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Caring for Caregivers

With Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, MSW

two people holding hands and Laura's headshot

Season 7, Episode 20 | December 19, 2023

Whether you’re in a position of caregiving for loved ones or in an industry in which it’s your job to do so, caring for others can take an invisible toll on one’s health. It’s made even more challenging by the lack or absence of societal systems to support caregivers.

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, MSW, explains the effects of caregiving, including the corresponding struggles you may experience — such as trauma, decision fatigue, and overwhelm. She also shares ideas for how caregivers can care for themselves and support their well-being.

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, MSW, is the founder and director of The Trauma Stewardship Institute, the author of Trauma Stewardship and The Age of Overwhelm, and the host of the podcast Future Tripping. She is widely recognized as a pioneer in the field of trauma exposure and has worked nationally and internationally for more than three decades.

Lipsky acknowledges that without societal systems in place to support caregivers, trying to care for yourself while simultaneously caring for another, or others, is a real challenge. She suggests these three methods for support:

1. Tether yourself to people who can support you. “One of the things we know that is absolutely devastating when it comes to anything related to trauma or overwhelm of any kind is if one feels isolated,” says Lipsky. She notes that this is the felt sense — the perception that one is isolated, regardless of whether they physically are or not. She emphasizes finding a way to connect with others — a friend, family member, crisis center, or support group — even if it feels difficult.

2. Know prioritizing yourself does not make you selfish. This is deeply internalized messaging for many of us, and although Lipsky says it’s not realistic to necessarily expect that to change, it’s simply not true. To counter the messaging, she encourages not giving your power to it if it arises for you.

Instead, she suggests to “act as if” — for example, if you’re someone who feels like it would be selfish to take a break from constantly sitting by someone’s bedside to go for a hike, act as if you’re someone who can do that and go for the hike.

3. Put practices in place for your nervous system. If you’re tending to someone who is struggling, your nervous system is going to be jacked up. Lipsky stresses that it’s important to have practices in place to metabolize everything that’s coming into and saturating your nervous system. These practices can be different for everyone, but unless you’re medically advised against it, it should be something physiological that can help move it out of your system, such as cold plunging, lifting weights, doing yoga, or boxing.


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Transcript: Caring for Caregivers

Season 7, Episode 20  | December 19, 2023

Jamie Martin:
Welcome to Life Time Talks, the podcast that’s aimed at helping you achieve your health, fitness, and life goals. I’m Jamie Martin, Editor-in-Chief of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole life health and fitness magazine.

David Freeman:
And I’m David Freeman, Director of Alpha, one of Life Time’s signature group training programs. We’re all in different places along a health and fitness journey but no matter what we’re working toward, there are some essential things we can do to keep moving in the direction of a healthy, purpose-driven life.

Jamie Martin:
In each episode we break down various elements of healthy living, including fitness and nutrition, minds and community, and health issues. We’ll also share real inspiring stories of transformation.

David Freeman:
And we’ll be talking to experts from Life Time and beyond who will share their insights and knowledge so, you have the tools and information you need to take charge of your next steps. Here we go.

Welcome back to another episode of Life Time Talks. I’m David Freeman…

Jamie Martin:
…and I’m Jamie Martin.

David Freeman:
And today’s topic is all about care for caregivers. So, with the Baby Boomer generation aging and chronic illness rates on he rise, many people are finding themselves shifting into a caregiving role within the United States. In 2020, 33 million Americans, which is about 10 percent of the population were responsible for caring for another adult. With the added time and attention caring for others, many caregivers lack the ability to truly care for themselves, and can feel isolated, misunderstood, or alone in their struggles.

We want to be able to provide some conversation and care for those caregivers in those roles. Jamie?

Jamie Martin:
We’re excited to have Laura van Dernoot Lipsky with us. She is the founder and director of the Trauma Stewardship Institute, and the author of Trauma Stewardship, and The Age of Overwhelm. She is the host of the podcast, Future Tripping, which is dedicated to conversations about overwhelm, which I think we can all relate to a little bit in this day and age.

Widely recognized as a pioneer in the field of trauma exposure, she has worked nationally and internationally for more than three decades. Much of her work is being invited to assist in the aftermath of community catastrophes, whether they’re fatal storms or mass shootings. Simultaneously she has long been active in community organizing and movements for social and environmental justice, and has taught on issues surrounding systemic oppression, structural supremacy, and liberation theory.

