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January 4, 2022

Ask Lisa Podcast - Episode 62

How Do I Boost Mental Health in 2022?

Episode 62

What’s the best way to help boost mental health in 2022? Dr. Lisa walks us through her five mental health resolutions for the new year. Reena asks how we can rethink mental wellness for ourselves and our families while continuing to navigate the pandemic. Some unexpected parenting inspiration comes from the words of Winston Churchill.

January 4, 2022 | 25 min

Transcript | How Do I Boost Mental Health in 2022?

Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 62: How Do I Boost Mental Health in 2022?


The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional

mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being,

consult a physician or mental health professional.


REENA: So, we started a salad club in our neighborhood. Everybody has one lunch day. You make a fresh salad for the other three people, and you’re guaranteed a fresh healthy salad every day.


LISA: Oh, man. That’s great.


REENA: It has been transformative.


LISA: Can I tell you the thing I would like the most? I am so sick of my food. The idea of somebody else coming up with what goes on a salad and it’s not me sounds like heaven.


REENA: Really. We’re done with cooking. We’re done with cooking. But, it’s the new year. We’re rethinking everything. I am really excited, Lisa. I’m happy to have that year done with and excited to start a new year.


LISA: Yup. Yup. This pandemic’s going to end, and I think a lot about the quote from Winston Churchill, like, ‘when you’re going through hell, keep going.’ I’m going to keep going. This thing has an end. This thing has an end.


REENA: That is a great quote. It’s a great quote, and a lot of parents out there are looking to hit the reset button, and we got this letter that we thought might be a great way to kick it all off this year. It says: ‘Dear Lisa and Reena, I desperately want this to be a good year for my family. I listen to your podcast every week and I’m grateful for all the things you’ve taught me on how to rethink my parenting. I’m turning to you for advice on how to start the new year. How do we adjust to this new normal? It’s clear things aren’t going back to where they were before the pandemic. Can you give me tools to put us in a better place this year? What should I, as a parent, focus on to help my kids with? I feel there’s very little to be excited about. What can I do to get my family to believe this will be a terrific year, or maybe just even somewhat better than the last? What really matters for our growth and development as a family? I don’t even know where to start. Thank you, and happy new year.’


LISA What a lovely letter. I totally feel this.


REENA: You get the sense it’s confusion. Like where do we even begin, Lisa?


LISA: Yeah. Yeah.  I think a lot of us are having this kind of, you know, these moments were the you know the calendar flips and we’re like, all right we’ve got to take this the space to just see where we’re at and see where we want to be, and, Reena, I’ve been thinking about mental health resolutions for myself, and  I do think it’s worth it to pause and make some plans for how to go forward and how to lead in our families, right? That’s the other thing I feel in this letter is that this person has, you know, I want my family to have a good experience and how do I help make that happen? So, I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve made for myself, Reena, five mental health resolutions for 2022. So, should we just do them?


REENA: Let’s do them. I am curious to know what Lisa Damour’s, how she’s rethinking her health and what those resolutions are. So, tell me.


LISA: Okay, so number one is put things in perspective, and what I mean by this, Reena, is this pandemic has gone on so ridiculously long that we can forget about the fact that we are living through a crisis of historic proportions, and I think it’s important when we’re feeling worn down or tired or frustrated or unsure to  just step back and we maintain that sense of perspective of, we have found our own way this far through something that none of us could have fathomed before it came down on us, and we are learning and growing. Our kids are learning and growing, but this is hard for a reason, and the reason is that this is so challenging and has been for so long, and for me that sense of like, but we’ve come this far and we know how to move forward, we can move forward, helps me find some energy. What do you think?


REENA: You know I remember at the start of the pandemic people were like, we’re not asking you to go fight a war like World War II. We’re saying just stay home on your couch, and I was like, okay this is pretty basic. This is so easy, we can do it, but, Lisa, I think what we’re struggling with is why is it so hard? Just making it through the day is hard, but nobody acknowledges that.


