Melissa Harris-Perry: You're back with The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. Now, do me a favor, if you're not driving and if you're somewhere safe, just go ahead and lean back. Let your eyes go soft and relax. It's time for a little therapy on The Takeaway. Now, we know the past few months have been pandemic whiplash.
April, get your vaccine. May, take off your mask. June, hug your family, see your friends, have a hot vax summer as you young people declared it. Then in July, the Delta variant enter the group jet and as one writer at the Dear Pandemic advice column called it the [unintelligible 00:00:55] begin.
Don't get worked up. We're going to work it through, and back with us is Dr. Jessica Stern, Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. Welcome back, Dr. Stern.
Dr. Jessica Stern: Of course, thanks for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You were actually on the show back in January, and talked about how we had hit a pandemic wall about a year into the pandemic. It's now 18 months and it looks like we're about to crest on another wave of this. A lot of us are feeling pretty exhausted. What are you seeing? Is that exhaustion shared beyond the production room of The Takeaway?
Dr. Jessica Stern: Yes, absolutely. That exhaustion just spans across so many different types of people, so many walks of life and it's back. It's what I'm thinking of as existential dread, turning into existential fatigue, which is the continual anxiety and hopelessness and confusion that continues to compound over and over again, and it's exhausting.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I sometimes think of mental health challenges or mental health illnesses as being somewhat unrealistic response or over-response or under response to world stimuli, but this feels not so much like a mental health problem as like an accurate assessment of living in a global pandemic?
Dr. Jessica Stern: Yes, most definitely. That's such a great way of putting it. Is in a lot of cases the anxiety that we're having is very realistic and very valid, and it's even just beyond anxiety. It's just this general burnout, and like I said, fatigue that is just so incredibly pervasive and it's this large dark cloud that just is sitting there, and keeps sitting there, and keeps sitting there.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What do we do? How are the strategies different now? Because I'll say, as much it was hard in the first year, I went ahead and got into it. I painted my basement, I turned it into a yoga room. I was like, "We're about to do this. I can just be home for a few months. Work from home," because I had that particular privilege, but I got to tell you, I didn't even want to go down to the yoga room no more. I'm not-- like, we must need some new strategies. I don't know if I can deep breathe my way through the rest of this.
Dr. Jessica Stern: There are a couple of pieces here. I think one is to take stock of what's happening around you and the types of things that are affecting you. I think what's so challenging is that this time around we've gotten what was almost promised to be the gold token, which is a vaccine. Which has been tremendously important and I very highly endorsed getting the vaccine. The struggle is that the pandemic is not over yet with the vaccine, and I think that's what's leading people to feeling overwhelmed.
To find the things that are exhausting to you or anxiety provoking to you or stressful to you, which might be compounded by current events that are happening in the world, and see where are your triggers coming from. Talk to the folks that are in your life, and see if there are ways that you can create boundaries in your life, and also as best as possible to create new routines.
I think a lot of us have fallen into the routine that we started in March 2020, June 2020, et cetera. We've gotten "comfortable". It's not comfortable, but we've gotten used to it. Whatever we can do to shift that, try new things, and find a way to create fresh experiences for ourselves, I think can be really monumental here.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Certainly part of what happened for those of us who did have the privilege to work, not in our location, is it's also true though, that work became 24/7. It's always on, it's always there. It really isn't unusual for me to be on a Zoom at seven o'clock at night.
Dr. Jessica Stern: Which exactly like you're saying what's so difficult is that there aren't clear distinctions between work life and personal life and all of these different things. What happens is that these things bleed into each other and we're in this constant state of whiplash. You use the word whiplash, and I think that the word here applies in so many different ways, and here we're constantly having to do what we refer to in the field as shifting sets. Going from one set to another, so work life to taking care of the kids, to personal life, to going to yoga.
What's happening is the more we do that and shift between one to another, to another, to another, it becomes really exhausting. Whatever you can do to create boundaries in your life between activities, and also boundaries with people where need be, can be very protective. It can be hard, but I would encourage people to take a look at what's around them and see, where can I trim things, and where can I potentially categorize things such that I'm protecting my energy in a way that's helpful for me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let me push back from the privilege banquet for a second, and point out that many people are actually working in the front lines, whether it's restaurant workers, doctors, nurses, and now educators going back into the classroom in many states where they may feel quite unprotected. For folks whose burnout is not just about bleeding lines of lack of boundary, but really about genuinely being on the front line. What are some of the tools?
Dr. Jessica Stern: What I would say is there are a couple of pieces here, and I can make recommendations for the employees, but also to the leaders and employers. Whatever you can do to advocate yourself for yourself. I know that that's tricky, because in some cases that advocacy doesn't take you very far, and in some cases can actually compromise your job, but where possible, if you can advocate for yourself around what feels comfortable and what feels safe, can be really important. My biggest plead to employers and to leaders is to check in with your staff, to check in with the people that you are employing and ask them what they need. To very please, please, please ask them what they need, and because they might not feel empowered or safe to tell you what they need and making assumptions about that can be hard. To do little focus groups do one-on-one check-ins and ask, can be really, really important. I think we really need to take care of our workforce one to another person.
Melissa Harris-Perry: How about kids? I know we've been seeing a rise in mental health and anxiety circumstances for teens and adolescents and even young children.
Dr. Jessica Stern: It's scary to see that happening. It's very scary, especially because early on in the pandemic, we thought that kids were much better protected, and to a certain extent they were previously, but now we're seeing that that protection is not extending in the way that we thought. We're seeing a lot of kids and teenagers getting ill, and it's really scary. I would say similar things for parents. Whatever you can do to advocate for yourself, whether that's in the school place, whether that's an after-school activities, whether that's with other parents too, is to find your advocacy, and also more importantly, to set your boundaries where possible.
That can be really important, as another place where boundaries I think comes really, really much in handy is to check in about that. We really got to protect the kids, because they really need our help here.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Dr. Jessica Stern is a Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.
Dr. Jessica Stern: Of course, thanks so much for having me.
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