Laura is on the advisory board of ZGiRLS, an organization that supports young girls in sports. She’s the founding member of the International Transformational Resilience Network which supports the development of capacity to address climate change. Laura has also served as an associate producer of the award-winning film, A Lot Like You, and was given a Yo! Mama award in recognition of her work as a community activist mother.

Laura, thank you so much for joining us. We’re so happy to have you here.

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky:
Thank you for inviting me. It’s really a treat to have this time with you.

David Freeman:
Yeah, Laura. So, let’s jump right into it. I mean, when we speak about what the topic is, caring for those that are caregivers and how we tend to put so much energy into others, I want to start right with you. How are you doing?

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky:
I appreciate the question. I mean, what I often say is big picture well, I’m very and blessed beyond measure with countless things in my life. I think part of what’s challenging as we were talking about before we started recording is just how much is unfolding in the world and that is, you know, kind of the entirety of my work is trying to support communities, systems, structures, individual’s respond to that.

So, you know, it takes some focus to not get completely defeated by all of that, but big picture, doing well and being able to try to focus on what’s going well, as you both know is really, really important.

Jamie Martin:
Absolutely. So, we interviewed you for Experience Life Magazine, kind of about working with caregivers, and that’s really what kind of excited us about having this conversation with you. We know after the experiences of the last several years there’s a lot of people in industries where they’re caregiving, but there’s also just people in everyday life who are caregiving for loved ones in their lives that, you know, we have the aging population, there’s a lot of chronic illness as David said in the intro. There’s also people in the sandwich generation like David and I like, we’re caregiving for our children at the same time while some of our parents or elders that are in our lives are experiencing, you know, health challenges maybe for the first time, or they’re figuring out that next phase.

So, we want to start just by talking about the demands of caregiving and you know, the toll that that can take on people. I mean, as a health and wellness podcast we all know we need to take care of ourselves, but when you’re in a position like this, it can be very easy to let yourself be on the back burner.

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky:
Right. Yeah, I really appreciate you all bringing attention to this because I think, you know, few things are worth noting. I know your podcast is really wide reach. I mean, we’re recording this currently in the United States, at least where I am, and while many places around the world and certainly in many cultures do much better than we do in the United States, by and large, I don’t want to totally over generalize, but I think in the United States there’s very, very, very little support for caregivers, and that is whether or not your child has autism, that is whether or not your sister has just returned from military service. That is, as you said, you’ve got elderly parents. I mean, anybody raising an adolescent today I think there’s some walking on egg shells in terms of what’s going on there.

So, I think it can’t be understated what it means to be caregiving in a society that’s completely, you know, is deficit in terms of any support.

I think another piece is just that invisible myths that there can be. We never want to compare suffering, but I think it’s important to have context that if you’re a firefighter there’s a lot of head winds you face, and generally when you say you’re a fire fighter people are like, man, that’s intense, that would be intense to be a fire fighter. But that is not the case for caregivers. I mean, generally when you’re a parent you’re not getting that influx of support, right? And certainly if your partner has cancer you’re not getting…I mean, people will be compassionate and empathetic, but there’s not systems in place to support you.

So, that goes to what you’re saying, Jamie, in terms of one’s ability to tend to one’s self while simultaneously trying to care give. When there’s not systems and structures in place that support that or acknowledge that, it makes it really, really, really hard to do that.

And I think the third thing I would say is, you know, this would be for a whole other podcast episode, but when we look at oppression and we look at the internalized oppression, a key piece of what happens in a society where there’s a lot of oppression and supremacy is when we internalize that, whether internalize racism, internalize sexism, internalize whatever it is, there’s a sense of scarcity, there’s a sense of not enough-ness.

And what happens then is if you don’t shed that as you grow up, you come into your adulthood with a known or unknown sense of feeling like, you’re not enough, and then that can translate to when you’re caregiving you can feel like, you’re never a good enough parent. You can feel like, you’re never a good enough daughter-in-law. You can feel like, you’re never a good enough brother. You can feel like, you’re never a good enough neighbor. And it’s deep, right? So, it’s not just somebody can’t say oh, you’re amazing. Look like, you know, your partner has Lou Gehrig’s disease, you need to take care of yourself. That’s not going to work…I mean, it’s like, if you’ve got this connection inside of yourself of feeling not enough, then that whole experience of feeling like, you’re not doing enough, that’s not just going to be tended to by somebody being like, take care of yourself, right?