LISA: They don’t, and it’s interesting about the war parallel because I have mixed feelings about it. You know part of me is like, well this is true, right? Like, you know, people are not having their 18-year-olds conscripted and sent overseas, like that’s a whole terrible universe of events. But I think there’s some upsides at times for putting the side by side with things like World War II, and saying, you know, this is going to be in history books. What we went through, what we endured is so bizarre and so strange that it’s, I don’t know that it’s on the scale of a war, but I also wouldn’t say it’s not entirely unlike that, and not that I envy any person who endures a war in any way, but it’s interesting with the war metaphor because I think there was this constant awareness of this thing going on around and this, you know, this sense of like, we’re all fighting this thing together, we’re all in this together, we’re going through a hard thing, this thing will have an end, and those things are all true or we want them to be true here. I don’t know with the kind of, I’d almost call it like the insidious quality of the pandemic, I wonder if that some of that t sense of perspective can get lost. That sense of being in the midst of something enormous, part of something big, the way in which the virus, we live with it and around it and we make daily small or large accommodations because of it. I think we can lose track of the fact that this is really hard, and we’re sort of struggling our way through it for a reason.


REENA: So, when you say put things into perspective. How do you do that for your family? How do you get them to understand what you’re saying about this perspective?


LISA: I do, especially for your kids, right? You do have to help them with this because their sense of time is so different from ours and for this, you know, to go on as long as it has, like it’s a big chunk now of their young experience, and they can kind of, in a good way, roll along with that, adapt to it, but I think they actually need us to sas, this is bizarre what you’re going through, and you’re finding your way through it. Like, you know, I’ve lived for 51 years, I’ve never seen anything remotely like this, and it’s an interesting thing to say because on the one hand it sounds kind of grim, right? LIke this is bizarre. On the other hand, and I find and I think my kids find some sense of like, yeah, yeah, we’re we’re finding a way, we’re making our way through an extraordinarily difficult time. That there is some sense of morale and energy and boost that comes with that. All right, you ready for number two?


REENA: Yes. Tell me.


LISA: Okay, here comes number two. Again, they might sound grim but they’re really well-meaning and I think it should give hope, but number two is expect distress. And what I mean by that is if we’re going to 2022, like, all right this year we’re going to feel good, you know, this year I’m going to find a way to have all the mental health practices that keep sadness and distress and frustration away from me and my family. That is a losing game. It’s not going to work out. It is definitely not going to work out because we’re still in a global pandemic and even if we weren’t because we’re people, and distress comes with the territory, and so one of the things I’m on the lookout for in myself and I’m on the lookout for another people is this sense that if I just do all the right things, if I just have all the right wellness practices, then I shouldn’t feel bad or my kids won’t feel bad if I can get them on board with these two, and that’s a tricky position. It leaves people fragile and exposed to the reality that when they have a lousy day, they then may feel that much worse because they feel like they’re failing at wellness, and I don’t want anybody to spend a minute of 2022 feeling like they’re failing at wellness.


REENA: You know this is one of the themes I feel like over the seasons that you weave in is that sadness or depression or distress is not a bad thing. Like we shouldn’t be like, oh we never want to feel bad and put ourselves in a bubble, but how do we talk to our kids about expecting distress?


LISA: I think we can do it in a couple ways. One is we can just talk about it, you’re going to have good days and bad days. You know, kind of those casual things. Like, you know, some days you win, some days you don’t feel you really won, but the way we really put it on the ground is that when they are distressed, which you can basically count on, we’re not surprised and we’re not alarmed and we’re not trying to figure out how we could have prevented it or how to make it go away really, really fast. That when they are distressed, we’re like, yeah, you know ,you had a really crummy day. You’re having the right reaction. This makes sense. Your feelings work as they should. So, we treat it as garden variety. We treat it as part of life, and I have to tell you, Reena, the failing at wellness thing, I am hearing that from teenagers where they really have gotten this idea that if I just do all the right things, I should not feel stressed or anxious. They’re so earnest, they’re so well-meaning, and I’m like, oh man really? Like now they’re feeling like they’re coming up short on that, and what I’m saying to them, I’m like, you’re not getting an F in wellness, you’re getting an A in humanness. Like that’s how we have to think about this.


