Are You Mesmerized Yet? An Introduction to Hypnosis

“Hypnosis is the oldest Western form of psychotherapy, but it’s been tarred with the brush of dangling watches and purple capes. In fact, it’s a very powerful means of changing the way we use our minds to control perception and our bodies.” — Dr. David Spiegel, Stanford University

In this blog, I’ve invited a certified hypnotist and colleague (Emma Ehrenzeller, CH) to introduce us to the science and possibilities of hypnotism. 

When you think about hypnosis, cliches like a swinging pendulum or the words, “you are getting very sleepy,” may come to mind.

Despite its mysterious reputation, however, leading researchers at Stanford have begun unraveling the science behind hypnosis, and have shown its clinical efficacy in decreasing stress, managing chronic pain, alleviating anxiety, and more.

What is Hypnosis?

Before we dive into the latest hypnosis research, let’s cover the basics: What is hypnosis?

The National Guild of Hypnotists, the oldest and largest hypnosis association in the United States, defines hypnosis as “an altered state of consciousness where the subconscious mind is in a state of hyper-suggestibility” (Harte, 2015).

There’s a lot of jargon in that definition, so let’s break down what it really means.

First, hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness. In the hypnotic state, you are still conscious; you’re just more relaxed and focused on the hypnotic experience. You are completely aware of what’s going on and in control, contrary to a lot of cockamamie you have seen in the movies!

Second, hypnosis is all about working with your subconscious mind.

Your conscious mind is your thinking brain: the mental chatter; problem solving; the focus on your daily tasks; your ambitions, and how you decide to work towards them. The conscious mind correlates to your frontal lobe and prefrontal cortex, among other parts of the brain (The Human Brain, 2022).

Your subconscious mind is where we store our hardwired patterns, beliefs, and habits. “Subconscious” literally means “below consciousness,” so anything you do naturally, without thinking, is a result of the subconscious. The term “subconscious” is more elusive in neuroscience circles, but it can be thought of as hardwired neural pathways which developed from a young age, or with constant reinforcement (such as the process of building a new habit until it is second nature).

And lastly, the subconscious mind is in a state of “hyper-suggestibility” in hypnosis; this simply means that in the relaxed, peaceful state of hypnosis, the deeper layers of mind are open to new ideas or “suggestions.” Depending on one’s goals, those suggestions may be about managing stress, building confidence, cutting out old habits, and more.

Put simply, hypnosis is a deep, guided meditation with an outcome attached. Many people will leave their first experience in hypnosis comparing it to a very deep meditation, with surprise that they were aware of themselves and conscious the entire time.

Here is an interesting analogy: “A guided meditation is like sending your subconscious an email newsletter while hypnosis is like sending your subconscious a handwritten letter.” 
― Juliet C Obodo, Writer’s Retreat New York City: A Travel Guide For Writers, Bloggers & Students

Isn’t It Mind Control?

Let’s address the elephant in the room: Is hypnosis mind control?

It’s a very understandable question to ask. TV, movies, and other popular media generally show hypnosis as some woo-woo act on stage, or an oddball hypnotist using the tool for his or her own gain.

All of these notions are false, however. Per the official definition of hypnosis, a hypnotized person is stillconscious; in other words, they are still completely in control.

While in hypnosis, your conscious mind is still active. I often have people who say they weren’t sure if they were hypnotized because they still had thoughts pop up. This is normal, and actually comforting for many people: it confirms they are still in control. They are simply being guided by the hypnotist, and they choose what they want to follow.

What’s the brain up to?

A 2019 study from Stanford University outlined the three main brain areas that are specifically activated when someone goes into the hypnotic state. Now let’s get technical:

First, the part of your brain keeping tabs on everything happening in your environment – your dog barking, a car honking, an itch on your toe – is calmed, allowing you to focus more easily on the hypnosis.

Second, the connection between two areas of the brain resulted in a stronger brain-body connection, allowing the brain to more effectively process what is happening in the body.

