of… I laid out this gray sweater that I was going to wear to work. And I accidentally picked up the gray "Namast’ay in Bed" pajama top that I had worn the night before and I did not realize I was wearing it. And I ended up wearing that to work the next day. And what was interesting was nobody said anything, you know, I don’t know, nobody said anything except for Julie, this young woman who had been diagnosed with cancer.

And she thought that was hilarious because she had been going to these, you know, these mindful yoga classes and she hated them. She absolutely despised them. She did not like the approach of sort of the pink ribbons and the optimism and the mindful yoga. It was just not the right fit for her in terms of how she wanted to experience what she was dealing with. And she saw me in that shirt and she just cracked up. And I, of course, did not tell her why I was wearing that shirt, but it was a really beautiful moment that we had between us.

Jessica: Yes, we do. We do need more laughter, which your book, by the way, has so many worrying out loud moments to it, which is so disarming because I think sometimes I think I’m gonna read a book by a deep, you know, smart therapist. We got a little Yale and Stanford thrown in there. I mean it’s just so disarming and heartwarming. Speaking of telehealth, that makes me curious right now, many people do realize suddenly, "Maybe I do need to talk to someone," and maybe where therapy had been circling in their mind and now it’s quite acute. How do we, in these times, go about finding a therapist via telehealth? What are some of the differences that we might need in a therapist over telehealth than we would in person?

Lori: Well, first of all, I should just say, I hope that people do reach out if they feel like they want to talk to someone. And, you know, the title of the book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone doesn’t just mean you should talk to a therapist. It means we all need to be talking more to one another. And that applies, you know, in any time, not just during the coronavirus, but especially now. But I also feel like family and friends maybe can’t necessarily help us in the way that a therapist can, especially now when everybody’s going through their own, you know, anxiety and challenges with this time.

“And, you know, the title of the book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone doesn’t just mean you should talk to a therapist. It means we all need to be talking more to one another.” Lori Gottlieb

So I think that a lot of people, what they do when they think, "Maybe I should talk to someone," is they think, well, you know, there’s a difference between how we treat our physical health and how we treat our emotional health. So, if something feels off in your body, you’ll usually say, "I should get that checked out by a doctor," right, before you have like a massive heart attack. But what we do with our emotions is, you know, something feels off emotionally and we say, "Well, I have a roof over my head and food on the table. It’s not really that bad compared to somebody else who might have it worse, so I’m not really gonna reach out." And then when people do you reach out, they land in my office kind of in full-blown crisis, like it’s gotten really bad.

And so why do we do that? Why do we treat our emotional health that way? Where, with our physical health, we don’t wait until we’re almost dying to go get help. But with our emotional health, we wait until it’s really bad and then we finally call a therapist. So what I want to say to people is, if you’re struggling, if you feel like this is overwhelming, if you feel like you just want somebody to talk to about what you’re going through and understanding it better, please do reach out. You don’t have to wait until, you know, you’re really in the throes of something where you’re not functioning.

In terms of finding someone, what’s great about this current moment is that people are really aware of how important it is to talk to someone. And so, your local clinic will have resources listed on their websites of therapists who are seeing people remotely. They often have free services that they’re offering. You can also ask a friend if they have a therapist who’s doing remote sessions, you know. Most therapists are, I don’t know anybody who’s going into the office right now, just a matter of whether they’re taking new people. But word of mouth should get you there within, you know, two to three steps.

Jessica: So important, so important. You know, you say the way that we narrate our lives shapes what our lives become. How can we tell our stories during this crisis in a way that will lead us to be resilient?


Changing Your Story Can Change Your Life

Lori: I did a TED Talk about that, about how we’re all unreliable narrators, and that what happens is people come into therapy and they have these faulty narratives, depending on sort of, you know, how they tell the story, and that story is usually keeping them stuck. And I see that now, too in the current moment where we talk a lot, even the language we use, like we say we’re isolated. We’re not actually isolated, we’re physically distanced from other people, but all you have to do is pick up your phone and you are connected with somebody. So, it’s not like we’re sitting in a dark cell in solitary confinement.

You know, and I think that the way we look at our situation really impacts our mood. So, if you are talking about it as if you are in a dark cell and you have no contact with any other human beings, you’re going to feel a certain way. If you look at it like, "Yeah, we’re physically distanced, but I can still go to the grocery store, I can still walk around my block, I can still connect with anybody in any city, anywhere in the world via my phone," you know, I think that that gives us a different idea of sort of what we’re dealing with.