REENA: I love that. That should be another one of the Lisa Damour billboards. Say that again. That’s worth repeating.


LISA: You’re not getting an F in wellness, you’re getting an A in humanness or being a human.


REENA: I love it.


LISA: So, we’ve got to let everybody off the hook that somehow they could have done something somewhere that they’re not going to feel bad or their kids are not going to feel bad. That’s not happening.


REENA: So, when these teens tell you this, how do you respond?


LISA: I mean basically with that. Really, Reena, I say, you know, oh, man, wellness is a great thing, but that is not what we mean it. What we mean is it helps you counterbalance things, it can give you some relief sometimes, but no, no, no. There is no universe where if you meditate enough, sleep enough, use the right apps and oils, you get to feel good all the time. That universe doesn’t exist. You’re not coming up short, you’re just feeling the world and you’re feeling, you know, emotions that make sense, and the relief in young people when I say to them, you’re not getting an F in wellness, you’re not coming up short in wellness, Reena, it’s wonderful to see the level of relief they get, and it totally bums me out that they ever got to a place where they felt like they weren’t doing enough to prevent distress. Like that just makes me sad for them.


REENA: We talked about number one, putting things in perspective. Number two, expect distress. What’s number three?


LISA: Protect boundaries. Protect boundaries, Reena.


REENA: What do you mean by that?


LISA: Make sure I’m doing the things I’m to be doing, and doing as little as possible of the things I do not mean to be doing, and, Reena, I have the best strategy for this about turning things down, and this one I learned, and we’ll put this book in the show notes, I learned it actually from a business book, which I really am not much of a business book reader, and it’s a book by William Yuri, and it’s called “The Power of a Positive No,” and here is what is brilliant about this book. This book acknowledges that so often we say yes to things that we don’t want to say yes to because we’re worried we’re going to hurt our relationship with a person we’re turning down. You know? And doesn’t it doesn’t happen, Reena, have you had it happen all the time where even as you are saying yes to something, you’re thinking, I don’t really want to do this.


REENA: Totally. Totally. It’s out of obligation.


LISA: Out of obligation, and out of some sense of like, I don’t know how to say no in a way that won’t cause, you know, damage to this relationship or rupture this relationship. So, I’m saying yes, though, it’s not like I want to and it’s not like even right now I think I want to. I’m just saying yes because I don’t know what else to say. So, Yuri lays out this brilliant formula, and it’s the yes, no, yes formula, and the first yes is, what am I trying to protect? You know, what is it that I care about? So, maybe, Reena, it’s that this Friday night all I want to do is binge on Netflix and give myself a pedicure. Like that’s my big plan for Friday night, let’s say that’s the thing I’m trying to protect. So, when I say no to things that can get in the way of it, it’s not that I’m saying no because I like saying no or because I don’t want to, you know, be a nice person or generous. I’m saying no to protect that yes, and I think that it’s a subtle point in his book and I think it’s really an important one, that we say no because there’s something else we’re trying to say yes to, and so then the third yes, or the second yes, the third part of the formula, is what can you offer instead? So, if somebody who you like says, hey do you wanna get together on Friday night? And you’re like, nope because I’m trying to protect my Netflix and pedicure plan. So, depending on the friend, you might say, oh, you know I’d love to, but I already have a date with Netflix and a pedicure, or you might just say, oh, I’m tied up. You don’t owe people full disclosure, and then you say, but I want to see you. Could we grab coffee next week? You know, that there’s something you can offer instead, and it’s that third step that actually requires a fair bit of creativity. You know, coffee is easy, but sometimes in business settings where somebody will ask me for something and I’ll say, oh, I can’t do that but here’s what I can do, and that third step, that here’s what I can offer, keeps things clicking along quite nicely, is good for the relationship, makes it clear you’re trying to be helpful to them, makes it clear that you’re not in the business of turning them down just to turn them down, and I have found that, yes, no, yes formula to be the best strategy for protecting boundaries that I’ve ever come up with. I didn’t come up with it, that I’ve never come across.