Lastly, they observed that people in hypnosis enter a sort of “flow state.” As Dr. Spiegel, the senior author on the paper, describes, “When you’re really engaged in something, you don’t think about it – you just do it.”

These findings led researchers to believe that in hypnosis, there is less self-consciousness or doubt about carrying out a certain action or suggestion. It is easy for the person in hypnosis to follow along without devoting as much mental energy to worry about what they’re doing.

What can hypnosis be used for?

In short, just about anything. Clinical studies have found the efficacy of hypnosis for pain management, decreasing anxiety, and reducing stress, but hypnotists have used the tool to cut smoking habits, increase self-esteem, cultivate emotional balance, and much more.

The next post will dive deeper into the science of brainwaves, how those correlate with meditative and hypnotic states, and how you can use brainwaves to reprogram your brain on your own time.

How can I get started?

There are many hypnosis associations nationally and internationally.

To find a reliable hypnotist, ensure they have a form of certification. The National Guild of Hypnotists (NGH) and Hypnotic World both have reputable training programs.

Titles can range between associations, but Certified Hypnotist or Certified Consulting Hypnotist are standard for those who have undergone foundational hypnosis training, and various board certifications are also possible for more experienced hypnotists as well. 

To find hypnotists through the NGH, click here: https://www.ngh.net/request-form/

To find hypnotists through Hypnotic World, click here: https://www.hypnoticworld.com/hypnotherapists/

Sources:

Elkins, G., Jensen, M. P., & Patterson, D. R. (2007). Hypnotherapy for the management of chronic pain. The International journal of clinical and experimental hypnosis, 55(3), 275–287. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207140701338621

Fisch, S., Brinkhaus, B., & Teut, M. (2017). Hypnosis in patients with perceived stress – a systematic review. BMC Complementary And Alternative Medicine, 17(1). doi: 10.1186/s12906-017-1806-0 

Harte, R. (2015). Lesson One—What Is Hypnosis? In Student Manual (pp. 1–2). essay, National Guild of Hypnotists.

Heidi Jiang, Matthew P. White, Michael D. Greicius, Lynn C. Waelde, David Spiegel, Brain Activity and Functional Connectivity Associated with Hypnosis, Cerebral Cortex, Volume 27, Issue 8, August 2017, Pages 4083–4093 <tel:4083-4093>

The Human Brain: Anatomy and Function. (2022). Retrieved 13 April 2022, from https://www.visiblebody.com/learn/nervous/brain#:~:text=The%20cerebrum%20is%20the%20largest,ourselves%20and%20the%20outside%20world.

The Importance of Self-Care Part 2: Preventing Burnout

If you’re like me and often accommodate stressful situations because of an overload of work, family and social commitments, read on!

Burnout can be sneaky, as it creeps up on people over time. The causes can be different for each individual. Just like some end up burnt out from stress at work, for others, it’s from things like the emotional toll it takes from managing difficult personal relationships.

A few of the symptoms associated with burnout include:

  • Fatigue
  • Excessive stress
  • Sadness and irritability

So in this blog, I’ll share some self-care tips for dealing with burnout or to prevent getting there.

It’s important to note that some of the symptoms associated with burnout are similar to those of serious mental health conditions. So make sure to reach out to your healthcare provider to rule out depression or other disorders if you’re noticing that something feels off.

Healthy Solutions Don’t Have to be Difficult

If you’re experiencing burnout, you might be tempted to turn to ‘comforting’ vices…because when difficulties don’t give us a break, going all out with the chocolate cake, bag of chips or a bottle of wine appear to give us relief from the hassles of daily life. However, we all know that it’s a slippery slope with these unhealthy coping mechanisms leading to more stressful situations (weight gain, poor sleep and digestion, unhealthy liver, depression, etc.) And I’m so done with people telling me all the things I’m NOT doing correctly and why I may not be achieving my goals. So how about starting with one simple habit with intent and focus on cultivating it? Studies have shown that repeating something for 21 days is the average time it takes to make new changes stick. For example, walking for 30 minutes will not only lift your mood but keep you away from the refrigerator. If you’re feeling stressed and need instant comfort, try a brisk walk around the neighborhood – and bring a friend as studies have shown that habits stick better when you’re surrounded by a supportive community. One good habit will lead to another as you build momentum and positivity around the changes in your life. And stay away from the naysayers!

