Our priorities have shifted — in a good way. A lot of the “noise” in our everyday lives such as keeping up with the latest trends and having the newest and coolest gadgets has disappeared. People are learning to make do with what they already have and instead, they are spending excess money on saving local businesses or donating to those in need. “Essential” workers from healthcare to delivery people are getting the recognition they deserve despite often doing thankless jobs
As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Liner, Psy.D.
Dr. Andrea Liner earned her doctorate in clinical psychology from the George Washington University followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Georgetown University both in Washington, DC. She returned to her hometown of Denver, CO to open her private practice, Flux Psychology, where she specializes in millennial issues including life transitions, relationships, self-identity, and mood disorders. When not at work (or in quarantine), Dr. Liner can be found at a barre class or sampling the local craft beer scene and eating her way around Denver with her husband, Jules.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Absolutely! I spent my childhood thinking I wanted to be a dentist (I was one of those strange children who actually liked going) and so, when I went to college, I started as a biology major with plans to go to dental school. Through all of my science courses, the things that interested me the most always had to do with the brain, human behavior, and psychology. I went to a major research university and the only examples of studying psychology I saw were in a research lab separated from actual meaningful human interaction — at least dentists are working one on one with people all day! When an advisor told me I could actually combine connecting with others and psychology for a career as a psychotherapist, I changed my major and ended up applying for a practice-oriented doctoral program during my last year of college. The rest is history; it’s been about ten years and luckily, my naïve 20-year-old self chose well. While in my doctoral program, most of my training was in university counseling settings and with people in their early to mid-20s trying to navigate becoming “real” adults on top of any preexisting anxiety and depression. Helping young adults through major life transitions and relationships quickly became my area of focus.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I feel like I should be getting a commission for how much I recommend this book to my friends and clients! Hands down, the most influential book for me was “The Defining Decade — Why Your Twenties Matter — And How to Make the Most of Them Now” by Meg Jay. The book shares the concept that the 20s are not just a time to have fun and experiment, but rather the time you are planting the seeds you will sow throughout the rest of your adult life. It really drove home my desire to help other 20-somethings make the most of this time and set themselves up for the best future possible. She has a fantastic TED talk if you want the abridged version.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Happy to! I’d also like to preface that I know this crisis is impacting people at different levels of intensity so what might seem like a “silver lining” to one person may feel insensitive or trivial to another. In an age of “toxic positivity,” I know we are bombarded with messages all the time to “just be happy” or to “look on the bright side” and that this is simply not realistic for some depending on their situation. I offer these reasons with a grain of salt and a hope that they will be received as intended.
- People are basically good, and we are seeing that in spades. Communities are coming together to raise money for those out of work, to help elderly and other mobility-impaired neighbors get groceries, and to try to donate/make supplies for healthcare workers. One of my own clients told me she has been helping her musician friends pay their bills while they aren’t earning money. A friend of mine organized a fundraiser for PPE that raised more than $3,000. The idea that one person can’t change the world is disappearing as regular people look for countless ways to support and lift up those around them. I’d also highlight a personal favorite of mine, John Krasinski, for his “Some Good News” show that he started from his home. It’s doing a fantastic job of showing us the feel good moments arising from this pandemic
- We’re learning to give ourselves more grace. We’ve already known on a cognitive level that we can’t be all things to all people all the time; yet, it took a global pandemic where people were forced into multiple roles and juggling multiple areas of their lives to show it’s true. I’m hearing from my clients that they’re less concerned with having a Pinterest-worthy home when they’re working a full time job and home-schooling and parenting. And while they’re always super busy regardless of what’s happening in the world, this time period finally drove home the point that it is okay to not be batting 100 in every category (and that you’re not the only one feeling that way). This is also due, in part, to my next point.
- Our priorities have shifted — in a good way. A lot of the “noise” in our everyday lives such as keeping up with the latest trends and having the newest and coolest gadgets has disappeared. People are learning to make do with what they already have and instead, they are spending excess money on saving local businesses or donating to those in need. “Essential” workers from healthcare to delivery people are getting the recognition they deserve despite often doing thankless jobs. Many of my clients are reporting feeling closer with various friends and family because calling and video chatting is one of the only things they’re able to do with their time. As a collective, I find that while we typically say we value family, friends, and health, it’s a lot easier to “walk the walk” when we’re stripped down to just those things. We’re learning not to take things for granted such as our health and our abilities to come together socially.
- Mental health is being talked about in an even more mainstream manner. I’ve never seen more articles, listicles, podcasts, etc. about managing anxiety that are aimed at the general population rather than a self-selecting group seeking them out. It’s now becoming even more obvious that mental health issues affect everyone whether you meet criteria for a formal diagnosis or not. There’s almost a sense of comradery I’m hearing from my clients when they mention feeling like some of the other people in their lives finally “get” what it feels like to be anxious, uncertain, and afraid. The cultural taboo of talking about your mental health struggles is slowly but surely continuing to dissipate. All of this acknowledgement and matter-of-fact ways of talking about it help make it easier to not feel so alone in these feelings despite being physically more alone. Plus, it helps us not beat ourselves up as much for not achieving/attaining/completing certain tasks and accolades because we simply can’t right now. It’s taken a lot of pressure off to know that you haven’t failed and you’re not alone.