REENA: But you’ve embraced that and you like that. I love that. Here’s the other option. I like that idea. I’ve never thought of it that way. It’s either always been a yes or a no and goodbye. That’s great.


LISA: Do you have a turn down strategy, Reena.


REENA: No. That’s part of my problem. And that is one thing this pandemic has taught me. My friends have always been like constantly have people over for brunch, entertaining people and I’m exhausted, and my mom and one of my good friends, Shaufi, would always say stop inviting people over. Stop doing all this. Stop saying yes to everything after work, and I realized how much of my life was sort of passed me by by doing events and things that really my heart wasn’t in it and I don’t want to do, but I do it out of obligation.


LISA: Yeah, no absolutely, and so I wonder, like, if somebody says, hey, can you come to this thing? And it’s just not going to be an option, if there’s a way to say, oh, man I’d love to, we’re tied up. I love saying tied up because, like, it’s just, you know, or have a family obligation. That’s something I learned from a friend, and that family obligation may be that I want to put my kids to bed that night. I want to tuck them in. You know, so I’ll say, I have a family obligation, but can I send over a gift for your table? You know or something like that, and it really works because people are like, oh, that’s so lovely, you’re not even coming, but you’re going to send a bottle of wine in your place? That is so lovely.


REENA: What a great idea.


LISA: And then you are home with your TV and your pedicure.


REENA: Protecting boundaries. I like that.


LISA: It’s wonderful. Protecting boundaries. All right, ready for number four?




LISA: All right. This is wooier than I normally. Get a mantra. Get a mantra.


REENA: Get a mantra? Why is that important?


LISA: I think sometimes when we’re really stuck, we need a fallback position that we don’t have to make up, that we can just lean in to in the moment, and I am very aware, as I think everybody is right now, that it’s very disheartening at times to try to look far ahead and figure out where this is all going or what, you know, the rest of 2022 is going to look like. So, for me I like to pull the horizon closer, and just focus on the moment, and having a phrase or two that I can say to myself really helps and so here are some of mine. You know these are very personal, they’re kind of corny, and people may love him or hate him. I’m not saying adopt them, but one is well, just try to lead with kindness. You know, whatever’s coming at me, if I can lead with kindness in my response, I will always feel good about that. Another, when I worry that I’m not getting it right or making mistakes or feeling frustrated, I’ll say to myself, okay the goal here is to try to ease more suffering than I cause, right? And am I doing that or is there something I can do to try to bring that closer? And just, you know, pullin in and focusing on that gives me some relief, and then the last one is I’ll say the word ‘full’ to myself. Like can I be full? Can I expand into the space around me in a way that makes me feel like I’ve got more energy and maybe makes me seem, or be, actually more generous to the people around me. So, that sense of full or fullness, saying the word for me straightens my spine, you know, gives me some strength, and so it can seem corny, it can seem a little soft, but not having to come up with a position I fall back to when I’m feeling frustrated or worried or uncomfortable helps.


REENA: I’m kind of surprised by your mantras, I have to say. Really surprised.


LISA: Tell me why.


REENA: Because, I mean I’m not just saying this to flatter, you know this. You’re one of the kindest people I know and your whole mission in life, I feel like, is to ease suffering, particularly among parents and kids, but this is what you say to yourself to pick yourself up.