How are Your Boundaries Holding Up?

Preventing burnout, no matter the cause, all starts with establishing healthy boundaries. It’s important to get to know your limits and your needs… and once you’ve figured those things out, you have to learn how to effectively communicate and enforce them with others.

As with most of the work that surrounds personal growth, establishing boundaries and doing the work to enforce them can be uncomfortable. Here’s a simple boundary I established with my dogs – they are always conniving to get me in the kitchen to give them one more treat before bed. So, I put the virtual ‘kitchen is closed’ sign up after 9PM – no ifs, ands or buts!

Here’s a short video that describes setting boundaries in the workplace. They can also apply to the home (like point #2: never saying no – that sounds like my life).

BOUNDARIES IN THE WORKPLACE || EASY HEALTHY BOUNDARIES AT WORK – YouTube

Tap Your Way to a Stress-Free Life

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), developed by Gary Craig, is sometimes just referred to as “tapping.” It’s a simple, accessible tool that many people report to be incredibly helpful for stress reduction.

EFT utilizes points along the body that are known as Meridian points. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Meridians are channels through which energy (qi) flow – like a network of energy pathways connecting to every cell, organ and tissue in your body. Meridian points are often used in acupuncture, but with tapping, there are no needles involved… or expensive bills!

You can use this technique from the comfort of your home, and while there are paid training sessions that you can do, there are also many free tutorials and materials that allow people to learn the basics on a budget.

Studies have shown the correlation between EFT exercises and significant reductions in anxiety, depression, and other issues. And while it’s hard to fathom that something as simple as tapping specific points along the body could have a major impact, there’s a reason why it’s gained so much traction and popularity.

This video shows how quick and simple it can be:

How to Tap – with Nick Ortner of The Tapping Solution – YouTube

In the comments section, you’ll see many people discussing how tapping has helped them!

In future blogs, I will cover some other modalities that you may want to consider in your healing/wellness/vitality journey. 

5 maneras de lograr la aptitud mental

Recientemente, tuve el placer de reunirme con Cara Bradley, autora de bestsellers (On The Verge: Wake Up, Show Up and Shine), entrenadora de fortaleza mental y recientemente nombrada como una de las mujeres más poderosas del mundo en el movimiento de mindfulness. Cara emana una sensación de presencia y calma que es evidente cuando estás con ella. La creencia de Cara es que, al igual que la locura por el ejercicio físico que comenzó hace varias décadas, ahora nos dirigimos a la era del ejercicio mental, por lo que desarrolló un protocolo que describe sus estrategias de entrenamiento cruzado para sentirse vivo y vibrante. Aquí, resaltaré los pilares clave del protocolo. Para una lectura completa, puede enviar una solicitud para obtener su propia copia.

Primero, ¿qué significa estar “mentalmente en forma”? Es un enfoque de mente y cuerpo que optimiza su estado físico y emocional para brindarle claridad, agudeza y resiliencia.

Movimiento

El ejercicio y el movimiento diarios son clave para desarrollar la aptitud física y mental. Y a medida que envejecemos, no es solo el ejercicio aeróbico sino también el entrenamiento de resistencia lo que es fundamental para mantener nuestros cuerpos fuertes. Apunta a 30 minutos la mayoría de los días de la semana. ¿Necesitas motivación? ¿Qué tal un compañero de entrenamiento? O use a un amigo para ayudar a seguir el progreso; por ejemplo, le digo a mi amiga que me comprometo a hacer X días a la semana entrenamiento de resistencia/natación/caminar/senderismo y luego la actualizo sobre mi progreso varias veces a la semana. Puedo hacerlo yo mismo, pero es bueno saber que alguien me está vigilando para asegurarse de que me comprometo a hacerlo.

