Dr. Robin Smith: “Normalize not being okay”

Normalize not being okay. Although it is important to do more than just talk, sometimes listening is the best medicine. We need to address how to overcome the stigma of admitting to being socially isolated and seeking treatment for mental health. Many people, especially older adults, carry the feeling that they somehow created their situation […]

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Normalize not being okay. Although it is important to do more than just talk, sometimes listening is the best medicine. We need to address how to overcome the stigma of admitting to being socially isolated and seeking treatment for mental health. Many people, especially older adults, carry the feeling that they somehow created their situation of isolation — for example, feeling like it may be different if they had a better [or closer] relationship with their children.


As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’, I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Robin Smith.

Dr. Robin Smith (Dr. Robin) is a licensed Psychologist and ordained minister with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology, who has worked with Fortune 500 companies and sports and entertainment professionals to offer conflict management, diversity and inclusion training, executive performance coaching and more. An experienced media and television personality, she is the author of several books including the New York Times #1 best-selling Lies at the Altar: The Truth About Great Marriages. Her other titles include Inspirational Vitamins: A Guide to Personal Empowerment and the soulful memoir, Hungry: The Truth About Being Full. She has appeared and shared her expertise on news and entertainment television programs including, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, NBC’s The Today Show, The Fox News Channel, The Queen Latifah Show, Anderson Cooper, and as the Therapist-in-Residence on The Oprah Winfrey Show.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?

I was born to help people heal from unspeakable trauma and loss. My career was more of a calling than a choice. It was evident at a very early age that I had the innate gift of compassion, curiosity and understanding for people with broken hearts and lives, although the skillset and training came later in life.. My upbringing exposed me to multi-cultural, multi-ethic, and multi-religious experiences.

My father who was a physician, minister and civil rights leader. My mother, a psychiatric social worker, was one of the first African-American women to graduate with a master’s degree from Bryn Mawr College. They were extraordinary living examples of our collective responsibility to open doors for African-American and other disenfranchised people.

Without a doubt, I was born to help people navigate their suffering and reclaim their divine birthright to joy.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am currently relaunching my brand and taking the stage once again. After healing from a serious car accident in 2010, and a second car accident in 2016, I am grateful to be healthy and strong again, and excited about this next chapter in my career. I have a new website, podcast and other media related opportunities in development. My mission is built on the platform of “Transforming Trauma into Triumph,” through fearless truth-telling, and inviting people to Wake Up!, Show Up!, Grow Up!, Rise Up!

Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic? 
 
I am a licensed psychologist with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and have dealt with many patients experiencing social isolation, an issue that has only grown in the last year as we weathered the COVID-19 pandemic and were forced to stay home and remain distant from our communities, workplaces and social groups. Loneliness is an epidemic. It is important however, to understand the difference between being sad and lonely, compared to true social isolation. People who suffer from social isolation experience hopelessness and helplessness — and this has increased in the wake of the pandemic. I am passionate about shining a light on this issue affecting so many and why I was excited to partner with AARP Foundation and United Health Foundation to raise awareness on this issue.

According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?

Social isolation is more than a feeling of loneliness; it’s infrequent or no social contact with others. The long-term physical implications to one’s health include an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and sleep disorders.

The mental implications of prolonged social isolation are an increased risk of cognitive decline, depression, anxiety and stress — which can manifest itself in many ways. There is a difference between being anxious and being paralyzed by anxiety. The pandemic has created a response that people are not able to feel hopeful to reach out for resources or to manage their connections.

Despite these mental and physical implications of social isolation, an AARP Foundation and United Health Foundation study found that although the pandemic has caused anxiety levels to increase for the majority of people, many are still not turning to anyone for help.

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?

Social connection is often the anchor to a productive and successful life. 
 
 When individuals are isolated, their access to support networks, information, and community resources are compromised — making it more difficult to seek critical information, access to employment and more. AARP Foundation’s Connect2Affect.org offers tools for assessing social isolation, along with a chat bot designed for friendly conversations and to guide people looking to rebuild their social connections.

The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.

First and most obvious, the physical distancing and stay-at-home orders, while necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19 and save lives, led to isolation and loneliness for many older adults who are disconnected from their family or community. AARP Foundation and United Health Foundation’s survey, The Pandemic Effect: A Social Isolation Report, found that during the pandemic, only 11% of adults turned to a medical professional when feeling down or sad and almost a third of adults 50 and older reported that they did not look to anyone for support during the pandemic. This is why it’s so important that we raise awareness about social isolation and encourage people to check in on their loved ones who may be experiencing it.

While technology can help to keep people connected, it can’t replace in person interaction, which long term, has an impact not only on mental health but physical health as well. Social isolation has been linked to several serious health conditions, such as cognitive decline, depression, anxiety, heart disease, and even death. Studies have found the health risks of social isolation can be more harmful than obesity, and prolonged isolation is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Finally, we don’t have enough safe spaces to talk about things like isolation and loneliness when we experience it, and this applied to pre-pandemic times as much as it applies to today. As we start to resume a little normalcy in our daily lives, we need to open up those lines of communication with each other, and let people know their concerns are being heard.

Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.

Normalize not being okay. Although it is important to do more than just talk, sometimes listening is the best medicine. We need to address how to overcome the stigma of admitting to being socially isolated and seeking treatment for mental health. Many people, especially older adults, carry the feeling that they somehow created their situation of isolation — for example, feeling like it may be different if they had a better [or closer] relationship with their children.

Evaluate your emotions: Being anxious is different from being paralyzed by anxiety. Many normal feelings have become manifested in abnormal ways since the start of the pandemic. For example, many people struggle with simple decision making on things like what to wear or even what to order from a familiar menu when dealing with stress. A more extreme manifestation of this would be choosing to avoid going to restaurants or social events where making any type of decision is necessary. Identifying this is the first step to getting help.

Reach out to loved ones in need: We all have a role to play in addressing this complex public health issue. When experiencing social isolation, it can be hard to identify how or when to get help. Pick up the phone and call your neighbor, grandparents or even college roommate, you never know who may be struggling with isolation. If you’re worried about yourself or someone you know, visit Connect2Affect.org to see what resources are available.

Identify daily things to lessen social isolation. Small and manageable steps can help you feel progress at a slow but steady pace. Try setting regular communication with family or friends, taking a 15-minute nature walk or sitting outside to get some fresh air.

Jot down goals at the start of each week. Begin each morning by journaling three things that are good in your life. At the end of the week, evaluate your progress and take note of the little things that bring you the most joy day to day. If something or someone stands out, make a point to prioritize that in the coming week.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

It would be a movement that would eradicate economic and educational poverty, which would lead to access for all in economic health, physical and mental wellness, educational and vocational access, creating a sense of belonging to society and our world.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

If Mr. Fred Rogers were living, I would love to invite him to join me for breakfast. He seemed to be comfortable coloring outside the lines, which is where I have found some of my greatest joys, ideas and courageous decisions. He also lived with brave integrity, and paid a high price to bring love, truth and inclusivity to the world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can find me on Facebook here, Twitter here and LinkedIn here.

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