So, I just think even the language that we’re using, I think a lot of… Another story that we’re telling ourselves is like, you know, we’re catastrophizing and futurizing about what’s gonna happen when we don’t know what’s gonna happen. And we’re telling ourselves stories about something that not only hasn’t happened but may never happen. So, I talk a lot about the difference between productive anxiety and unproductive anxiety.

Productive anxiety is being reasonably worried about something and then taking action based on that reasonable worry. So, we all are worried about the spread of the coronavirus, so we’re taking action, we’re washing our hands, we’re social distancing, we’re following the guidelines, we’re wearing masks, etc. Unproductive anxiety is that obsessive rumination, that obsessive storytelling in our heads about, "Oh, my God, it means this. Oh, my God, this is gonna happen," and that gets you nowhere. It’s not productive in any way. It doesn’t change your behavior in a positive way. It actually just keeps you stuck in this loop and it really affects your mood. It overwhelms what we call our psychological immune systems. So, we have a physical immune system that we’re so worried about protecting but we need to be much more concerned right now. Because we’re already doing what we need to do to protect our physical immune systems, we need to be really concerned about, “Are we overwhelming our psychological immune systems?” because we don’t want those to break down.

Jessica: I mean you’ve spent thousands and thousands of hours therapizing, is that a word? I love using that word, I don’t know if it’s a word. Sometimes I’m like, "I need to be therapized today." It is now. So, you spend thousands of hours counseling, therapizing others, what are some of the common threads that you’ve seen that lead to someone…? Because I’ve realized I’ve had this whole bias during the series, because I’ve only interviewed people that naturally have risen above and have become resilient.

And it’s been extremely inspiring to interview people that have been in situations, that worst-case scenarios that you could never imagine, and yet they are thriving, and they actually wouldn’t trade their trauma. They have chosen to tell themselves a story, that their pain has actually been turned into beauty, it’s part of their story, it’s part of their resilience. What do you see are some of the differences with people that maybe don’t exhibit resilience that continue into a path of perhaps bitterness and cynicism versus those that are able to rise strong after difficulty?

Lori: I think that the people who are struggling more right now are the people who are having trouble being kind to themselves. And I see that all the time, not just in this moment. But I think that the people who do well in especially trying times or circumstances are the people who know how to be kind to themselves. And so, people feel like, "Well, I can’t be kind to myself. I have to do this and this and this. I have to be harder on myself because the times are harder, so I have to do all these other things." And I want to tell people, go easier on yourself right now, not harder on yourself.

“I think that the people who are struggling more right now are the people who are having trouble being kind to themselves … And I want to tell people, go easier on yourself right now, not harder on yourself.” Lori Gottlieb

I think we don’t realize how much self-flagellation, self-criticism, negativity we are hearing on an endless loop in our own minds. I always ask people, "Who is the person that you believe that you will talk to most in the course of your life?" And people usually say, "My partner, my mom, my child, you know, whomever," it’s yourself. We hear ourselves talk to ourselves all the time. And if we aren’t saying things that are kind and true and necessary, then, you know, we’re really keeping ourselves stuck in a place of negativity and hardship.

So, I had this woman in my practice who didn’t believe that, you know … like I can hear her self-criticism, but she couldn’t hear it. And I said to her, "I want you to write down everything that you are saying to yourself in the course of a few days and then we’ll talk about it next week." And she came back the next week and she said, "Oh, my God, I am such a bully, I can’t believe it." You know, just the way that she would talk to herself. Like, "Oh, you made that mistake, you’re so stupid," right? And that’s something you would never say to a friend, not because you’re trying to be nice, but because you don’t actually believe that about your friend. Your friend makes a mistake and you don’t think, globally, that person is stupid. You’re like, "Oh, she made a mistake like we all do because we’re human."

And so I think, especially right now, what people are doing is they feel like they need to be going through this in a certain way and they’re looking at like Instagram and people are doing, you know, sort of like the Instagram version of coronavirus, whatever that looks like. Like they’re doing these amazing things with their kids, or these amazing things with their partners, or they’re single and they’re doing these amazing things, you know, for self-care. And they’re kind of like, "Wow, I’m not experiencing any of that." And then they feel like a failure.