- Life finds a way… and it goes on. Despite the fact that most of my conversations with clients and otherwise have centered around Covid-19 and its effects, it’s beautifully apparent that it is not the only thing happening in our lives. There have still been birthdays, engagements, some very innovative virtual weddings, and other celebrations. My clients are still able to access humor and to laugh when their cats decide to take a nap on their warm keyboard during our virtual sessions. People are taking up new hobbies, learning new things, even creating innovation and starting new businesses. The best example of life going on that I can think of personally is the birth of my best friend’s baby just a week ago and the announcement of another friend’s pregnancy. Yes, there is terrible loss and tragedy right now. But these stories show that humans persevere; it’s quite literally in our DNA to seek to survive and to continue onward.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Even though this situation is overwhelming and it can feel like everything is out of our control, there are things, no matter how small, we can do to support each other in this time (and they really apply to any time).
- Validate others’ feelings. Just because someone else is reacting differently than you are, doesn’t mean either of you is “wrong.” While saying things like “try to relax” or “don’t worry, everything will be fine” may be well-intended, it’s often received as meaning that the other person’s feelings are silly or unmerited. Simply saying “I hear you” can be so much more effective at helping someone feel like they aren’t alone.
- Check in on your strong friends. Not everyone shows their distress externally; in fact, some bury themselves in helping with others’ problems to distract themselves. Even if a friend seems like they’re doing fine and are being helpful to other people doesn’t mean they aren’t also in need of some support — they may just not be able to ask for it for any number of reasons.
- Don’t take it personally if someone isn’t returning your calls, texts, etc. As much as checking in and staying connected is helpful, some people are too overwhelmed, exhausted, or just plain sick of video calls to want to engage. Try to be forgiving of friends or family who may be slow in getting back to you and try to remember it’s probably not personal. Giving them a hard time for not being responsive enough is sure to only add to feelings of anxiety.
- Find little ways to help. Are you able to pick up some extra supplies form the store? Maybe leave some at a neighbor’s door. Do you have old games or toys? Give them to families with small children who are likely growing bored with what they have at home. For those who are able, monetary donations or gift card purchases to local businesses, funds, and charities can be helpful. Small things add up and remind us how connected we still are.
- Be mindful of what and how much news you share. You may mean well in keeping your networks informed but for some people, hearing too much about it sends their anxiety into a tailspin. Make sure what you’re sharing is accurate, first of all, and consider how much content you’re presenting to other people and through which medium. It’s harder for people to titrate information when it’s sent directly to them via text, email, or private message. Yes, information is power but too much of it, especially when there are still so many uncertainties, can have the opposite effect. Even better: ask first if someone wants more information or news before sending it.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
I may be biased, but therapy is a fantastic resource for anxiety. Most of us therapists have implemented telehealth systems so we can still see clients virtually. Don’t let cost deter you — many therapists offer a sliding scale if you ask. Plus, training clinics at universities are great resources for less expensive therapy without sacrificing too much quality as these trainees are heavily supervised by seasoned clinicians. In fact, it’s almost two therapists for less than the price of one!
Other than therapy, there are things you can do at home on your own to help ease anxiety. Check YouTube for free guided meditations or subscribe to an app like Calm or Headspace. Practice gratitude by writing down positive things in your life such as a comfortable place to hole up, internet access to stay entertained, or even the food you have to eat. Distract yourself by escaping into another world via books and film.
Finally, while this may seem counter-intuitive, sometimes it helps to simply let yourself feel your feelings. When you feel that wave of anxiety hit, let it wash over you. Say out loud “I feel anxious.” Take some deep breaths and let it pass. Our emotions are mini built-in alarm systems and when we feel anxious, our body is asking us to get to safety even when there is no imminent threat. Let your alarm system do its job, acknowledge the feeling, and then remind yourself that in this very moment, you are safe. Sometimes the best way out is through.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I have so many! But my favorite has to be one my mother taught me growing up: “sometimes you can be right or you can be happy.” I love this quote because as humans, we can value being right over others’ feelings and forget that being right doesn’t always yield the best result. It’s a reminder to look for compassion in a situation and to have the forethought to see down the line to how things ultimately play out. This doesn’t mean to abandon your principles in the spirit of playing nice, but that if getting the recognition for being right would mean causing another person undue anguish, it may be best to leave it be. This comes up a lot in therapy, especially in my work with couples. Relinquishing your ego in the service of partnership can be much more constructive than an “I told you so.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
Well again, I may be biased but I wish we could destigmatize therapy once and for all and finally see mental health on the same level as physical health. Too many people go without help for fear of judgment, shame, or feeling like getting treatment means they’re “crazy.” The younger generations are making great progress with this — I love the therapy memes that circulate around social media as an example. But unfortunately, many still treat therapy as a hushed taboo which only serves to perpetuate the stigma. If I could start a movement (and what’s a movement without a hashtag these days, eh?) it’d probably be something like #shareyourtherapy. I hope that someday going to a therapist is treated the same as going to the dentist and depression the same as a broken arm. I try to make it a point to talk about my own therapy in everyday life as if it’s any other appointment. Even hearing something small like “Oh I can’t meet then because I have therapy, but how about after?” or “oh yeah, I was talking to my therapist about that” can be the normalizing nudge someone may need to seek out their own therapist. Therapy isn’t only for those with a diagnosed mental health issue or for those dealing with a loss or trauma. It’s also for learning more about yourself, improving your relationships and communication style, or simply having a space of your own where you don’t have to worry about being a burden or becoming a target of gossip. Therapy is for everyone!
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
You can follow me on Instagram @dr.andrea.liner and @fluxpsychology or visit my website, www.fluxpsychology.com where you can also find my ebook, “#Adulting: Psychological secrets to finally feeling like a ‘real’ grownup (without faking it).”
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!