And I think that’s the other thing that we don’t pay attention to is that it’s really, really challenging, and certainly, of course, as you both know so well, if one has privilege, whether that’s class privilege or race privilege or whatever the privilege is, things can look a little bit differently in terms of the support you can bring on. But a lot of where things can get particularly fraught is if you’re already in a historically oppressed, underserved, marginalized community, then you can really have additional headwinds that you’re facing, too.

So, there’s a lot of layers to it, but certainly your point of, you know, the strong suit of caregivers being like, oh, I’m going to take care of you, child, partner, you know, brother-in-law, you know, parent, whatever it is, and simultaneously care for myself. That’s generally not what happens.

David Freeman:
I like what you like, the telling of what you were saying there when you could probably have access to certain resources that can help support you with whatever it is that you’re going through, I want to go into that because when we speak to caregivers who are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, lonely or isolated, when I go back to say, how are you feeling, and you kind of said, I’m doing well, right? And then granted you said that we here in the States don’t have systems in place to kind of help set up our people for success.

So, even in this situation, knowing all the areas of opportunity, being that this is a field that you have now put love and passion, all these other items, too, for take aways for those who are stressed, overwhelmed, lonely, isolated, what would you say like, hey, get your pen and paper out right now, maybe let’s start with these three things to help support you in this situation, what would that be?

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky:
Yes, a beautiful question. One of the things we know that is absolutely devastating when it come to anything related to trauma or overwhelm of any kind, and certainly anything related to oppression, is if one feels isolated. Regardless of whether one is isolated, it is the felt sense, it is the perception that one is isolated that one is alone.

So, I think one of the most important things that we can do is make sure to the best of our ability, even if it feels really difficult, is find some way to tether yourself to support of a plan, of a support group, of a crisis line, you know, of a neighbor who’s offering something that you’re fiercely dependent and you’ve never accepted help, but something where you break hat isolation, and I think we’ve all probably had the experience of being around a lot of people and feeling very, very, very alone.

So, this is going to be different for everybody what helps interrupt that isolation. But that’s, I think, number one.

The second thing that I talk with people a lot about, and this goes back to that internalized oppression piece or kind of how we were raised, if we feel like, we’re not enough. A lot of the messaging that comes in is if you ever prioritize yourself, and obviously this is different. If you’re like, a white, straight guy it’s going to be different, but for many of us if you’re a person of color, you’re female, if you’re quit like, any of that, there is so much messaging that if you ever prioritize yourself, you’re selfish.

And much of what we need to do is obviously shift that. It’s not true, but that can be some deep messaging that can go way back to our ancestors, kind of what we’ve internalized.

So, I think the other piece that’s very, very important is this experience of kind of, you know…my brother-in-law’s a public defender and he always says, act as if. Act as if you are somebody who does not have that socialization. So, even if you feel like, it’s selfish to go on a hike instead of going and sitting by the bedside of somebody because you’ve been at the bedside nonstop, the expectation isn’t that you’re going to feel like, it’s not selfish, but act as if you are somebody who can do that and go on the hike.

It might be aspirational, you know what I mean, in this lifetime to ever get rid of that feeling of selfishness because again, it can be passed down from generations, but don’t let your power go to that. Make sure you can say in your head, you know, Jack _____ 00:12:40, one of my teachers, says, don’t believe everything you think. So, you can have a voice in your head of like, you’re being selfish, you’re going on a hike, or you’re being selfish, you’re sleeping in, or you’re being selfish, you chose to go work out instead of do this. But you still force yourself to go do the activity that you know is going to be self-preservation, it’s not selfish.

So, I think hat’s the other piece is don’t expect yourself to kind of feel enlightened around it. You might still have these voices in your head clamoring, you know what I’m saying that oh, if you put yourself first or do anything self-preservation it’s selfish, but don’t believe everything you think, okay? And _____ 00:13:15 says, no feeling is permanent so, know that that will pass.