Regulación del Sistema Nervioso

Estamos bombardeados por la negatividad y las noticias de la calamidad que promueven el miedo, la ira, la ansiedad y el estrés. Cara sugiere que, en lugar de sucumbir a estos efectos nocivos, opte por cambiar a un estado más tranquilo a través de la meditación consciente, el yoga, el sueño adecuado, pasar tiempo al aire libre y optimizar la conexión intestino-cerebro.

Sueño

La falta de sueño conduce no solo al mal humor, sino también a un sistema inmunológico debilitado e incluso a un aumento de peso: te hace sentir más hambriento y promueve la resistencia a la insulina. Así que asegúrese de desarrollar buenos hábitos de sueño y haga del sueño una prioridad.

Entrenamiento mental

La meditación es una práctica de estar presente con tu mente mientras te sientas quieto y respiras. Se llama “práctica” porque necesita seguir haciéndolo de manera constante para lograr la aptitud mental.

Optimización Intestino-Cerebro

¿Has escuchado la famosa cita de Hipócrates: “Toda enfermedad comienza en el intestino”? Bueno, Cara proclama que “la aptitud mental comienza en el intestino”. Estudios recientes han demostrado que nuestro microbioma intestinal está formado por más de 100 billones de células bacterianas y que producen más transmisores del bienestar, como la serotonina y la dopamina, que el propio cerebro.

Entonces, para mejorar nuestro estado de ánimo y claridad mental, debemos combinar enfoques psicológicos con enfoques dietéticos para optimizar nuestro microbioma intestinal. Una dieta saludable de alimentos integrales es un pilar fundamental, pero ¿sabía que la densidad de nutrientes de nuestros productos cultivados en los Estados Unidos ha disminuido en los últimos 50 años? Según el Instituto Rodale, estamos comiendo plantas que carecen de nutrientes gracias a toda la agricultura industrial que agota los suelos en todo el mundo. Por lo tanto, también es importante tomar suplementos para asegurarse de obtener todos los nutrientes vitales críticos para su salud. Estoy feliz de hacer lo que los detractores llaman “orina cara”, ya que no tengo mi propio jardín orgánico rico en tierra ni vivo en una burbuja libre de toxinas.

Y por último pero no menos importante, ¡Ponte en marcha!

No necesita comprometerse con todo lo anterior a la vez, pero agregar gradualmente una de estas prácticas formará su nuevo hábito y una rutina de entrenamiento cruzado establecida para su salud mental.

5 Tips to Starting Off the New Year in a Healthy Fashion

I used to make New Year’s Resolutions every year until I realized that making promises at the beginning of the year which inevitably get broken within 90 days was not a sustainable habit. So, in light of the New Year, I’ll share some things you can do to take control of your health without a calendar to dictate your actions.

Cut the Carbs, Sugar & Bad Fats

One of the first things we can do is control what goes into our mouth. We as a society eat way too many carbs, sugar and bad fats. As you may be aware, chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity are all tied to our over-reliance on what has become the standard American diet. Have you noticed how having a high-carb/high-sugar meal makes you crave more snacks several hours later? These high-carb foods (breads, cereals, pastas, waffles, pancakes, cookies, cakes, pies) cause blood sugar fluctuations that lead to incessant carb cravings thereafter. So, what to do after weeks of eggnog, wine (of course – alcohol is formed from sugar), grandma’s pumpkin pie and that holiday feast with turkey, stuffing, and mac and cheese?

First, reduce your carb and sugar intake. This does not mean you have to go on a ketogenic diet as moderation is key as you transition from all the holiday festivities.

  • Get most of your carbs from plant-based sources, primarily non-starchy vegetables like greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage). You can add some fruit like apples and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and beets to up your carb intake but the key is to make greens and veggies the mainstay of your daily plate. And no need to count calories – eat until you are satisfied as these veggies are high in fiber and volume and low in calories. Also, eating a naturally fiber-rich diet will help with elimination and keep you ‘regular’.

