229: Pandemic Got You Down?
Buck: Welcome back to the show everyone. Today my guest on Wealth Formula Podcast well he’s been on recently although it seems like a million years ago. His name’s Joel Wade. Joel is a Ph.D., he’s a therapist and life coach who has really specialized in this concept of happiness. If you go back to some of our pre-COVID podcasts you’ll see that in fact he is the author of The Virtue Of Happiness and Mastering Happiness and creator of an in-depth online course called a Master’s Course in Happiness. He’s also a world-class athlete, having won multiple national world championships in water polo and the unofficial therapist of the Wealth Formula Podcast. Joel, welcome back to the show.
Joel: Thanks, Buck. Good to be here.
Buck: So you know I never did ask you about that. So tell me about the the water polo. Did you end up like in the national they were like the olympics and stuff?
Joel: Well I played our college team at UC Santa Barbara actually. We won the NCAA championships back in 1979 and we were actually the first team ever to do that at UCSB so yeah you’re kind of celebrities there for a bit and I think they’ve only there’s only been one other team a soccer team that’s won it since.
Buck: Yeah I never really thought, I mean obviously I live in Santa Barbara. I live in the Montecito area and we don’t usually think of the UCSB as a big sports power but I guess that was a different time so yeah I mean that’s great. So you’re still keeping up with it a little bit?
Joel: Yeah and actually a lot of my teammates from that team we still play together on a master’s level and we usually play in the national championships and the world championships for masters level and we’ve done pretty well we’ve won we’ve won a bunch of championships over the years and it’s really fun to be able to play with friends of over 40 years and so it’s great fun.
Buck: Good for you. Well listen, you know obviously since we last talked this 900-pound gorilla landed on the earth yeah and started infecting everybody and created all these this craziness in the world that I think some things that have been perhaps underappreciated in the larger health discussion has been how this is affecting mental health and I’d love for you to you know kind of talk about that since you know you’re on the front lines in that battle. What are you seeing out there and obviously, you know you’re getting more clients the same clients who are now things that are getting worse. Talk about some of the common themes and problems that people are experiencing right now.
Joel: Yeah well first of all I guess the most pervasive thing is probably depression because our mood system is designed to help us survive and so when we get in a situation where we feel helpless or you know stuck and we can’t get out of it, our mood system naturally and in a healthy way sort of drops down our energy, gets us to reflect and kind of take stock and think you know is this the right path? You know I’ve been if you’re a grizzly bear and you’ve been hunting salmon in the river for four hours and you haven’t caught anything it’s like ah maybe I’ll go do something else. So in a sense this you know especially with the lockdown and but also because it’s not something we have a lot of control over, it naturally I think drops a lot of our mood systems, not everybody, but it’s common for people’s mood systems to go huh well I guess I can’t do that, I guess I can’t do that either, maybe I’ll rethink these things. So in a very natural sort of healthy organismic way, it drops our mood system down. The problem is it’s been going on for a long time now and so it’s been months and months and it takes a while for our mood system to drop us down and then it takes a while for it to rev us back up again on the other side. So I think that’s the most pervasive thing is I think a lot of people have a feeling like we’re on pause right now around the world right now, and we kind of are.
Buck: Yeah you know I’d like to drill down a little bit on the idea of depression because you know I think it’s probably a good idea for us to discuss that a little bit more in the context of you know what exactly clinical depression is and how it’s different from just feeling blue and the reason I bring that up is because I think that you know obviously my own background as a physician you know I view clinical depression ultimately as a disease in the same way that you know diabetes is a disease and if it gets bad enough there are things that you can do about it so I would think it would be a good idea I think just as a sort of public service moment to give everyone an idea what exactly is clinical depression and you know when at what point does it seem like well maybe you gotta see somebody or whatever.
