Last week I was interviewed by Lisa Barry for a segment on WEMU and NPR. Below is a partial transcript of the interview.
Listen to the entire interview on WEMU
I’d be very interested to hear about your reaction on the topic and to learn if there are any mental health challenges you or someone you know has had as a result of the Covid crisis.
Lisa Barry: As the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be fading, the emotional impact remains strong, and some people don’t know what to do, or how to feel after 15 months of dealing with a global health crisis. This is Lisa Barry, host of All Things Considered on WEMU. Today we’re joined by psychologist, University of Michigan lecturer, and author Dr. Robert Pasick, to help us deal with what’s happening with our minds after over 15 months of trying to protect our physical health. Thanks for talking to us, Dr. Pasick.
Dr. Robert Pasick: Oh, you’re welcome. It’s a pleasure.
Lisa Barry: Do you think there’s confusion on how people are feeling or what we even should be feeling for sure?
Dr. Robert Pasick: Definitely, I think there’s confusion. I see high anxiety among people about what is OK to do and what is not OK to do. We’re getting conflicting messages from the media about a new virus lurking. I personally don’t worry too much about it because I have had the vaccine, but we don’t really know what’s coming next. So, I think that is why people are still anxious.
Lisa Barry: And how do you deal with that? Any recommendations?
Dr. Robert Pasick: I think talking to other people helps. I think that with the big danger gone, people are starting to get back together. And first, it’s maybe one friend or couple, and then, if that’s safe, it’s more. Then, you go out to York or Knights or wherever, and each time you go out, you say, this is OK.
When I treat people who have anxiety, I use a technique called exposure therapy. You expose yourself a little bit at a time to the thing you fear. Then, if you get through that, you go on to the next step until you’re feeling the fear no more. So, I think we’re all practicing a form of exposure therapy, seeing how things are going to be little by little.
Lisa, you used the term “peek around the corner.” I think that’s what people are doing. I like that term.
Lisa Barry: Yeah. It’s like what is OK to do? And as you said, we get a lot of conflicting information. And also, I’m wondering if there is some component of anxiety because for 15 months, we stayed home and didn’t go anywhere. We lived in a constant state of fear.
Dr. Robert Pasick: I think that many of us are going to face some form of post-traumatic stress (PTSD). Several people have had the virus or know somebody, like a parent or a relative that have had it. Furthermore, people are still getting sick. And others have lasting effects like not being able to smell or taste.
Then there’s the anxiety about the vaccine. I, myself, got sick with a thyroid problem shortly after getting the vaccine. I don’t know if it was a result of the vaccine for sure, but I wondered. I learned through the medical journals that there have been other cases of thyroid problems reported. When people hear these stories, they vow to not get the vaccine. This creates a public health risk. Children are not vaccinated at this time because the vaccine has not been approved for them. I think we do not yet know when going back to school will be completely safe. Furthermore, we have big events like the Japanese Olympics on the horizon, and nobody knows what to expect from these possible super spreader events.
Lisa Barry: You, Dr. Robert Pasick, are big on self-awareness. You’ve written books about it. You teach it at the University of Michigan. But I also feel like this might be a time for self-compassion. What can you tell us about that?
Dr. Robert Pasick: Well, that’s very important. I think people are getting out and doing things that are good for them. Self-compassion might mean going to the dentist after 14 months, getting a manicure or pedicure, going to the gym, or to some place like a bar or a coffee shop.
Self-compassion is accepting that this has been a very hard time, unprecedented in our lives. We have to come out of it slowly.
My parents once told me that after World War II, people were joyous but were still anxious for a long time. Were soldiers going to get home? Was it really over? Were we going to be attacked again? It took people three or four years to get back to normal after the war, even though there was much jubilation.
Lisa Barry: Is it really over? I think that is a question a lot of us are asking ourselves.
Dr. Robert Pasick: Yes, we don’t really know if it’s over. I think that is why anxiety is high, even though people are also joyous and happy to be going back to normal.
Last week, for the first time in 14 months, I saw two of my good friends, Mike Cole and Mike Dergis. We used to have a beer once a month, so we were really happy to reunite.
Lisa Barry: But didn’t you miss that in-person energy?
Dr. Robert Pasick: I met a coaching client in person the other day. I had been working with him for several months but had never met him in person. I learned more about him and was energized by being with him. It was fun. But do I need to see him every time? No, maybe we can see each other every third time or so which he thinks will be more convenient for him.
I think that there’s going to be major changes in our society and some of it will lead to less stress. For example, because a third of the people might work from home, our highways will be less congested. This will lead to less stress for drivers.
Some of the changes will be good and some will be bad. One that is good and bad is that we are used to buying things from Amazon, Walmart, etc. This might cause damage to small stores. I fear that many of them may not be able to come back. So, while I like the convenience of shopping online, it might close down some of the small stores in our town which makes our community enjoyable.
Lisa Barry: Lessons learned and being OK. That’s what we’re striving for. And Dr. Robert Pasick, we appreciate you talking to us here on 89.1 WEMU.
Dr. Robert Pasick: Well, thank you very much, Lisa. And continue the great job of supporting well-being in the world. We all really appreciate you.