  • Eliminate bad fats and add good ones.
    • Man-made fats that are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils like margarine should be avoided like the plague. If nature intended for humans to consume them, they would be naturally available. Also, vegetable oils (corn, soybean, canola, grapeseed, peanut, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower) are HIGHLY processed and READILY oxidized when exposed to light, air or heat. Oxidized or ‘rancid’ oils are NOT healthy for humans so it’s best to avoid them.
    • Healthy fats should be added to the diet – it sounds counter-intuitive for losing weight but healthy fats are necessary building blocks for cell membranes and for keeping hormones in balance. Non-animal sources of fat include avocados, avocado oil, nuts and nut butters, coconut and coconut oil, olives and olive oil. Animal sources include lard, grass-fed butter/ghee, grass-fed/wild-caught/pasture-raised meats and fish. 

Good Health Begins in the Gut

Good health = healthy gut = good intestinal bacteria. The human gut is home to more than 100 trillion micro-organisms and contains 10 times more bacteria than all the human cells in the entire body. Recent studies suggest the role that the gut microbiome plays in regulating the risk of diseases like cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cancer AND the importance of diet in altering the gut’s microbial composition. So to keep your gut flora healthy:

Manage stress levels as studies have shown that prolonged stress can negatively alter intestinal microbiota composition

Get Moving!

If you don’t have time to exercise, how about starting off with a daily 7-minute workout? This free app called 7M offers exercises for a variety of body parts and they are only 7 minutes long. They have options with weights or without so no need to invest in equipment to get going.

Here are two 7-minute high-intensity interval training workouts to try without downloading the app:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/well/workouts/

Take Time to Meditate/Reflect

You don’t need a 30-minute meditation or yoga practice to get your mindfulness quotient in. Upon waking, try a 5-minute breathing or meditation exercise. Here are a couple to try:

And before bed, try to reflect on the happenings of the day – what went well and what could be improved. This raises awareness of the positive things achieved in the day along with areas for improvement. Continuous improvement and learning is key to keeping us youthful and vibrant!

Practice Good Sleep Habits

And last but not least, establish a sleep rhythm that works for YOU as we all have different sleep clocks. I have tried to be an early riser (before 6:30am) SO many times but it’s not my optimal sleep clock and ends up making me more tired and run down. Against my better judgment, I woke up REALLY early (5:30am) over Thanksgiving holiday to go walking with my sister – although I got my steps in, I ended up with a head cold which lasted for weeks.

If you are an early morning person, you can do a lot of the important tasks early in the day. But if you’re like me and cannot get going until around 7am after a stiff cup of coffee, you may be more prone to get some productive work done well into the evening.

So, in addition to when you sleep, determine how much sleep you need to feel optimal – some feel fantastic after just six hours but if you’re like me, you will need at least 7-8 hours to survive the next day.

So, how about a New Year’s plan of consistency, moderation and steady improvement to keep you going and going? Happy Holidays!

How to Become a Brain Warrior

I recently listened to another good podcast featuring Dr. Daniel Amen, who is a double board-certified psychiatrist, best-selling author and founder of Amen Clinics. He is most known for his work on brain scans called SPECT that allows clinicians to see images of brain function and how it is impacted by habits, genetics, environment and other lifestyle factors. This blog highlights some of the key points and what he does to keep his 67-year old brain functioning at its peak:

Myths:

  • It’s not true that the brain does not regenerate. The brain CAN change and the part of the brain called the hippocampus creates 700 new stem cells every single day to improve and heal from physical injuries.

  • Psychiatric illnesses like anxiety, depression, ADHD, and PTSD are NOT single disorders. These diagnoses do not tell you anything about the underlying biology of the brain. He says that we have it backwards and that mild traumatic brain injuries are the MAJOR cause of psychiatric illness.

  • Mental health issues are brain health issues and they are not separate. If your brain deteriorates, your mind deteriorates. Also, if you don’t look, you won’t know. Dr. Amen found it unacceptable that psychiatry is the ONLY branch of medicine that doesn’t diagnose based on lab tests or imaging. So he developed the brain scanning technique to be able to visually detect what is impacting brain and mind function.  