Be Kind to Yourself

And so, I think it’s really important to say, “Wait a minute, what is the human experience?” And it’s not gonna be found on social media. The real human experience is really nuanced and it’s really about, you know, if you are going to sleep at your normal time and waking up at your normal time, if you can make an effort to shower every day and put on some clothes, and by clothes, I mean sweat pants, just not your pajamas, if you can make your bed because it just helps you to differentiate day and night, and if you can eat your meals at a regular time, like not skipping lunch or not eating lunch at 4:00 P.M. or whatever it is, you’re doing great. If you’re doing that, congratulations, you are doing amazing given the circumstances.

So, I think that we need to look out for what we’re doing well as opposed to what we wish we were doing and not have normal expectations during times that are not normal. So, if you have one or two things that you want to accomplish during the day, write them down the night before and say, "These are one or two things that seem realistic that I can accomplish the next day." And don’t write down 10 things because then you’re gonna feel like at the end of the day, "Wow, look at all the things I didn’t get done." Just think of one or two things that are important for you to do the next day. Maybe it’s one thing, but if you can do those other things, just keep sort of the infrastructure of sleep and food and hygiene in place, that alone, just existing right now and doing that, you’re doing great.
Jessica: So true. And even I felt like we were doing a healthy job — I’ve got three kids at home — and I was feeling pretty good about our rhythms and, you know, we weren’t like bingeing every night on TV. We were playing Monopoly and "Settlers of Catan" and cards and all this stuff. And then this week, like this week was just a low. And I’m like, my kids are obsessed with "Gilmore Girls" right now, I mean completely obsessed, primarily my little boys, I don’t know what it is they’re obsessed with it. And I just decided this week, I don’t care. I don’t care because I don’t want to play a card game tonight, I just want to veg out. And so, we have watched like three episodes a night of "Gilmore Girls" this week and it’s like, you know what? It’s okay because next week is a new week. So, there is that balance of, you know what? I’m doing my rhythms, and then sometimes I’m not doing them, and that’s okay too.

Lori: I don’t think that we should place negative value on something like watching the "Gilmore Girls." You know, somebody wrote into the "Dear Therapist" column a couple of weeks ago and said, you know, "I’m doing all these things for my kids. What else should I be doing?" And I said, you know, "It’s like you are already doing what you need to be doing. And the way that you can be present for your kids is to be present for yourself, that you need to take care of yourself." It’s like the pilot of an airplane, and when there’s turbulence, you just need to go steady and keep flying the plane. That’s all you need to do. Just keep flying the plane, right? You don’t need to do anything fancy, just keep the plane going.

“It’s like the pilot of an airplane, and when there’s turbulence, you just need to go steady and keep flying the plane. That’s all you need to do. Just keep flying the plane, right? You don’t need to do anything fancy, just keep the plane going.” Lori Gottlieb

And so, you know, if for you that’s watching "Gilmore Girls," I think people are so worried, "My kids aren’t learning as much math or science or English or whatever because of remote learning, and we feel like we have to fill in the gaps," no, we don’t. They’re gonna learn so many other things that they wouldn’t ordinarily learn by going through this experience in the family. So, watching "Gilmore Girls," they’re gonna learn a lot about story and relationships and emotions, right? I mean, that’s great. They’re gonna learn about how do we just relax when things are stressful?

Sometimes we want to watch three episodes of "Gilmore Girls" because that makes us feel good in the moment, right now, and that’s what we need. It helps them to listen to, “what are my needs right now?” How do we connect as a family? You know, they’re gonna learn about pitching in and they’re gonna learn about, “Can you help clean the counters? Can you help clean the doorknobs?” That’s a really important lesson.

Jessica: We’ve got them cooking dinner, we’ve taken it to the next level.

Lori: There you go. I don’t know how old your kids are, that’s right. So that’s good, they’re learning about cooking, right? They’re learning life skills and they need these life skills, and they’re learning about, "What do we do when things are hard, and how do we come together, and how do we take care of our individual needs, and how do we take care of our collective needs in the household?"

“Dear Lori…”

Jessica: It’s true. It’s true, we are on a definite growth curve right now. Speaking of "Dear Therapist" that you write for The Atlantic, I love all of your columns. That feels so old-fashioned to call it a column, that’s what we call it back in the old days.

Lori: It is, yeah.

Jessica: Okay. So, I wanted to do a couple of "Dear Therapist" with you, and let’s start with this, "Dear Therapist, I’m stuck at home with a teenager," which I know you do have a teenager during this lockdown…

Lori: Right, I can relate.

Jessica: "…how can I help my teenager manage his or her mental health right now?"