I think the third thing I would say, and again, is a longer conversation, but I spend a lot of time talking with people about their nervous system and the impact on their nervous system. So, when you are a caregiver, it is essential that you have conditions in place that allow you to metabolize the impact on your nervous system, understanding that if you are tending to your adolescent who’s struggling, if you are tending to your partner who just got diagnosed, if you are tending to, you know, a sibling who just came back from military service, your nervous system is going to be really jacked up and it is very, very important to have practices in place to metabolize everything that’s coming into your nervous system and saturating it.

That’s going to be different for everybody. You can pool plunge, you can lift weights, you can go to Gospel church, right? You can do stairs. You can join a boxing club, right? You can do yoga. I don’t care what it looks like, but for most people, unless you’re medically-advised against it, it is something physiological to move this out of your nervous system. It’s not going to be a causative like, turn your frown upside down thing. You have to figure out how to get it out of your nervous system, otherwise you’re going to become saturated and then you’ll start rupturing.

David Freeman:
As a recap, just to make sure what you just said, I like that. You said it all, and I know sometimes when our listeners are listening they’re like, oh, what did she just say? So, I like to recap and then obviously correct me where I might fall short.

So, the first one you said, find some way to kind of tether or connect yourself to a support group or someone to help break isolation. That was the first one, yes?

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky:

David Freeman:
Okay, and then the second one, we have this perception that as far as prioritizing self is known as selfish in most scenarios of those who may not feel like, they’re in the privileged situations. So, you said, act as if you are somebody who can do, and know that as self-preservation, was number two, yeah?

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky:
Yes. Yeah. Preservation, yeah.

David Freeman:
The last one, essential to have conditions in place to metabolize the impact on your nervous system and gave some examples, whether that be pool plunge, meditation, being part of a community, exercising. Yeah?

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky:
Right. You want to do something to actually metabolize it and move it out of your nervous system, otherwise it’s going to accumulate and accumulate and accumulate and accumulate and then we become saturated, and as humans we don’t stay saturated, you’re going to start rupturing.

Jamie Martin:
Right. You’re really, I mean, really it’s kind of like, this chronic stress response as a result of all these things, and the researcher, Emily Nagoski, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with her work, but she talks a lot about completing the stress cycle which is kind of what you’re talking about. It’s like, we’ve been in this kind of survival mode in many cases. I’m sure when we’re caregiving, I’ve been in that position a few different times, but you’re like, just trying to survive, but like, how do you complete that cycle? And you referred it to like, there’s certain practices like, movement like, you think about our ancestors running from the tiger like, that’s getting it out of our system in some way, shape or form.

So, anyway, I just think that’s such a fascinating, it kind of almost always comes back to it feels like fight or flight, and then getting rid of that stress like, how do we actually get it out?

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky:
Right. Yes. Yes, and I think what can be challenging with this, and I imagine you both and many of your listeners can relate to this, it’s hard to not be reductive, right? So, obviously we never want to say to somebody like, take a deep breath, or you don’t want to say to somebody like, go take a…it’s like, if you’re been on the receiving end of somebody like, being reductive around it, it can be incredibly infuriating. I mean, anybody who’s ever had anybody _____ 00:17:17 mostly you just want to assault somebody as a result of that, right?

So, we don’t want to be reductive with this, but what we want to understand is your nervous system will not be able to tolerate the influx of what’s coming in, right? And unless you have conditions in place to metabolize that, there is going to be an accumulation. Now, again, if we were in a society that supported this, if we were in a society that supported grieving, if we were in a society that supported mourning, if we were in a society that really plays a lot of respect on caretaking, there would be these larger conditions in place.

Without that it’s very unfortunate, but it is the reality that we need to then create those conditions for ourselves. I mean, God willing in our society we’re getting better and better, hopefully, and there will be more systems in place, and there are some. I have a really sweet friend of my daughter’s who just started med school and in her med school, you know, respectfully, med school is not known as being particularly supportive of people’s humanity, and in this med school program they are offered free counseling for themselves, they’re offered free counseling for their partners, and they’re offered free couples counseling.

So, that’s an example of…now, that should not, none of us should be clutching our phones around that, right? That should have been in place years ago, but it hasn’t been. So, we hope that systems are getting better, but even if we don’t have those systems around us, even though we can be frustrated about it, we’ve got to figure out how to put those conditions in place for ourselves. And it’s not about how smart you are, it’s not about how clever you are, it’s not about how capable you are. We just need to see this from a neuroscience standpoint that when your system is responding to sadness, to trauma, to grief, to feeling at a loss, to fraught conditions, your nervous system is going to respond.