What To Do:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids enhance brain function so it’s important to include this in the diet (oily fish and/or supplements).

  • A healthy gut biome is important so eat whole foods that are not processed, low in glycemic index, not sprayed with pesticides and non-GMO.

  • Three keys to brain health:
    • Develop brain envy habits – the longer you do it, the better your brain will be. Ask the question – is it good for my brain? If it’s not good, DON’T do it. That’s how you develop a brain that people will envy.
    • Avoid the bad (processed food, alcohol, marijuana, stress, unhealthy or lack of social relationships).
    • Do the good (i.e. clean food, healthy gut, exercise, optimal sleep, healthy relationships).

  • If you want to live to a 100 years old in good health, you have to make good decisions early on in life to get on the right path. You need to have a warrior’s mindset – be armed, prepared and aware of the factors that can divert you away from the goals of living a long, healthy life. Mental health requires the same discipline as physical health and you need to practice them daily.

What NOT To Do:

  • Stay away from processed and junk foods. Dr. Amen said that ISIS has nothing on our food industry as processed foods that make up the standard American diet ARE the weapons of mass destruction in this country.

  • Do not become overweight/obese. An interesting study showed that as your weight goes up, the size and function of your brain goes down. Fat cells produce inflammatory cytokines and also store toxins. With 72% of Americans overweight and 42% of us obese, it’s the biggest brain drain in the history of our country. In a large brain imaging study conducted by Dr. Amen, he found a direct correlation between weight and brain. As you gain weight, your executive functions decline which leads you to make poor decisions. Remember that what you do to your body, you do to your brain and vice versa.

  • Alcohol is not a health food no matter what the wine industry may lead you to think. Recently, the American Cancer Society came out with the position that any alcohol increases the risk of seven different kinds of cancer. Another reason to abstain from alcohol is that drinking leads to people making bad decisions.

  • Beware of physical toxins – we live in a toxic world surrounded by chemicals and pollution. Steer clear of plastics and avoid chemical additives in foods, cosmetics and personal products. Read the labels and download Think Dirty or the Redify app to look for cleaner options.

  • Beware of psychological toxins – turn off the news! The news industry is designed to make us think that the rare/uncommon events are actually common which creates anxiety and stress and have us glued to the TV.

  • Beware of mold as it can wreak havoc on the brain. If you have symptoms of mold toxicity, you should get yourself and your home/environment tested.

  • Reduce inflammation – gum disease is not only bad for heart health, it’s bad for the brain as it causes inflammation. So get your teeth cleaned and checked every six months. 

Dr. Amen’s new book Your brain is always listening is to alert the reader to get connected to the inputs coming into their brain and realize what can be controlled. He wants us to tame the ‘hidden dragons’ to control our happiness habits and not get hung up with what happened in the past. He offers a free quiz to determine what dragons are lurking within us. There are many different types of dragons but he pointed out several examples:

  • If you have the ‘death’ dragon (fear or denial of death), you should write 10 good things about dying such as (1. Never have to go to the dentist, 2. Never have to sit in traffic, etc.)  It’s the denial of death that makes people lead purposeless, empty lives. If you think you’re going to live forever, you have no purpose. He suggests we manage our life as a competent CEO would manage his/her company. Write down on one page what you want in your life: career, family, finances, health. And then plan your actions around it. If it’s something that you don’t want to do or it doesn’t meet your personal goals, DON’T do it. Also, deal with the death dragon by planning and taking responsibility for what you did during your life.  Do NOT leave a mess for other people (do you want your kids to change your diapers or have to support you when you are old?)

  • If you have the comparison dragon which stems from feeling insecure/inferior, don’t strive to be THE best, just strive to be YOUR best. Naomi Osaka and many other top athletes suffer from the comparison dragon and live in fear and unhappiness because they believe they are not the best.

Other interesting points Dr. Amen made:

  • ‘Don’t worry be happy’ is a lie.  Dr. Amen states that people who lives this way die the earliest from accidents or preventable illnesses. You need some level of anxiety to do the right thing.