LISA: I do and, Reena you know, we all make mistakes all the time. I make mistakes all the time. I think I’m being helpful and it turns out I’m not nearly as helpful as I think I am, and maybe because it’s so much what I’m organized around when I feel like I’m messing it up, it really bothers me. Like it really bothers me and it can really slow me down, and so those are mine, and, you know, people can have them if they want them, but I also think people should have their own, you know, just like don’t have to come up with it in the moment when you’re feeling bad. Have something you can pull on.


REENA: Can I just tell you? I feel very selfish because if I were to come up with mine, I just find finding joy right now has been hard, and I, you know, I love Christmas and we did this big Christmas tree lighting outside my home with all of our neighbors because I felt getting the neighborhood connected and together and seeing each other was so important, and as everyone knows in this podcast it’s been a huge part of me moving through this pandemic has been the workouts in the salad clubs and it just, you know, having these great neighbors, and so we launched that and it made me feel good but it’s because I love Christmas so much and everything about Christmas that I make it big, big, big, big, big, but as we go into the new year, I’m looking and I’m excited to start this new year, this letter from this mom. What resonated with me was the confusion. I’m like, okay, like who’s on first, are we still here again? Like what? And so for me I want some sort of mantra to remind me every day about how to find joy. Remember on one of the podcasts you told us about how when you’re planning a vacation, it’s not just the experience of going through that vacation? It’s planning it, having it on your calendar, thinking about it. So, I booked a vacation for spring break in October.


LISA: Good for you.


REENA: And be doing is thinking about lying on the beach and how it’ll be great. So, for me, finding a mantra about finding joy, but I know it’s selfish, but it’s something that I feel like I need.


LISA: Not at all selfish. Actually, so important. So, maybe that’s yours. So, go find some joy. And, you know, one thing on that scheduling thing, I started scheduling virtual lunches with colleagues around the country. Like people I really and people I’d otherwise see if I were traveling more, and we just book a virtual lunch, and I’ve got them booked, some of them booked for several weeks from now, and just knowing they’re there makes me happy.


REENA: That you’ll connect with them.


LISA: Yeah.


REENA: So, what’s your last one?


LISA: All right, good old gratitude practice. Number five, practice gratitude. It works. It works. It works. We’ve talked about it so many times on this podcast. It is a home run. It is a guarantee no matter how crummy you feel, if you can step back, if I can step back and think, all right what am I thankful for? What incredible good fortune do I really have in my life? And articulate it, maybe even write it down, and there’s some wonderful gratitude journals, and we’ll put links to a couple in the show notes. It matters. It makes you feel better right away, and in some ways it wraps us right back around to the beginning, puts things in perspective. Right? As low as I feel right now, there is so much to be grateful for.


REENA: That really works. It sounds hokey, but gratitude makes such a difference. I feel it every time. I do. So, Lisa, what do you have for us for parenting to go?


LISA: Well, when I look back on the resolutions, a lot of them is how to be self-sufficient, right? How to take good care of yourself, how to fall back on yourself, and I guess what I’d say is if these don’t work, who can you fall back on, right? That this is where we really think about who’s in our lives and who we can rely on. So, whatever people are going through, I think the key thing to remember is you don’t have to go through it alone. You’ve got people around you, and you’ve got us.


REENA: That’s a great reminder. Support systems are important, Lisa.


LISA: Oh, they mean the world.


REENA: And we’re excited about next week because we’re going to have an actual three-time Olympic mom on our show.


LISA: Three-time mom, three-time Olympian. Kind of impressive, don’t you think?


REENA: Super impressive. We’re going to talk about raising an athlete. Well, happy new year, Lisa. I’m so excited about the year ahead.


LISA: Happy new year, Reena, I’m so glad to be heading into 2022 with you.


REENA: I’ll see you next week.


LISA: See you next week.

The advice provided by Dr. Damour here will not and does not constitute - or serve as a substitute for - professional psychological treatment, therapy, or other types of professional advice or intervention. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

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