The Best Podcasts for Feeling Mentally Healthier

Anna Callaghan

There’s never been a better time to start listening to the best podcasts for anxiety and other mental health issues. If you weren’t already dealing with some level of stress before the coronavirus pandemic, the current, uh, conditions of our existence might be serving as an introduction. And for those who have always dealt with this stuff, this new reality may be exacerbating things and disrupting the healthy coping mechanisms that keep everything manageable. A podcast won't fix that, certainly. But some can, at least, offer wisdom, advice, and a sense of empathy.

Now, listening to a podcast is not a replacement for therapy or other forms of professional help. But a big part of getting through a tough time is trying our best to take care of ourselves by doing things like instituting healthy routines. And we’ve found listening to stories and interviews about how people cope with problems big and small can be an important part of our feeling-good tool kit.

So we talked to authors, therapists, and producers to round up the best podcasts for anxiety: the series and individual episodes that might help us make sense of what we’re feeling, find meaning in our lives, feel less alone, and learn how to reframe our own stories. We highly recommend listening while on a relaxing stroll: lace up your shoes, grab your favorite mask, and hit play.

No Feeling is Final

Listen on Apple

This six-part series explores the personal journey of the host, Honor Eastly, as she navigates her own mental health issues: anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. “That sounds really really heavy, and it is. But it’s also strangely funny and heart-warming,” said Yowei Shaw, senior producer at NPR’s Invisibilia. Eastly uses creative approaches, like what Shaw calls ‘an externalized Black Mirror-esque ‘Voice’ that slaps Eastly around’ and a game show about trying to navigate the healthcare system. Kalila Holt, a producer of Gimlet’s Heavyweight, says that Eastly is able to show the messy nature of mental health struggles while presenting it in a way that listeners can easily digest. “You learn about this woman’s own struggles and the ways in which a diagnosis was both helpful and limiting. You get exactly how hard and confusing it is and are drawn into her experience.”

Heavyweight

Listen on Apple; Listen on Spotify below.

This podcast, hosted by Jonathan Goldstein, is not a therapy show per se, but the premise is contending with specific moments in our lives that continue to trouble us. “It’s helping people deal with the same stuff that would come up in therapy in a different way,” says Holt. “It has to do with an obsession with the past and resolving unresolved moments––a lot of what therapy is about.” Goldstein is awkwardly humorous, ever-so-slightly melancholy, and dives in head first to empathetically guide people through uncomfortable and painful conversations and confrontations. Holt recommends two episodes from that show that relate explicitly to mental health. The first is “Dr. Muller,” which is about Goldstein’s former therapist, who he never quite had a breakthrough with, and who ultimately tells him to see someone else. Goldstein talks to other patients of hers while trying to determine what went wrong. Was it her? Or was it him? “It talks about the struggle to make meaning out of life, which is something everyone deals with,” says Holt. The second, “Christina,” is less explicitly about mental health, but speaks to those themes. It’s, again, about obsessing over a moment in time and being unable to let it go. For Christina, that’s a traumatic moment in her childhood where her foster mom made her quit the basketball team—the one place where she excelled and felt good—and she felt like her life never quite got back on track after that. “It deals with the stories we make of our lives, a very 'therapy' thing, and how to reframe what’s happened to you,” says Holt.

The Hilarious World of Depression

Listen on Apple; Listen on Spotify below.

This show describes itself as a “show about clinical depression...with laughs?” It delivers. It’s hosted by John Moe, who interviews comedians who have dealt with depression, like Andy Richter, Mike Birbiglia, and Maria Bamford. Among its fans is Lori Gottlieb, a therapist and the author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, who was a guest earlier this year. “It’s fantastic—John Moe manages to make a show about depression anything but depressing,” she says. “You’ll feel better after listening to each and every episode.”

Invisibilia

Listen on Apple; listen on Spotify below.

Invisibilia is Latin for “invisible things,” and the show tackles a range of the forces that affect our behavior, beliefs, ideas, and assumptions—how we think about our thoughts, or the nature of fear. (One episode features a woman who doesn’t ever feel it.) Yowie Shaw, senior producer, recommends the episode “An Unlikely Superpower.” Shaw says that ever since host Alix Spiegel reported this story on whale songs and climate change, she had been “dealing with extreme climate anxiety and just generally having a hard time not letting her fears about the future infect and overwhelm her present.” The episode features a Scottish woman that discovered at the age of 60 discovered she could smell Parkinson’s disease. “It’s a narratively engrossing story that will be an escape from coronavirus content,” says Spiegel, “but it also delivers some specific lessons that might resonate for how to manage in this moment.”

How to Fail

Listen on Apple; listen on Spotify below.

British writer Elizabeth Day interviews guests about failure and what it taught them. “She ends up with a lot of very rich and nuanced conversations about resilience and grit,” said artist and writer Mari Andrew. “Almost every guest brings up the toll that failure can take on mental health, so I always find a lot of comfort in her conversations when I’m experiencing anxiety myself––particularly work-related anxiety.” Andrew recommends the episode with Marian Keys “on alcoholism, body image and beginning her career a bit later in life.” She also recommends listening to Andrew Scott talk about his “rocky beginnings and how he manages being a highly-sensitive person in a sometimes harsh world.” (If you're looking for something specific to this moment, the most recent episodes of the show have been specifically programmed to help people deal with quarantine and coronavirus anxiety.)

Terrible, Thanks for Asking

Listen on Apple; Listen on Spotify below.

Heavyweight’s Kalila Holt says the show’s title does a great job at getting at the essence of what listener’s should expect. “You know how every day someone asks "how are you?" And even if you’re totally dying inside, you just say ‘fine,’ so everyone can go about their day? This show is the opposite of that,” she says. “Nora McInerny talks to different people who’ve struggled in different ways, people who are dealing with grief or trauma. It runs the gamut of bad experiences.” But Holt says it hinges on McInerny’s skill as a storyteller. “She’s charming and funny, but takes the material seriously while actually empathizing.”

From The Stranger, 1967.
From The Stranger, 1967.

Grief therapist David Kessler on mourning the world we've lost and the therapeutic value of screaming in the car. 

Originally Appeared on GQ