  • People who thrived during the pandemic have TLC qualities:
    • T – they understand that this is temporary
    • L – they focus on how it impacts their home and community and not worry about the entire world
    • C– they learn to control what they can and let go of the rest

  • If you don’t live the message, you suck as a messenger. Change yourself and other people will see the message (this was definitely one of the best truisms from the podcast).

You can get his latest book, Your Brain Is Always Listening: Tame the Hidden Dragons That Control Your Happiness, Habits and Hang Ups here. 

Go to Amenclinics.com to find out more information on the clinical services available. 

Check out my earlier blogs:

Superfoods for a Super Brain

https://community.wholistics.health/top-7-superfoods-and-exercises-to-keep-your-brain-healthy-and-strong/

Dr. Amen’s podcast on stopping Alzheimer’s and Dementia

https://community.wholistics.health/dr-daniel-amen-podcast-review-memory-rescue-how-to-stop-alzheimers-dementia/

5 Ways to Achieve Mental Fitness

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting up with Cara Bradley, who is a best selling author (On The Verge: Wake Up, Show Up and Shine), mental strength coach and recently named as one of the most powerful women in the mindfulness movement. Cara exudes a sense of presence and calm that’s apparent when you are with her. Cara’s belief is that similar to the fitness craze that started several decades ago, we are now heading into the mental fitness era and so she developed a protocol that outlines her cross-training strategies to feel alive and vibrant. Here, I’ll highlight the key pillars of the protocol. For a full read, you can submit a request to get your own copy.

First, what does being “mentally fit” mean? It is a mind and body approach that optimizes your physical and emotional state to provide you with clarity, sharpness and resiliency.

Movement

Daily exercise and movement are key to building physical and mental fitness. And as we age, it’s not only aerobic exercise but resistance training that is critical to keep our bodies strong. Aim for 30 minutes most days of the week. Need motivation? How about a workout buddy? Or use a friend to help track progress; for example, I tell my friend that I’m committing to X days a week on resistance training/swimming/walking/hiking and then update her on my progress several times a week. I can do it myself but it’s nice to know someone is keeping tabs on me to make sure I commit to getting it done.

Nervous System Regulation

We are bombarded by negativity and news of calamity which promotes fear, anger, anxiety and stress. Cara suggests that rather than succumb to these ill effects, choose to shift to a calmer state through mindfulness meditation, yoga, proper sleep, spending time outside and optimizing the gut-brain connection.

Sleep

We all know the importance of sleep (check out my earlier blog on getting proper sleep). Poor sleep leads to not only foul moods but also a weakened immune system and even weight gain –  it makes you hungrier and promotes insulin resistance according to this study. So make sure to develop good sleep habits and make sleep a priority. Here’s a 3-minute mindfulness movement for sleep that Cara recommends: https://www.mindful.org/mindful-movement-ease-sleep/

You can also check out my tips on ways to optimize sleep.

Mind Training

Meditation is a practice of being present with your mind while sitting still and breathing. It’s called “practice” because you need to keep doing it on a consistent basis to achieve mental fitness. Here are some tips from Cara to get you going:

Purpose of meditation:

https://www.carabradley.net/50-stable-body-stable-mind-and-the-purpose-of-meditation/

Meet your mind:

https://www.carabradley.net/episode-20-meet-your-mind/

Guided meditation with deep breathing:

Gut-Brain Optimization

Have you heard the famous Hippocrates quote: “All disease begins in the gut”? Well, Cara proclaims that “Mental fitness begins in the gut”. Recent studies have shown that our gut microbiome is made up of more than 100 trillion bacterial cells and they produce more of the feel-good transmitters like serotonin and dopamine than the brain itself.

