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Ann Arbor Psychologist Talks About Mental Challenges As Pandemic’s Physical Threat Fades


As the pandemic appears to be fading, reducing the chances of a threat to our physical health, the emotional toll from the last 15 months may be getting stronger.

Lisa Barry talks with Ann Arbor psychologist, author, and University of Michigan professor Dr. Robert Pasick about the increase in anxiety from all that we have been through and how to be emotionally stronger moving forward.


Lisa Barry: As the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be fading away, 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, and we're joined now by animal psychologist, University of Michigan professor and author Dr. Robert Pasick to help us deal with what's happening in 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?

Robert Pasick
Credit Rob Pasick / robpasick.com
Dr. Robert Pasick

Dr. Robert Pasick: I think there's confusion. And also I see a high, high anxiety among people about what is OK to do and what is not OK to do. We get we're getting a lot of conflicting messages from the media about how the new virus is coming. And I don't worry about it because you have a vaccine, but, you know, we don't know. So I think that people are still pretty anxious. One of the emotions that I see.

Lisa Barry: And how do you deal with that? Any recommendations?

Dr. Robert Pasick: Well, I think not relying too much on the press, but also talking to other people. I think that with the big danger gone, people are starting to get back together. And first, it's maybe one couple or one person, and then it's more and then, you know, you go out to Moorgate in New York or a bar or whatever, and each time you go out, you say, OK, this is OK. So I think I can any anxiety there's something called exposure therapy, which is like expose yourself a little bit to the thing you're afraid. And then if you get through that, you know, go on to the next step until you're kind of back to normal. So I think we're all sort of practicing exposure therapy, seeing how things are going. And you used the term a while back “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 for 15 months, a lot of people stayed home and didn't go anywhere and they got.

Dr. Robert Pasick: Yeah, well, I think that I think there's going to be some post stress. Yeah. PTSD. And I think that also a lot of people have had this have the virus or know somebody or had a parent or a relative have it. So and it's all this thing about, well, it's not over. And when you have it, you still can't smell it, you still can't taste. And then there's the anxiety. What how long will this last? And then there's some people fear about reactivity to the right to the vaccine. And I myself experienced like a thyroid problem as a result. I don't know if it's a result for sure, but, you know, it certainly winds up with that. So and that leads to people when they hear those stories. I'm not getting that vaccine. So we still have I think in the county we have 15 percent that vaccinated adults over 60, which is pretty high, you know, because those people are at biggest risk. So you see one way it's good, 85 percent of anything is good. But then you think, well, 15 percent of the population is still a pretty big number. I don't know what the population of the county is, but you start to add it up. And then on the other end, a lot of young adults are not vaccinated and a lot of children are children are not vaccinated at all because it's been not approved. And I think nobody knows yet when we get back to school or into camps. Now, what's going to happen?

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 good. I mean, I think people are getting out and doing things that are good for them. Self compassion might be going to the dentist after 14 months or, you know, going to get your pet, your pedicure and you know what you haven't done for a long time, going to the you know, to some place like a bar or a coffee shop. So those are all self-care things. Self-compassion is just to realize that this is a very hard time, unprecedented in our lives. And we have to come out of it slowly. I mean, you think about what happened after World War two. I think that ended and people were still anxious for a long time. You know, people are going to get home. It’s really over. We're going to have another attack. So I think it took people, you know, three or four years to get back to normal after the war, even though there is a lot of jubilation about

Lisa Barry: Is it really over? I think that is a question a lot of us are asking ourselves.