Joel: Yeah well I think there’s a lot of flux right now in terms of diagnosis for mental health issues and I suspect that 10 years from now it may be a completely different framework for it maybe 20 years I don’t know if these things take time. But when I think of depression the there there’s severe depression where you’re really just stuck and and and not able to function and it makes sense to look at that as a disease but a lot of the more recent research and sort of framing of that and understanding of that it may not be, you know, it’s not the same thing as diabetes because there are things that are somewhat predictable about what brings us down and what affects our mood system and just practically speaking you know as a clinician and a life coach that I’m always looking for well here’s the situation how do we make it better you know how do we improve it? And what I’ve found is that it’s most helpful to think of it as a kind of healthy functioning gone wrong.
Buck: But isn’t that disease basically? Healthy functioning gone wrong?
Joel: It’s maybe more like an allergy where our systems overreact to something or there’s certain things to watch out for and if like if I make sure I’m not stung by a bee you know as best as I can then chances are I’ll avoid that because there are certain things that make us more susceptible depression. One is temperament so if by temperament we tend to be sort of more anxious more worried about stuff more sensitive to stuff. It doesn’t mean we’ll be depressed but it’s easier for us to get depressed than somebody else, if there’s certain stressors that happen, and I’ll go into that a little more, that can knock us down. And like this COVID thing. That’s a stressor and it changes the external environment in a way that we can feel kind of helpless and that can lead to a lower mood. So there’s things that can set us up and habits sort of routines that disrupt our natural flow like if your sleep is if you have to work the graveyard shift for example or it changes a lot so you don’t get a regular routine of night sleep or you don’t get physical activity, there are certain habits and routines that can make depression more likely or less likely.
Buck: So let me ask you this though we’ve got a lot of people out there who are feeling blue. At what point am I just feeling blue and what point is it depression and I should potentially look for some help?
Joel: I think I think with any issue like that and but let’s stick with depression if it’s interfering with your functioning. So I mean we all have good days and bad days you know but most fluctuations in mood last about a day so if you have a bad day you’re probably going to feel not very good that day but the next day you’re probably actually going to feel a little better than normal our mood system bounces us back up unless there’s something more chronic happening. So there are things like loss, is a big trigger for our mood system to drop us down because it changes if we lose somebody dear to us it changes the equation of our lives in a way that we really need to stop and take stock of things.
Buck: Do you buy in sort of the DSM-IV criteria that kind of thing or you do sort of more Gestalt feeling in the depression side?
Joel: I think I find it more useful in my work to think of it as a natural biological process. So I mean we have our different systems we have our sympathetic nervous system that kicks in if we’re in danger, and I see our mood system as something that kicks in to make it more likely that we’ll survive a situation that we maybe are stuck in. I’ll give you an example. For drug companies when they’re looking for a chemical to help that might help depression there’s an experiment they do where they hang mice by their tails in a situation where they can’t escape. So they’re hanging there and they struggle and they’re running and they’re trying to swing around and climb their tails or whatever they can do. After a couple of minutes of doing that they relax and they just kind of give up and they might kick a little bit but they just kind of give up because their mood system is seeing there’s no way out and so really the best survival strategy at that point is to just wait and see if things can improve.
Buck: We got a lot of mice hanging these days. Some are going to be able to handle that better than others right?
Joel: Yeah well in the experiment after a couple more minutes they let them go and they’re fine but to see what chemical might be a good antidepressant they see what can make the mice kick around longer. Well is that actually helping depression? Because if the mice keep kicking for long enough they could die from the stress of it. So it’s not continuing to kick around when there’s nothing you can actually do is actually not a very good survival strategy. So a lot of times when we think of somebody that’s depressed we think oh they’re just not motivated enough you know why don’t they get out and do something what’s wrong when sometimes what’s happened is they’ve persevered with something that they actually don’t have, there’s no hope of achieving it. So they’re striving after a goal that they can’t achieve and it could be a real abstract goal like you know why can’t I make world peace happen and so that kind of helplessness can drop us down.
Buck: We talk about depression just in general psychiatric illness. we’ve got a lot of people living together who normally don’t spend that much time together and I’m hearing a lot about a lot of divorces, a lot of long-time relationships falling apart. Are you seeing that? Is this an accelerator because people are spending too much time together or maybe having too much time to think or what do you think that’s all about?
