A Mental Escape Podcast Playlist From a Healthcare Provider

An imaginary Zoom call with the favorite escapes of our family. Drawing by Alicia Jones.

By Alicia Jones

As a healthcare provider, it is exceptionally difficult to read about my peers around the world struggling with mental and physical health in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an attempt to focus on the good in the world and avoid a full-on anxiety spiral as healthcare systems continue to be overrun, I’d like to share the audio I’ve come to know as my happy place.

If you’re in need of a mental escape, this playlist is for you.

This is a story about Lynn Schutzman, a pharmacist who set herself up to be self-sufficient. Doing life on her own after her husband’s death, she found herself fighting through both acute and chronic debilitating health problems. Lynn was forced to downsize to be able to pay her bills but it just wasn’t enough. She and her dogs ended up living in her car for two years until one day when she was noticed by someone in her community. Lynn was asked, “Is everything OK?”, and although she said yes, it was apparent that she was anything but ok. Ultimately, Lynn’s community rallied together to find her an apartment, raise enough money to pay rent for two years and even furnished and decorated it with donated items. This story is such an inspiration for kindness and giving. The message resonates with me so much during this time of economic turmoil.

The night can cause isolation, worry, fear, sadness and can sometimes feel like a desperate and lonely place. There is a group of people who have made it their mission to provide comfort to others during the night for more than 50 years — the San Francisco Night Ministry. Host Vanessa Lowe speaks with Lyle Beckman, the Night Minister. “I really like nighttime. To me, it’s a quiet peaceful lovely time for reflection and… I enjoy meeting the people of the night.”

“A brain-storm is a brain-storm, got catch some ideas before they change form.” George, a rapper and spoken-word practitioner better known as George the Poet, dives deeper into his dreams. A variety of characters play their part as George’s brain attempts to get itself mentally straight. A cast of characters, including an Alexa device, venture through his brain while he is asleep. George wraps it up by exploring how he feels about Uganda. “You taught me to chase my dreams, it’s hard to watch you sleep walk.”

When my mind is racing and I can’t fall asleep, I turn to a bedtime story with a nonsensical and purposely boring plot. Of all the episodes I’ve listed to, this one is my favorite.

A Seattle attraction, the Bullet Center office building, has elevators that are not prominently placed. Instead, stairs are front and center to encourage healthy decisions. Shankar Vedantam discusses this and other unconscious decisions we make continuously without realizing it. We hear how habits shape the course of our lives and how we can use them to make positive changes that stick, if we simply stop to understand the psychology behind our routines. “Decision-making, our intentions, our thoughts, our commitment — they are very important when we start to change. That’s what determines whether we do behaviors once in a while. Continuing over time took something very different.”

Dan Harris (host of Ten Percent Happier) was asked by his boss at ABC news to start covering faith and spirituality, which he did despite his reservations. This became a transformative assignment, opening Harris up to an interesting take on the human condition. He goes on to explain how a book given to him by his wife pointed him towards meditation. “I had a really bad attitude about meditation. I thought it was for people who are really into, you know, aromatherapy and Cat Stevens, and uses the word ‘namaste’ with no irony, and that’s not entirely untrue by the way. But what really changed my mind was the science.” The show concludes with a guided meditation from Dr Santos.

Let’s get through this together, with appropriate social distancing, of course.

I’ll leave you with two feel-good links.

What the World Needs Now (YouTube). A Burt Bacharach and Hal David cover, performed by a virtual orchestra of talented students from Boston Conservatory at Berklee and Berklee College of Music.

These Dogs Ooze Personal Style (The New York Times Magazine). Dogs dressed up according to their personality. My personality at the moment is sweatpants.

Writing about podcasts, science, and art, in no particular order. hurtyourbrain.com for podcast recommendations and thefeaturedimage.com for words + art.

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