Moving Forward and Managing Our Fears

Tell Me More Podcast: Episode 6


(Music fades in) We thought we had seen (and somehow lived) through it all. A seemingly endless global pandemic, political unrest at home, supply chain shortages and inflation. But just as the transmission rates of the latest Covid 19 variant surge declined, global tensions rose as Russia invaded Ukraine, igniting fears of a growing international conflict.

What next? What else? And what can we do to move forward and manage our fears in these uncertain times?

I’m Susan Brozek Scott and in this episode of Tell Me More, we’re talking with Don Laird, licensed psychotherapist and founder of eTalkTherapy.com, who can help us unpack layers of emotions that have been building up over the past few years. Don, good to be with you. (Music fades out)

DON: It’s great to be with you again Susan.

SUSAN: Don, beyond people’s personal stories, struggles and losses these past years, technology enables us to see in real time a lot of images of human suffering that have put people on edge, especially if they feel powerless to change anything. How are people coping? What are you seeing and hearing?

DON: That’s a great question Susan. Before I answer it though I do want to say some of the things we’ll be talking about today are going to feel a bit heavy and a bit doom-and-gloom. It’s not like that we have hope on the horizon and we will touch on that a little later in the segment. But to give you a response to that question – the answer right now is a mixed bag, overall, we are not doing well. I’m seeing a lot of anger and continued polarization around most of these issues that have been plaquing us for the past two years. In all my years of practice, I’ve never experienced so much anger, anxiety, and fear. A bit of the challenge to the fields of psychiatry and psychology, is that not unlike the medical community, were ill equipped for the pandemic and it’s beginning to show. People feel as though something bad is about to happen, they can’t tell you how or when, but it’s right around that next corner. And with what’s happening when we turn on out TVs or look at social media or the news on our phones it’s clear that a lot is happening in our world that has us feeling as if we’re in an existential crisis because we are. We’re experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, fear, and existential loneliness.

SUSAN: Where do we start? How do we start to unpack all of the trauma and all of the anxiety and the really the fear that has been building up these past few years?

DON:  Take action. Seek help. Talk about it. Life is always new. It’s always changing if we recognize it as such. We’re not putting on rose colored glasses here, but by acknowledging the suffering and seeing that life and real hope begins on the other side of suffering – right. We have this idea that well we don’t talk about suffering, we talk about death. If it doesn’t itch, don’t scratch it kind of attitude. But here’s the thing, we’re in this position because we haven’t talked about it and we haven’t moved on it and taken action. So talking about our fears, exploring, and embracing them in a meaningful way can produce some life-long changes.

Look Susan, I could sit here and list off the latest study or ongoing research into this or that, but is that truly helpful? Is that truly helpful for the people listening today?

As therapists and help givers, let’s give help seekers – people out there trying to make real changes in their life – let’s give them a real chance to overcome their fears of therapy by understanding that it is not all back on them. It’s not all them to be alone with their feelings and emotions. Of course, it’s how they actualize those feelings into action and that where that real and creative therapy can help with. Let’s start there.

I think you had mentioned a word “unpack” Susan. And unpack is a great word. How does anyone unpack? If you’re like me you dump the bag all over the bed, and maybe you get to it that night but most likely sometime that week of putting things away. Some people do that they dump everything onto the bed, or others methodically removing one item at a time and analyze it before putting it away, or some leave the bag in the corner until they can get to it? Is there a right way to unpack? And the answer is no. Every person is different. Every help seeker needs their own therapy, not one prescribed to them by some one size fits all approach.

SUSAN: Well given where we are now, as we’re trying to unpack and everyone is using a different formula what do you see as some of the biggest mental health challenges that are still ahead in the next few months and years?

You know I’m personally seeing people acting out in unusual ways – just even driving down the highway – it seems that people have forgotten how to drive, does that make any sense?

DON: It is and you make a great point Susan. I think these things are acting out right – in ways – we’re seeing rage and anger at an all time high and it’s not about the person cutting me off in traffic – it’s about all the pent of frustration, and hurt and rage that I’ve experienced over the past few years. Maybe my entire life and it has to come out somehow. So pragmatically and logistically speaking, how do we address this? Getting mental health resources available for everyone. Taking the stigma away. Let’s start there. When in doubt we should be going the human route. That’s a favorite saying of mine, Susan. When in doubt go with the human route. Let’s promote flourishing, I’ve mentioned this earlier in the segment, let’s promote flourishing and not focus exclusively on pathology and diagnosis. Understanding how we are all counted helps us remove the illusion or idea of loneliness, and anger and helps transform that anger and fear that comes from feeling separated into something creative and life changing. I can’t stress that enough. That’s really how good therapy works. It helps transform feelings of anger and fear and anxiety and loneliness into something creative and life changing.

SUAN: Do you think it’s helping to reduce the stigma by athletes, by celebrities , even political leaders when they come forward and say yes, I’ve been dealing with a mental health challenge and here’s how I’m going to prioritize my health over a competition or a duty that I have to perform. Do you think that’s helpful when we see because we’re surrounded by social media so many people coming forward and beginning to acknowledge that rather than try to hide it?

DON: Absolutely! Absolutely, Susan. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if a sports figure or celebrity came forward and said I have cancer or I have been diagnosed with diabetes or I’ve been struggling with heart disease. This is part o the dialog we should be having and when people do come forward that is such a great help. Right, when people come forward and they say I struggle with this, I have issues with that – it helps normalize it in a way that the stigma, a lot of the air gets taken out of it. (SUSAN: A lot of the courage. ) Absolutely and we have a long way to go. Calling a therapist, contacting a therapist, setting up that first appointment, it’s an act of courage. I can’t emphasize that enough.

SUSAN: So if you’re a family member and you have a friend or someone that you care about and you sense something is a little different with them how do you step in or what can you do to help them? Is it taking an action with them or talking to them or listening. How can you help because I’ve really talked to a lot of people that have reached out and tried to help but they are sure exactly what to do.

DON: Yes, this is important. All the above. Ok a little bit of all the above is the answer. But encourage them to seek help from a professional therapist. Look Susan Let’s be a friend, a spouse, a sibling, and a parent first. Don’t try to take on the role of counselor any more than you would try to take on a specialized role of being a lawyer or cardiologist or a dentist. We wouldn’t do that so most of the time what we end up doing to is we end up giving advice, something the person has already thought about. So in the mean time just sit and listen, hear what is being said, listen deeply without offering that advice or some platitudes – advice on what you would do in that situation – and always bring your best self to the conversation. (Susan: Be present.) Be present, absolutely.

SUSAN: Don Laird, licensed Psychotherapist and founder of eTalkTherapy.com, thanks for helping guide us through these really challenging times.

DON: As always, Susan, thank you so much for having me and thank you for everybody listening out there.

(Music fades in)

Susan: This podcast does NOT provide medical advice. The content is for informational purposes only. Consult with your doctor on all medical issues regarding your condition and treatments. The Content is NOT intended to be a substitute for professional, psychiatric or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, nor does it replace the need for services provided by a medical or psychiatric professional. Always seek the advice of a medical professional, psychiatrist or therapist before making any changes to your treatment.

(Music fades out).

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