And if we don’t as you said, have an ability to move that thoroughly out of our nervous system, then you’re going to feel more saturated and you won’t stay saturated, you’re going to rupture. Some of us rupture internally so, it eats away at us, we feel sick, we get an ulcer, or we can’t sleep. Some of us rupture externally, right? So, you’re kind of just a jerk at your local cafe, you don’t let somebody merge in front of you on the freeway, that kind of thing, and most of us, we just oscillate back and forth, right? You’re a pain in the ass in the community, and you also feel sick to your stomach.

And it’s not just you who will get saturated over time, if you’re a part of anything else, you might notice your whole family gets saturated, right? And for those of us who are in communities that are struggling, we notice our whole community gets saturated. So, there’s your nervous system but there’s also these other nervous systems that are interwoven.

David Freeman:
Yeah. I want to pull some strings from you because Jamie kind of alluded to it earlier as far as us being kind of the sandwich of caregiving for the kids and then obviously caregiving for our parents, and within this dynamic you have certain individuals that you’re helping, I guess you could call it discipline, teach, and coach, and then the other one is more of helping their day-to-day, that they’re no longer able to do as much on their own. And when you say this burnout or this rupture if you will, oh, that’s where I wanted to lean into you.

And for those who are in the professional setting being that they usually probably are more on the end of the spectrum of helping those who are older in the caregiving, how do you now find that medium? I mean, I’m asking from your professional sense as a caregiver, as a loved one versus now those who are trained in this space for this, what kind of advice would you give those that were in the sandwich of that balance? Does that make sense?

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky:
Yeah. Well, I think so. Let me respond, and if not then correct me and then tell me that I didn’t hear you correctly. I think that one of the pieces is what you’re saying that’s really important is for folks to try, even if compassion is not your strong suit, try to muster some compassion, and on a daily basis do a self-assessment of what your current capacity is. And I know it is very, very difficult to move judgement aside because again, many of us have grown up with a lot of internalized oppression, many of us have grown up with a lot of very problematic voices in our head because of teachers and coaches and religious figures and whoever else, but try to put the judgement aside and just do kind of a dispassionate assessment of what is my current capacity today.

Now, sometimes you’re going to have commitments. Again, I don’t want to say that we’re victims to our lives in any way, but sometimes you’re going to have commitments that are going to be really hard to…like, if you’ve got to get your kid off to school, you’ve got to get your kid off to school. If you committed to coach your kid’s soccer team, maybe you’re going to need to do that. If you promised your dad you would take him to dialysis, okay.

But if there are negotiables that in addition to that, volunteer to be on the PTA and in addition to that you volunteer to do something for your church or mosque or whatever it is, you might need to on any given day or any given week or any given chapter of your life really pare down on that, and try to think of it in terms of, I just don’t currently have the capacity for this. And that might be small things in terms of…I just said to my daughter a little bit earlier today, she wanted to have a conversation about something, not of any importance. But there was too much going on, and just to be able to say like, babe, I don’t have the capacity for this conversation right now, right?

And what you’re trying to do there, of course, what we all have some guiding ethic around is, do no harm, right? So, trying to know yourself well enough to know like, if I enter into this conversation it’s not going to go well, just I don’t have the patience, I don’t have the space, I don’t have the capacity for it. So, you try to know yourself. I mean, I fail at this 6 thousand times a day, but well enough to be like, I don’t have the capacity for this right now. It can be a small thing like, let’s have this conversation later, and it can be a bigger thing in terms of like, I recognize that I elected to take on a volunteer job and now seeing what’s going on with my mother-in-law simultaneously with my second grader where things are not going well, I have to back out of that volunteer job.

But what you want to do is try to assess your capacity and then give yourself a margin. Many of us are so, used to pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing, and you really want to give yourself a margin because as you look now and so many of your listeners know, life is going to continue to unfold, and in addition to all the stresses you’re describing in terms of a sandwich generation piece and everything, God forbid but there likely will be something unexpected that comes up, either in your life or the person you’re caretaking, right, that was unexpected so, you want a margin for that, or there’s going to be something tragic that happens in the world that’s just going to kind of level you for three days at a time. Do you know what I’m saying? You’re going to hear something about what’s happening, you know, across the world and you’re just going to have diminished capacity.