Joel: Yeah well it’s you know and that’s very personal. For some people, it’s wonderful because they have longed to have more time together and for some people, I think a big problem is it disrupts the usual routine that’s worked for people. So we all have our habits and our routines and for the most part they’re functional and you know they feel good and we like them that’s why we do them.
Buck: And they can mask things right? I mean if you have habits and routines we can mask a lot of issues.
Joel: And we all also find sort of an equilibrium in terms of how close or how distant we are from the people in our lives. I mean we have friends that we’re really close to that we could spend tons of time with and other friends it’s nice to see them every once in a while but you don’t really want to spend all your time with them and that whole equilibrium has been disrupted. So like a lot of people are really missing getting together with friends that they you know used to spend more time with and then there’s people that are stuck together in the same place that really that’s not the equilibrium they establish that worked for them and then there’s more conflict more you know arguments so it’s really a big disruption in the equilibrium and can make you have to face each other and deal with stuff if you’re up for doing that. If you’re up for becoming closer with it and understanding one another and if you have sort of a sense of curiosity and kindness toward each other that can actually really improve things, but otherwise it can also make it really difficult too.
Buck: You mentioned there’s people who are actually thriving maybe during this time as well talk a little bit about that what are you seeing I mean anecdotally like who’s actually like seeing this time as wow this is awesome.
Joel: I don’t know if I’ve heard anyone think he was awesome right that might be a little stretch but there are people that are rolling with it better than others. Like for example I do most of my work from my home office I work with people by phone or skype or zoom all over the place so in ways it hasn’t disrupted my work life, though I also do consulting where I travel so I haven’t been able to do that part. So I guess people where it hasn’t disrupted the routine very much or I think if people are naturally more mre introverted and they like to stay at home or they like to stay at home with their mate and just them it probably feels like this is pretty good life yeah, kind of how I wanted it.
Buck: Yeah so let me ask you this, in terms of you know this is a really unique time in history but you know obviously you’ve been doing this stuff for a while now. Tell me how this kind of trauma is different than say the trauma of you know 9/11 and how that affects people. What’s the difference? I mean because both are bad but what are the similarities and differences between that kind of trauma and this kind of trauma?
Joel: Well I think something like 9/11 or an accident something that’s an acute thing, it’s very disruptive in a very big way all of a sudden and that can kind of shatter our normal way of being and so the quickness of it’s kind of like if you lose somebody all of a sudden that you weren’t ready for, it can be different than somebody that’s you know maybe a loved one that’s in their 90s that passed away and you’re kind of ready for it. This I think can be traumatic in that it is changing our routines and so for some people that will feel like a shattering of their routines if they’re if someone’s been fired from their job or their business goes under I mean I see all kinds of businesses around town that are closed and closed for good that shattered somebody’s life’s work maybe or at least work that for a couple of years took them to get to that point and that’s a very acute trauma as well. And with any kind of trauma the goal is, first of all, you want to be able to kind of reestablish a sense of connection with people because part of what happens with us in trauma is we get stuck in sort of our sympathetic nervous system fight or flight or if it’s too acute we can go into freezing which is kind of like you know when you see animals that are caught by a predator and there can be echoes of that that linger because of our big complex brains that make stories around them. So there’s the acute part of the trauma where we want to be able to relax out of our emergency nervous system just as a shorthand into our higher brain function and our capacities connect with other human beings. But longer term there’s also a process of integrating what happened so that you can grow from it because there is something called post-traumatic growth that’s been studied a lot more the last several years and it’s not by any stretch that we want to deliberately traumatize ourselves so we’ll grow. It’s not a technique for good effective growth, but when it happens, it’s possible to grow from it to integrate it to find meaning in what happened and to find you know maybe what do you understand now that you didn’t before and how can that help you move into the future.
Buck: As we sort of come out of this so you see an opportunity for a lot of growth obviously.
Joel: Yeah, and again I’m not trying to paint a rosy picture of this. This is not a good thing.
