“Headline stress disorder” — it’s a thing. Coined in the Washington Post by psychologist Steven Stosny to describe the collective unease we felt helplessly watching the tumultuous politics of 2016. Fast-forward to 2020, and the news has not felt this anxiety-inducing in my lifetime.
It’s useful, interesting, and even responsible to stay updated on current affairs, but I like to catch the bare minimum from non-sensationalist sources. Beyond that doesn’t make for a happy life — research shows watching the news negatively impacts our mental well-being.
Instead of wallowing in worry, I joined the podcast party (admittedly late) in lockdown. I find it inspiring and informative to hear what some of the world’s greatest interviewers and their subjects have to say about their life stories, the workings of the world and our potential future; often in a far more honest, astute and creative way than the average politician, and in a neat 30–90 minute package.
Just like Medium articles can provide an insightful break from mainstream news when you want decent topical reading material, high-quality podcast episodes make great walking, tidying or cooking companions if you live alone (or need a break from your housemates!).
Here are five podcast series that have lightened up my lockdown:-
1. The Tim Ferriss Show by Tim Ferriss
Wildly successful author, entrepreneur and investor Tim Ferriss’ well-established podcast is frequently ranked at the top of the business charts, but has amassed over 500m downloads interviewing fellow great minds on a vast range of holistic topics including mental well-being, psychedelics, investing, personal growth and sustainability. Ferriss has gotten cosy with the likes of PayPal Founder Peter Thiel; best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell; spiritual thought-leader Jack Kornfield; and actor Jamie Foxx.
Pandemic-era episodes include an excellent, practical overview of “Tactics for Relationships in Quarantine” with top couples’ therapist Esther Perel. I also enjoyed Ferriss’ discussion with best-selling author and entrepreneur Ryan Holiday on mental resilience and stoicism during the crisis; as well as a shorter episode of his popular 2016 TedTalk on “Fear Setting” — his favorite exercise to avoid analysis paralysis during difficult decision-making.
Tim’s intelligent questioning and futurist insights, personable manner, and thoughtful guests are welcome enlightening rays of insight during dark times.
2. Mind Valley Podcast ~ Vishen Lakhiani
Vishen Lakhiani is the “entrepreneur, author and activist” founder of MindValley — a world-renowned wellness umbrella for the eponymous online personal development platform and A-Fest conference. Lakhiani has a “a 20-Year plan to upgrade humanity” through transformative initiatives in education, health and working culture, among others. I agree with his belief that society is at a turning point. We can no longer focus purely on short-term profits, but also need to prize and prioritize the well-being of humanity, and the rest of the species we share this planet with, in order to thrive (and even survive). This comes across in his podcast as a legitimate, key motivation for his endeavors.
Lakhiani’s interview manner is an endearing fusion of confidence and vulnerability, wisdom and humility. I’ve enjoyed inspiring episodes packed with life-upgrading tips on “How to Create a Bright Mind” and “Find Inner Piece” during lockdown, as well as “5 Lessons that coronavirus can teach us”. Lakhiani procures a line-up of some of the world’s leading lights from areas like spirituality, top human performance, relationships and health (like Steven Kotler, sports superstars and Emily Fletcher), giving us insights into making positive steps to being the best version of ourselves across many areas.
3. Grounded with Louis Theroux ~ Louis Theroux
Award-winning British-American documentary filmmaker, journalist and author Louis Theroux’s unassumingly incisive interview technique is world-renowned. Twenty years ago, Theroux launched his acclaimed BBC Two television series, “When Louis Met…” — exploring personal details of some of the world’s most interesting characters (including cult leader, porn stars, and tiger kings), and he brings his fascinating experiences and network to his new (and first) podcast series.
BBC Radio 4 commissioned Theroux’s series of interviews from lockdown, with “high-profile people he’s been longing to talk to — a fascinating mix of the celebrated, the controversial and the mysterious.”. Two of my favourite episodes have been his interview with actor and leading “Me Too” activist Rose McGowan, and his discussion with campaigner and actor Sir Lenny Henry. After all, it’s great to press an ear up to what some of the world’s most unusual people are doing and feeling in lockdown, alongside some of their most interesting tales from the “old normal”.
4. Making Sense Podcast ~ Sam Harris
Neuroscientist/philosopher Sam Harris’ interview manner is nowhere near as intimidating as his resume. His accolades include being a New York Times bestselling author and creator of top meditation app Waking Up; and his award-winning, riveting Making Sense podcast explores clever questions (and answers) on the workings of society, the human mind and current affairs.
During the coronavirus crisis, the Making Sense series intelligently covered unknown potentialities with world-renowned experts — often discussing ideas at depths that mainstream politicians and news outlets dare not go. An episode with Yale Professor Paul Bloom discusses a range of thought-provoking topics such as “the false trade-off between the economy and public health, putting a price on human life” and “the long term psychological effects of the pandemic”. Harris’ recent practical interviews on “The New Future of Work”, “Social Cohesion is Everything” and “The Science of Happiness” — are expansive and informative. If you’ve been frustrated with a lack of well-thought out information, or a crystal ball, Making Sense episodes provide useful glimpses into the world’s potential post-COVID-19 future.
5. Mind: Unlocked Podcast ~ Niraj Shah
Another fresh and inspiring series, hosted by Niraj Shah — co-founder (with me) of mental well-being business Mind: Unlocked. Shah’s successful corporate career flipped upside-down when he inexplicably suffered a stroke aged 30. Now fully recovered, he turned a serious health scare into his passion for meditation, mindset and health optimization (or, as Silicon Valley call it — “bio-hacking”).
Through his leadership role at TransTech Lab Europe, and years on the London wellness scene — he led an iconic mass-meditation session on a closed-down Tower Bridge in 2019 — Shah accumulates fascinating friends to discuss cutting-edge mental well-being tactics with. He is also an accomplished speaker, often featured as a star meditation and bio-hacking expert at wellness conferences like Wanderlust and Live Well London.
The first handful of episodes include interviews with a former Google productivity expert, ex-Olympic athlete and a leading UK psychotherapist-turned-entrepreneur — discussing everything from optimizing sleep, transforming your habits and the effects of social media on our body image. If you’ve been feeling a little off during lockdown (and haven’t we all at some point), this podcast offers tonnes of actionable and motivating mental and physical health pick-me-up ideas.