So, you want to be realistic, assess your capacity, and then try to not be judgmental, try to have some compassion for yourself, and try to be realistic about what you can do while doing no harm.

David Freeman:
Yeah. I think the reason why…I mean, the way you framed that up is perfect. What happens I think is a gift and a curse of social platforms if you will, is we’ve seen the stories of the mom having like, three jobs, single mom taking care of the kids and doing it all. So, we now put ourself in that situation, be like, well, if he or she could do it, I can do it, and you just said it, if you don’t have the bandwidth or capacity, what it leads to is diminished results and then somebody ultimately suffers outside of who you yourself is suffering, but then those you are supposed to be taking care of and supporting suffer as well. So, I like how you framed that up.

Jamie Martin:
Well, it’s the not enough-ness that you kind of referred to earlier, too, like, that’s kind of where we will put ourselves, especially when there’s social media and comparison in that case, right? We’re constantly comparing and it’s like, why? We know that this is a glimmer of time in somebody’s life that we’re seeing, but yet it influences us. Why are we taking that in? Oh, I could go on and on about just the social media side.

I do want to kind of come back to, you know, all of this is coming together, but I want to talk a little bit about professional caregivers as well. I know after and since the pandemic, you know, obviously our healthcare providers were caregivers in a way that just, you know, they were in it, right? They were really in it, and I want to talk a little bit as a result of that of like, secondary and vicarious trauma. I know that’s some of the work that you do.

So, let’s speak to that for a little bit.

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky:
Right. So, you’re speaking of vicarious trauma and then earlier, David, you talked about burnout. So, I think one of the things that’s helpful to understand, we won’t get into anything clinical here, but kind of the least clinical way to think about this is, those are distinct while also being connected.

So, let’s start with burnout. So, burnout we usually think about that as something where you are asked to do something you cannot possibly do with the resources you have in the timeframe you’ve been given. So, you could apply that to parenting, right? You could apply that to caregiving somebody in your family who just received a horrible diagnosis, you could, you know, apply that to any number of things in your personal kind of caregiving realm.

And then there is work situation after workplace after career that are exceedingly high burnout. There are the classic ones we think about, public educators, right? Public health workers, public defenders, prosecuting attorneys. I mean, you know, you go on. So, that’s burnout. Okay.

Now, that part of what is very frustrating about burnout is that is because of an over-deployed society and because of culture that then kind of colludes with that. Burnout could be avoidable, right? Like, burnout is not an inevitable thing, it’s society gets over deployed, these systems and structures get over deployed, then our communities get over deployed, then we as families get over deployed, then we have individuals get over deployed.

Part of what fuels that is what you said, Jamie, in terms of social media, what David you were bringing up in terms of a comparison, that contributes to it in very significant ways. So, of course, we know burnout was there long before that. That’s burnout.

Vicarious trauma is different but again connected. Vicarious trauma is where over time you are exposed to suffering, hardship, crisis, trauma of humans, other living beings, or ecologically what’s happening on the planet. Historically what many people would say they understand with vicarious trauma is like, law enforcement and first responders and the Navy SEAL team. What we know is that sure, there is vicarious trauma there, and there’s also vicarious trauma for librarians, and there’s also vicarious trauma for folks who work in tech companies who are doing content moderation.

There’s also vicarious trauma if you are a caring human being who is not completely disconnected from your soul and spirit and you are watching what is happening, unfolding in the world. That is vicarious trauma, okay?

So, where it gets challenging is if it’s not acknowledged, where it gets challenging is if you are not in a system or structure that in any way supports you, where it gets challenging is if folks, if you are trying to get support for yourself and somebody says well, obviously you knew this was going to be hard, what, did you think it was not going to be hard? Kind of like, you made your bed, lie in it, right?

So, there’s a number of things that make it worse, and then there’s a number of things that can really, really help. But I think folks that are standing the distinction there is important, and I also think folks understanding that trauma as well as vicarious trauma is personal and subjective. So, what might feel traumatizing to me, David could be chilling. What rattles David, Jamie, you could be completely relaxed about. It’s personal and it’s subjective, and this is why as humans we want to try to in any way we can practice having humility, practice having a lot of grace with each other, practice _____ 00:30:44 and we talk about beginners’ mind where you kind of…my daughter and I talk about traffic, kind of go through our days with a mantra of what I don’t know about this is everything, right? Because again, even if David and I were best friends and have spent decades together, I could still be completely undone by something where David’s like, what? You’re tripping.