Buck: Well I mean it’s kind of like you know the idea of intermittent fasting, you know the idea is you fast and your body and then it starts getting rid of old worn-out cells and the new cells grow I mean that’s the idea behind intermittent fasting sort of similar to that a little bit of trauma that kind of thing. So what are some of the you know obviously what you have really what we talked about last time is you know is about happiness in the issues revolving around that and fulfillment and what are some of the things that we can do right now in general to combat the negative aspects of what’s going on in our lives and around us and you know trying to in general I mean if there’s just like a few tools that you have in mind just for people to give a go because it sucks.
Joel: Yeah it really does it really does sound, that’s a good clinical description.
Buck: Yeah that’s my clinical description, that’s my medical diagnosis there.
Joel: Yeah well I think I think the best thing we can do with this is look at how can we lean into our future from this because this is going to pass, I mean the infection rate’s already going down and at some point this is going to run its course there’ll be a vaccine or not there’ll be treatments or not but it’s going to run its course this isn’t how it’s going to be forever and always. And so if there’s a way you can sort of think about where you want to go as we exit this pandemic and what you can do now to sort of prepare yourself to lean into that because they’ll be I suspect you know coming out of this first of all I think a lot of us are going to feel very grateful for a lot of things we’ve taken totally for granted, like seeing a friend and giving them a hug or going to a restaurant and sitting down you know just things that were regular day-to-day things we’re going to feel so much more gratitude for those as we begin to enjoy them so that can be a tremendous expansive feeling so looking for those things, but also looking for what do you want to create going forward. Things have shifted so there’s probably going to be a lot more online work, there’s probably going to be less you know going to the office for a meeting when it’s not necessary, going when it is necessary, but I think I think there’s going to be a lot of shifts that would have otherwise taken a long time. I think this sort of bumped us into some sort of sudden changes that were a long time coming. And so if you can anticipate those kind of things and lean into them and think what can I do now to prepare myself as things open up? I think that’s the best use of this time right now you can use it as a very creative sort of introspective time to think okay what can I create now how can I prepare myself now for when it does open up. Most of our emotions are actually future-oriented so it’s like something’s painful now how can I stop this pain from continually happening in the future. So if you think of it that way, I think leaning in is the way to go.
Buck: So Joel tell us a little bit about your practice I know a number of people within our network community are clients of yours. Tell us about how it works, you know who your typical client is, what kinds of things you work on because you’re not just doing negative psychology as we would say like rehabilitative but also positive psychology, maybe talk a little bit about that.
Joel: Yeah well my focus is whatever the circumstances are of anyone’s given life, and it’s going to be different for everyone. How can you make the best life out of that? So I’m very much grounded in what’s real for you now, you have to have reality be your friend in order to be effective in terms of growing. And so making a good life in part means being happy about your life and happiness, I don’t mean like I’m happy because I got everything I wanted today, but if you’re living in a way that you feel happy about how you’re living, so you’re living with integrity, with your values you’re feeling grateful for the things that you have and focusing on what you have and not what you don’t have and thinking how you can be effective and expressing your values in the world positively, that’s going to lead to more what aristotle talked about when you use the word eudaimonia which is sort of success of being human. So that’s what I mean by happiness is really making a life that you can feel happy about and proud of. And that’s what my practice is about and that includes all the rough spots you know, it doesn’t mean everything’s wonderful all the time, but when you hit a rough spot how do you manage it well how do you deal with it in a way you can feel proud of tomorrow. And I work with people all around the world and doing by skype or zoom or by phone and really with lots of different issues. There are limitations in terms of you know there are certain people that really need in-depth psychotherapy, that in-person work is really appropriate to, so there’s some limitations with that. I’m not going to make diagnoses and treat people in the same way, which is why I work more as a coach and frame it that way.
Buck: And remind us of the website?
Joel: It’s drjoelwade.com information’s there.
Buck: I want to thank you for being on the show again and hopefully we can get you on once this is over to talk about how you know the post COVID party has influenced people’s lives.
Joel: Yeah that would be wonderful.
Buck: We’ll be right back