Dr. Robert Pasick: Oh, exactly. And we don't know for sure. I mean, what's the next thing it's going to hit and at the same time, not so much in Michigan, which is now becoming a good destination place for people because of our weather, people are suffering from extreme heat. And so one thing comes after another fires, extreme heat. And I think with Putin, the world is going on almost a bad word there. But, you know, I think that the, you know, the underlying things like global warming, politics, we try to put a voting bill through and it was blocked. And so, you know, we're anxious about what's going to be the next election. So I just think that anxiety is strong, even though people are also joyous and happy to be back seeing old friends. I saw my two friends, Michael and Mike Douglas, last week for the first time we had worked closely together. But for the first time in 14 months, we actually sat down. We used to do it once a month, so we were really happy to see each other. But of course, we all shared our stories of what had happened over the years to the year.

Lisa Barry: Well, at this time, too, I feel like new social issues are being created like mask shaming, which is kind of reverse from not wearing a mask. And sometimes people are getting a hard time for wearing a mask.

Dr. Robert Pasick: And they're so sure our county is pretty well-educated and pretty well-informed. And I don't think there's too much of that going on here. Things are worse, I think, in the south where there's a real divide. I think our state has been pretty good about having everybody on the same page. We said people are angry at governor. I've heard, you know, we're sitting in a doctor's office the other day. There are two people, you know, really going after the governor. But I think in most cases in our county and your listening audience, there's not that much screaming going on. You hear about these stories of people going crazy on an airplane. You know, those are for the press to pick up, pick up. It's not a normal thing for people to happen.

Lisa Barry: I know someone who does manicures and she is now dealing with the fact that she had to touch people. They stayed open for the most part when they could. And she's like, I had to talk to people during a pandemic. And now she's still wearing a mask. And she is saying some clients are coming in and looking at her like, why are you wearing a mask? We don't have to anymore. I guess that's the situation I'm talking about.

Dr. Robert Pasick: I think that people in those situations wore a mask before. You know, I don't think they live. They work in a always work in a unsafe environment. So it leads to another thing that I want to talk about is this the stress on our medical community. People are still having difficulty hear reports of people are in the hospital and the nurses are burned out. I think particularly the the AIDS are burned out. They're not making much money. And they have to work very hard and some of them have to work two jobs. So, you know, I think when people go into doctors, they've been doing I think telemedicine actually has helped made it less stressful for some of the doctors. And I read something today that 85 percent of the people want to continue using telemedicine. That's pretty. That's a major change in our society. So it's one of them that we see. And I think there's going to be many others. For example, people have to make choices. Do they want to go back to the office that I've been in? I'm in my office today, but it's like I'm going back once a week and then doing the rest that telemedicine. So Patel is doing with my clients and some people want to come back, but not that many times. They found that it's it's nice to come see me and not have to drive, you know, an hour each other way because they're busy. And so it's one hour with me instead of three. So that that's good for people.

Lisa Barry: But don't you miss that in-person energy? Are the cues, you know, from looking at all?

Dr. Robert Pasick: I was with somebody who I've been talking to and I never met the person and it was energizing. It was fun. But do I need to see him every time? No, I got that energy and we could check in and, you know, maybe see each other every third time or something like that. Yeah. So, you know, I think that that's there's going to be major changes and some of that is less stress. The other one is less stress is because a third of the people or whatever, our home, the highways are better. Right. So we're not you know, traffic is that bad, which causes stress. I think there's some positives that have come out of this. And I think we'll see over time that our society has changed. Some are good, some are bad. I think a bad word is we all get used to using things like Amazon and delivery from Walmart or whatever. And so I think the small stores really hit and I'm not sure whether they're going to come back because the ease of getting things on your porch and the ease of using those nice websites. Even though you want to support the local story, you think I don't have time, this is easy to do and all I need is a few things, and I find it right away and I don't have to climb the aisle. So I think we're going to see more stores closing. And if you've been in Briarwood, but I saw about one third of the stores were closed and empty. And then, of course, the big serious thing, I don't know what they're going to do with it. I think everything is going to become an Amazon warehouse, which isn't good. But it seems like that the warehouses are going to be big.

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 eighty nine one WEMU.

Dr. Robert Pasick: Well, thank you very much, Lisa. And continue the great job of well-being in our county. I appreciate it.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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