Lori: I think that the best thing that you can do is to give them space to talk about anything they want to talk about and not try to talk them out of their feelings with a pep talk. And what I mean by that is, if a kid is saying like, "I’m really sad that I don’t get to see my friends. This is really hard, it sucks." I think what a parent tends to kind of go to is trying to make your kid feel better to take away their pain. Like, "I know, but you’re gonna see them soon," or, you know, like those kinds of things, and that completely invalidates what they’re saying.

What we need to do as parents is to be able to sit with them and meet them where they are. If where they are is “it sucks,” let them talk about how much it sucks, acknowledge that it sucks. Say, "Yeah, it does suck, I get it. It sucks, it’s not the same." And then stop talking, and then let them say whatever they’re gonna say. When I was training, when I was doing my internship to become a therapist, one of my clinical supervisors said to all of us, "You have two ears and one mouth, there’s a reason for that ratio," right?

“What we need to do as parents is to be able to sit with them and meet them where they are. If where they are is “it sucks,” let them talk about how much it sucks, acknowledge that it sucks.” Lori Gottlieb

So, we need to learn how to be better listeners, you know. We need to learn to just stop talking and hear what the other person is saying. And when I talk about being a good listener with your kid or with anybody, it’s not just the content of what they’re saying, but it’s the emotional resonance of what they’re saying. So, you know, look at their body language, really imagine what it’s like to be in their situation, and just sit with them at that, and they will come up with things, they’re not asking you to solve it. They will say… you know, you can give them a prompt like, "Yeah, it does really suck," let them kind of absorb that, let them feel seen and heard and understood.

And then, you know, you can say, if they’re not coming up with this on their own, you can say, you know, "What do you think you can do to kind of stay connected even though it’s not gonna be the same? What do you think might help?" When anytime you can say to your teenager, "What do you think might help?" that empowers them. Then they start thinking, the gears start clicking, you know, it’s like, "Oh, what can I do?" One thing my son is doing is he is connected with this organization called Righteous Conversations where they pair teenagers with Holocaust survivors. And because a lot of Holocaust survivors are in their 80s and 90s, they might be living alone, they’ve already experienced trauma, and new traumas can often re-trigger old traumas.

And so, they pair teenagers with these Holocaust survivors, and you have like a buddy and you talk to that Holocaust survivor every week and just kind of reach out and keep them company. I think that teenagers love to help their communities, they love to feel needed and productive and do something that feels meaningful and helpful to others. So, if your teenager wants to get involved in some kind of project like that, if your teenager wants to put dinner on the doorstep of a neighbor across the street who might be alone, you know, what can your teenager do? If your teenager is really techie, you know, can your teenager like build a website that, you know, helps people contribute to a certain charity that needs donations right now? How can they get involved?

Jessica: I love that. That’s so good. I force my kids to watch "60 Minutes" with me. My kids are 10, 11, and 14. And the "60 Minutes" over the last few weeks have just been so profound because we’re in Austin and we have flattened the curve. I mean we’re still sheltering at home, but we were very preemptive about it, and what’s happening in New York feels so removed. And just wanting them to still understand the suffering that’s happening and the empathy that can be cultivated through that. So, I love that. I love any way where we can help them to be agents right now and understand the choices that they have to make a difference, I love that.

Lori: I was just gonna say, there are so many ways that people are feeling lost and, you know, loss of agency, and I think anyway that we can help people to feel more agency. You know, I always like to say that, you know, we don’t have a lot of control over whether this virus invades our bodies. We have some control, we can take measures to stay safe, but we don’t have ultimate control over that. But we do have ultimate control over whether we let it invade our minds and how we let it invade our minds. And so, I think that’s a really important message for our kids to show them, like, we get to choose what goes in our minds.

“We don’t have a lot of control over whether this virus invades our bodies … But we do have ultimate control over whether we let it invade our minds and how we let it invade our minds.” Lori Gottlieb

Jessica: It’s so powerful. And I would say that is the common thread I’ve seen through all of my interviews with these people who have just have survived and now are thriving really hard things, it’s this idea that they have choice. And once they become aware of their choice, even in the midst of trauma and crisis, it seems like that is almost their turning point towards resilience.

Lori: Absolutely.


Dealing with Anxiety and Focusing on Yourself

Jessica: Okay. "Dear Therapist, I’m exhausted from dealing with my mom’s anxiety."

Lori: Oh, full stop.

Jessica: That’s it.

