Hello, friends! This is a great interview with Dr. Drew Anderson, a licensed psychologist specializing in assessing and treating eating disorders, body image disturbance, and the psychological and medical problems associated with these things. Keeping with the COVID-19 focus, we chat about things you need to look out for with regard to disordered eating behaviors when you’re in quarantine, as well as things anybody can do to help regulate themselves and stay afloat as well as possible during this period.
Introducing Dr. Drew Anderson
Dr. Anderson opens by telling us about himself, his professional background and what he has been doing most recently. Drew talks briefly about his experience and how he now splits his time between research/teaching as an Associate Professor at the University at Albany-SUNY and his work as a licensed psychologist in clinical practice. We chat about his research interests, his clinical work, and what this involves. We discuss the crossover between eating disorders and other mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
Next, Drew shares how the COVID-19 pandemic and current quarantine has impacted his life and his work. He is now fully working from home as he continues to teach virtually, as well as having made the transition for his clinical work to be done 100% online. He talks in detail about the difficulties they’ve had to overcome in order to achieve this and how it’s progressing now. We discuss how the current situation helps to break the tension in clinical settings as we are all experiencing the same circumstances and this gives us something to help instantly relate to each other.
Following this, Drew describes some of the symptoms and new experiences that have arisen or become more prominent because of the quarantine and coronavirus outbreak including the use of food as a coping mechanism and the struggle to find new coping strategies now that many have been prohibited due to the restrictions in place (e.g. meeting up with friends in person, going on walks with others, losing consistent active contact with a college roommate etc). We discuss the struggle of keeping motivated and the realization that the current situation is tough to cope with, whether you’re directly impacted or not – what was new and novel has turned into a prolonged and stressful situation with no clear end in sight. Peoples coping mechanisms are starting to break down.
What can we do?
To combat this, Drew shares his advice for what we can focus on now to help with the current situation. First, he explains how it’s important to take care of our physical organism. Recently, both our sleep and eating habits are being disrupted, both of which are important. It’s incredibly difficult to improve your mental wellbeing if you don’t take care of your physical needs first.
You’ve got to take care of your body first…it’s hard to be on your best footing if you only got four hours of sleep for the last few nights and you’re not eating right.
We discuss how we can address this and what we can do to help make sure we are taking good care of our physical wellbeing. Things such as scheduling your day and planning/structuring your time to include the important elements of your day. We chat about this in detail, including how it’s important not to “over-schedule” and plan out every minute of your day – Self-awareness is important here.
The Good and Bad of Social Connection
Aside from regulating the body and working from the bottom level, Drew talks about other skills we can practice to help us cope at the moment. With a particular focus on social media, he describes the good and bad of social connection and how he recently made the decision to disconnect from many of the major social media platforms – he explains how there is so much negative and disheartening content online and it can be easy to become consumed by this which impacts your mental wellbeing. It’s not about cutting yourself off completely but limiting the time you spend each day attending to the news etc. However, Drew also talks about the positive aspects of social connection and how it is a great way of connecting with others during this time, reducing isolation. We chat about some of the positive ways people have done this by creating online movie watching parties, happy hours, gaming, dinner parties etc, often using platforms like Zoom. Given the current situation, it can be easy to not interact and that can cause the downward depressive spiral of withdrawing and becoming more passive. It’s an easy situation to fall into when we are not being forced to interact with work colleagues and friends etc. in daily life. Keeping an element of social connection in this way can help to prevent this – it’s something we have to actively try to do. Altogether, we need to be mindful about the content we consume and how it is impacting our wellbeing.
Following this, we discuss the growing pressures of using this time to be super-productive versus accepting it’s okay to not be okay during this time and admit that you’re struggling – it doesn’t matter if you don’t come out the other side of this having learned a new language while earning a 6 figure income in your spare time etc. Drew shares his thoughts on this and highlights how it’s a very individual thing. If you’ve got the time, emotional bandwidth and motivation to take action, brilliant…if not, then it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Just getting through is a win – there’s no perfect way to do this. We chat about social norms and how often what you see is not representative of the real world – something that seems to be the case at the moment.
The people that are really visible are not really representative of what most people are going through and the way most people do things…you’re part of the silent majority that isn’t tweeting about it.
To close, Drew talks about his other work with the EMS and Fire Services! He chats in detail about his first-hand experience with COVID-19 and gives us a unique insight into the work he’s doing in and around his local area of Albany, NY. Furthermore, Drew shares a resource he’s been working on which helps EMS providers and the general public cope with COVID-19 and the current situation, found at delmarems.org/covid-19. We finish by chatting about some of the positive stories of people pulling together and working with one another to help in this time of crisis. Drew points us to Project Parachute as an example, who are offering pro bono therapy for healthcare workers and professionals! He also highlights that his own clinical practice, HPA Livewell, is planning some form of pro bono support as well!
With that, I’d like to thank Dr. Anderson for coming on the show and bringing such a positive vibe. If you’d like to catch up with Drew or learn more about his work, his clinical practice profile is a great place to start.
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