It’s very personal and it’s very subjective.

David Freeman:
Okay. Let’s go into something called decision fatigue, and by definition it’s speaking to deteriorating quality of decisions made by individuals after a long session of decision making. So, we’re unpacking a lot right now, and when I wake up in the morning I can tell you already, I’m already starting to think of the decisions I need to make, and that goes on throughout the day. So, when we use this term, decision fatigue, what exactly is that in this space, and then how does that relate to caregiving?

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky:
Yeah. I’m so glad you brought that up. So, I know a lot of this can seem overwhelming in and of itself, and there can be a lot to wade through with these topics that we’re covering and that you all cover. I think one of the really good news pieces is that learning about decision fatigue, understanding even a little bit about decision fatigue, it can be a very small incremental change that you make and you can get some really big relief.

So, if folks were trying to kind of decide where they put their very precious time and limited, you know, head space, listen to a podcast on decision fatigue, right? You know, go to a training on decision fatigue. Try to get some information on decision fatigue because in my experiences, and we do a lot of training and teaching on this, and some of our podcast episodes have been on this, you can make some very small tweaks there and really feel better.

So, I just want to say that just because I know sometimes people can kind of get overwhelmed as even where to start. Part of what we’re talking about with decision fatigue is this idea that you cannot make decision after decision without paying a price, right? Again, this has nothing to do with how smart you are, it has nothing to do with like, how your capacity historically. You have to kind of put your pride and ego aside.

Again, let’s just move it to a neuroscience standpoint, okay? And understand how your brain works and your physiology work, that when you are making decision after decision there is going to be a price for that. One of the things that I think is really important to understand here is without…nobody I work with has kind of, you know, time, resources, any of that so, we always look at the most efficient, most effective, least expensive solutions, and part of what’s helpful with decision fatigue is doing a few small things can help free up a lot of mental space.

I think just first understanding like, you just shared, David, that if you wake up in the morning and if you’re kind of half asleep and if your ritual is you reach for your phone and you look at your phone, and going back to what you said, Jamie, if the first thing you see is social media, the second thing maybe you see is the news, the third thing you see is like, your boss needing something, and the fourth thing you see is something like, your sister-in-law needs from you.

Already, going back to what David said, you’re going to have cortisol rushing into your system and you’re already going to feel some sense possibly, if not maxed out, but just it’s already going to take a toll.

So, for example, what I’m saying really simple practices. One of the practices that I talk about all the time is protect your morning, and if you work different shifts then translate this accordingly. You don’t have to wake up, you know, go into a closet where you’ve created a Bikram Yoga studio during the pandemic and do 90 minutes of Bikram like, let’s be realistic about people’s lives. But simply when you wake up, don’t reach for a portable electronic device. Don’t check the news, don’t check social media, don’t check what your kid’s school needs from you.

Don’t do any of that. Give yourself two minutes, give yourself four minutes, give yourself something where ideally, unless you’re in a situation where there’s been a disaster around you because of the climate, look out the window or step outside, or just do something where you ground a little bit. It can seem like such a small practice, but the idea of the first thing that happens when you wake up is you invite cortisol to come in and flood your nervous system, and like, David was saying, you just start churning. It’s really, really tough.

This is hard for adults, but the other thing I can’t say enough about, I imagine many of you all who are joining us are caregivers of teens and adolescents, is when we know what we know about the adolescent brain and how much of it is under construction, you know, David, you were saying by, you know, even kind of part way through your morning you feel super maxed out, there are adolescents who within six minutes of waking up are already completely maxed out decision fatigue wise because they’re on the platforms, they wake up, they have countless decisions, and half their brain is under construction.

So, you know, adolescents right now is a very precarious situation we’re in, how much they’re struggling. So, this is also something to know there.

And then there’s other practices that we talk about with decision fatigue in terms of really trying to simplify, and that goes back to what I was talking about earlier with kind of know your capacity.

Jamie Martin:
Yeah, know when to kind of check in with yourself and what to do. Well, Laura, we want to be really respectful of your time, but any, you know, and I feel like we’ve covered a ton of ground here in this space already. Anything you would want to add before we sign off for today, and I know David has one final question for you but want to give you a chance to leave our listeners with any final thoughts.