Lori: I literally just answered a question just like this in "Dear Therapist" in The Atlantic on Monday. So, it was about a sister, though. It was basically, you know, "I’m exhausted from dealing with my sister’s anxiety." And what I said was that, ultimately, we’re all responsible for ourselves. So we can help other people, but a lot of people are what we call help-rejecting complainers. Like they complain to you, you give them suggestions on what they can do, and they say, "Yeah, no, but I can’t do that because yeah, no, that won’t work because…" Right. Those are help-rejecting complainers. They don’t actually want help; they just want to complain.

And so, with those people, it can be very emotionally taxing on the person who is trying to help them and the person who loves them and cares about them. And so, you have to be able to set boundaries for yourself. So, a boundary isn’t about asking somebody else to do something, it’s about a choice that you’re gonna make for yourself because you can hold your own boundary, right? So sometimes people are confused, they think like a boundary is making somebody else do something, but it’s not. It’s what you decide to do.

So, you can decide, you know, when someone’s doing that, to say, "You know what? You’ve told me the story before, I know you’re feeling this way, and here’s… I’ve given you some suggestions, it sounds like they may or may not be helpful for you, but it’s really hard for me to keep talking about this so let’s talk about something else or maybe we can talk another time." And it sounds so hard for people to do.

Jessica: Well. It reminds me in your book how you, you know, you like to classify yourself as high functioning when you were looking for your own therapist.

Lori: No, I was definitely not high functioning.

Jessica: That’s not high functioning?

Lori: I think a lot of us feel like we’re high functioning when maybe we’re not, right? And so, especially, I think people who, really, like all they’re doing is kind of downloading their anxiety onto somebody else, they’re projecting their anxiety onto someone else, because if they can get rid of their anxiety, they don’t have to feel it in that moment. So, it was very therapeutic for them to kind of put it somewhere else during the course of that phone conversation. But the minute they hang up, their anxiety is gonna be back again, so it’s not really that helpful.

So again, setting your own boundaries and saying, "Mom, I love you so much. We have this same conversation every day. I know this is really stressful. It’s stressful for all of us. Here’s some things that I’ve done that have helped, maybe they’ll work for you, maybe they won’t, you’re welcome to try them. But having these conversations I don’t think is really helpful, and so let’s talk about something else or let’s talk later." And you have to do it every time, by the way.

Jessica: These complainer types can be stubborn, I think.

Lori: Yeah, I mean I have compassion for them. You know, I understand that they don’t know how to deal with their anxiety, but you’re enabling a very dysfunctional way of trying to manage their anxiety by having these conversations over and over with them. There are much healthier ways to manage anxiety.

Jessica: Here is the last one. "Dear Therapist, I own three brick and mortar retail stores. I’ve had to lay off 98% of my staff during a job market that isn’t hiring. Even when the economy comes back, consumer behavior is gonna be different. I won’t be able to hire them all back. I feel responsible for their own trauma now."

Lori: I hear this a lot. This is the reality of our time and it’s awful. I think that, you know, the person is asking how do they deal with their feelings around what they had to do. And I think it’s normal to feel responsible for these people. You care about them. I think that it shows that you’re, you know, a living human being who has feelings, you’re not a robot, and it’s good that you feel that way. It means that you have emotional generosity, that you’re compassionate, that you care about the people that you had on your team. So, I think that holding onto that, the positive side of the fact that it feels bad to do this is important. And also knowing that you’re gonna do everything you can when things change to help these people, and you’re not gonna be able to help them in all the ways that you want to, but that’s your intention, and that’s the most you can do as one human being, is to help them in every way you can, knowing that there are gonna be limitations to that.

Jessica: That’s good, to focus on your own care. The fact that you do you care is another way to exhibit compassion towards yourself.

Lori: And you can show that you care by, when things do change, really reaching out and trying to help them in the ways that you can and not beating yourself up for, you know, if you can’t hire every single person back, not beating yourself up for that because you also experienced a loss, which is you weren’t able to sustain your business in the same way.


What Makes Us Human

Jessica: Well, we like to wrap up by asking all of our guests how they are going scared right now. And what we mean by that is: we know that courage is not about being fearless, but it’s about feeling your feelings, which can often be fear, and going forward anyway. Where are you doing that in your life?