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky:
I think the thing I would just want to share, and I imagine you all are talking about this continuously, is know that you’re in good company. If you are feeling like, you can’t parent one more hour, if you are feeling like, you really don’t want to take your partner to their chemo appointment, if you are feeling totally at a loss about what to do with your in-laws having not moved out ever since the pandemic, just know you’re in good company, right? Be realistic with yourself. It is completely unrealistic to think we are going to go through all these commitments we have, and even if we’ve made these choices, you know, the obligations that we have, and just feel completely rainbow-filled all the time.

So, if you are struggling with it and then if you’re struggling with your struggle because you feel like, you should be a parent who feels this way or you should be a caregiver who feels this way, or you should be like, you’re saying, one of these workers who feels this way, try to release that. Just really try to release that and know that you’re in good company like, really know that you are in good company so, you can move away from that.

And then I think the other thing just that we were talking about, and we can refer to different resources, and our website has a lot of this on there, but there are very small things you can do that will help. And just going back to what you said, Jamie. I mean, I know it can be challenging to actually do it, but unless you are on social media for very specific, very edifying, very constructive reasons, try to get off of social media. If you are following the news because out of solidarity for social justice, environmental justice, know that there are ways to know what’s going on in the world without having 6 thousand alerts come up every hour telling you the world is ending. You’re not going to be able to withstand that, right?

So, just know that there’s some very small things that don’t take a lot of time, they don’t take financial resources, and they don’t take a lot of capacity.

Jamie Martin:
Thank you. David, you have one final question.

David Freeman:
Here we go. Here we go. Okay. So, Laura, this is what I want from you. I want you to go back to your 12-year-old self and I want you to tell me what she would define as community, and then come to present-day self and your current definition of community. What you got?

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky:
What a lovely question. Twelve-year-old self, my mom had severe lung cancer and I was high-functioning and also quite suicidal at the time, but the reason I’m sharing that is because even during that extremely precarious time, we had small community around us, but my brother and I both knew that there were people around us who really loved us, and even when going through something like that at that age and kind of the heart break and the impossibility of it when you’re that young seeing like, how you’re going to keep on, knowing that it doesn’t have to be quantity in numbers but a critical mass of people around you, and sometimes that can just be one person, but knowing that you’re loved and knowing that somebody really like, sees you can mean everything. So, I think that’s what I think about from then.

And then I think present day, I also really think particularly given a time where we’re talking so much about loneliness in at least our society, understanding first of all going back to what you both talked about earlier, try to not compare yourself to others, try to not get into this delusion that everybody else has a massive community, everybody else is going on trips every three months with their friends from high school, everybody else has their like, awesome book group and painting group.

Just know that having even one or two or three relationships that are reciprocal, that are constructive where you really feel heard and seen and you offer that to somebody else, that that can be lifesaving.

David Freeman:
We’re good. We’re good. Awesome job.

Jamie Martin:
Well, Laura, we can’t thank you enough for joining us on this episode, and we want to make sure people can follow you. So, if people want to connect with you and follow your work, they can find you on your website at, on the Future Tripping podcast, and on Instagram at futuretrippingwithlaura, and we’ll make sure that we link to all of those in our show notes. So, Laura, thank you again and just, you know, thank you for the work you’re doing much more broadly than just here with us.

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky:
Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you, David, thank you, Jamie, and thanks to Sara and Molly as well. Really, really a treat to have this conversation with you.

David Freeman:
Thanks for joining us for this episode. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation today and how you approach this aspect of healthy living in your own life.

Jamie Martin:
And if you have topics for future episodes you can share those with us, too. Email us at, or reach out to us on Instagram, @jamiemartinel, and @freezy30, and use the hashtag #lifetimetalks. You can also learn more about the podcast at

David Freeman:
And if you’re enjoying Life Time Talks, please subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you like what you’re hearing, we invite you to rate and review the podcast and share it on your social channels, too.

Jamie Martin:
Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next time on Life Time Talks.

Life Time Talks is a production of Life Time, healthy way of life. It is produced by Molly Kopischke and Sara Ellingsworth, with audio engineering by Peter Perkins, video production and editing by Kevin Dixon, sound and video consulting by Cory Larson, and support from George Norman and the rest of the team at Life Time Motion.

David Freeman:
A big thank you to everyone who helps create each episode and provides feedback.

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