Lori: All the time. I don’t think you can really do the work that I’m doing as a therapist and have these conversations with people all day and not have a mirror held up to you and really need to ask yourself the same questions that everybody else is asking themselves right now. But I don’t I feel like I’m operating in a place of sort of constant fear. I think that… I like to say that feelings are sort of like weather systems, they blow in, they blow out. They’re not there forever, even though when a really big storm blows in, it feels like the storm will never go away. And so, if I feel a storm come in, meaning like anxiety about the current moment, the future, our health, you know, you feel tired and you’re like, "Ah, it’s just coronavirus." Yeah, those moments. You know, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, by the way. When I was in medical school, we called it medical students’ disease…

Jessica: Oh, no, I had that yesterday, actually.

Lori: Right. Where like everything you’re studying, you feel like, "Oh, well, my lymph node is enlarged, maybe I have lymphoma." Right? And so, you know, it’s sort of like with the coronavirus, I think we all, like at the slightest notion that, you know, something feels different in our bodies, we’re sort of like on high alert about it, as we should be, by the way. I call that, you know, again, the productive anxiety. But I think what happens is when that blows in, that sort of weather system blows in in my mind, then I know that it’s just a weather system.

And I say, "Okay, I feel the feeling, I feel the anxiety and, you know, I’m gonna wait this weather system out and I’m gonna maybe take a walk to kind of reset," or just even walking outside for like one minute. You know, if you have a balcony, if you have a porch, if you have a front lawn, whatever it is, just walk outside for just a minute, two minutes, it just resets. Change of location, change of scenery, neurologically, will reset you a little bit and then you can come back in. Moving your body in any way will help to reset you, so you want to do like a virtual dance thing, you know, there’s virtual yoga. Whatever there is, just moving your body, turning on music and just dancing around in the kitchen or the living room works really well too. Anything you can do to kind of reset and make sure that the storm isn’t gonna like stick around for longer than it needs to.

Jessica: I love that. I’ve been doing TikTok dances with my daughter and it’s definitely helped my mental health.

Lori: And I think also not feeling guilty about experiencing joy in the midst of so much pain, that a lot of people feel like, "Well, it’s inappropriate. I’m not supposed to feel happy during this time." But you haven’t lost your humanity, you haven’t lost… Just like that patient I was telling you about who laughed, you know, during the session when she flushed the toilet by accident, it’s like, this is what makes us human. We’re not one thing or another. It’s not all pain, it’s not all joy, it’s everything mixed together, interwoven. That’s the human condition. And so, I think that, you know, people are like, "I can’t tell anybody that I’m actually enjoying some of the solitude."

“We’re not one thing or another. It’s not all pain, it’s not all joy, it’s everything mixed together, interwoven. That’s the human condition.” Lori Gottlieb

They feel like they can’t admit that to people. Or, "I really liked that I had some time to sit down and read a book," or, "I had time to have a really in-depth conversation with my friends on FaceTime that I normally don’t have time to do." Or, even I’ve said that, you know, my son is home doing remote learning, and I’m so happy that I get to see him more than I normally do, even though the circumstances under which I’m seeing him are horrific. So, it’s the both-and, it’s not one or the other. And so, you know, when people are feeling one thing, just remember the both-and, that there’s more to the story than just that one, that one note. There are many notes in the song, you know. Make sure you can hear them all.

I was so struck by what Lori said when I asked her, “What is the common thread that you have seen in your clients that exhibit resilience?” And she answered: compassion. People that speak kindly to themselves are able to be resilient. That’s stuck with me, and I actually, a couple days after that podcast, I wrote a letter of compassion to myself. I realized I’ve become a little bit grumpy. I was playing the blame game with people in my family. I was a little bit irritable, and also, I was pretty critical. I know, so much fun to live in my home when I am like that. And oftentimes when I’m like that, I stop and take a look at my internal dialogue and realized it’s usually not so good.

So, I took one morning, and I wrote a letter of compassion to myself and just expressed the gratitude and told myself I have been doing a great job. And I just encourage you to do the same thing, because if there is anything that we have learned from this incredible series on resilience, it is that we want it. We want to be people that have a growth mindset that can rise up after difficulties and thrive. And let me tell you, after listening to the stories from this podcast series, there is no reason that any of us can’t do that. So, I encourage you to write a letter of compassion to yourself this week.

Thank you so much for joining me today, and every Wednesday, here when we launch the Going Scared podcast series. If this series has meant anything to you, if you learned anything from it, go ahead, drop a review. I would love to read your review on my podcast series next week when we will come atcha again.

Today’s podcast is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. Our music today is by my friend Ellie Holcomb. And until next time, I’m Jessica Honegger and I’ll keep taking you by the hand as we keep going scared.