So, to improve our mood and mental clarity, we need to combine psychological approaches with dietary ones to optimize our gut microbiome. A healthy whole foods diet is a foundational pillar but did you know that the nutrient density of our produce grown in the US has declined in the past 50 years? According to The Rodale Institute, we are eating plants that are nutritionally starved thanks to all the industrial agriculture depleting soils worldwide. So, it’s also important to take supplements to ensure you are getting all the vital nturients critical to your health. I am happy to make what naysayers call ‘expensive urine’ as I don’t have my own soil-rich organic garden nor live in a toxin-free bubble.

I’ve been a long-time fan of the products that are produced by Amare Global – they are a mental fitness company with high quality natural products.  Here’s info on the mental fitness pack:

http://ltl.is/xq9tks2

And Last But Not Least, Get Going!

You don’t need to commit to all of the above at once, but gradually adding one of these practices will form your new habit and an established cross-training routine for your mental health. 

You can check out more of Cara’s mental fitness podcast episodes here: 

https://wavve.link/wvo80HTdW/episodes

Managing Mood with Diabetes

Managing diabetes is no easy task – it requires making concerted changes to your daily routine including diet (what to eat and avoid), exercising and moving more and eliminating bad habits (smoking, excess alcohol and disruptive sleep). These changes can be mentally draining and one of the reasons why people living with diabetes (Type 1 or 2) are at increased risk for anxiety, stress and depression.

So in this blog, I’ll share some evidence-based self-care tips to keep your spirits up while managing diabetes.

Aromatherapy

Essential oils have been widely used for centuries for managing stress, anxiety and depression and are effective due to their ability to access the area of the brain that impacts mood. Research indicates that smells are first processed by the olfactory bulb in the nose which has direct connections to the areas of the brain that are associated with emotion and memory (the amygdala and hippocampus). Also, this study demonstrated the efficacy of lavender oil on sleep quality, mood status and quality of life for participants with Type 2 diabetes. 

You can use a diffuser (they are widely available with many inexpensive options) with water and several drops of lavender oil. Here are some to try:

Diffuser:

Lavender essential oil:

Here are my top 10 essential oils for stress and anxiety.  https://community.wholistics.health/top-10-essential-oils-for-stress-and-anxiety/

Exercise

Consistent exercise is not only a cornerstone of diabetes management but physical and mental health are inextricably linked as each has an impact on the other. According to this study, 12 weeks of aerobic exercise training had significant effects on mental health, self-esteem, anxiety and insomnia of Type 2 diabetic patients. So it’s important to get moving – go for a vigorous walk, hike or find a team sport that you like to engage in. You need about 150 minutes of exercise a week so aim for 30 minutes 5-6 times a week.

Meditation

Meditation is the practice of focusing one’s mind for a period of time and being in the present moment. This is often done in silence but can include bells, chanting and music. There are many different forms of meditation (guided, transcendental, mindfulness, etc.) which I won’t go into here – what’s notable is that meditation has been clinically linked to improvements in psychological health which, in turn, affects physical health. This study showed that meditation can impact stress reduction, blood sugar control and blood pressure in diabetic patients and advocates meditation strategies as part of the lifestyle modification to improve patient wellbeing.  

How about this 20-minute guided meditation to reduce anxiety and stress:

Music

Are you aware that music therapy has been shown to improve outcomes in diabetes patients? In this study, music-assisted relaxation and music therapy showed significant changes in systolic blood pressure, and anxiety and stress levels in both Type 1 and 2 diabetic patients. Here are some beautiful relaxing tunes to bring you inner calm and joy:

Routine

Having a regular routine to get your day off to a good start each morning can help you make the necessary changes and create healthy habits to manage diabetes. Studies have shown the importance of a routine to gradually incorporate lifestyle changes that will be sustainable for the long-term.  Routines can actually help you better manage stress and anxiety as this study found.

So, focus on things that you can control and make a list of things you typically do in a day. Include the tasks that are needed to support your health like exercise, prepping for meals, and shopping for groceries, and make it a priority on your list. Then experiment with the times of the day that make you most compliant (for example, I am 99% more likely to stick with an exercise regimen if I work out in the morning) and plan these activities around these times. Last but not least, a well-established routine takes time so give yourself some grace if you don’t complete all the key tasks each day. There’s always tomorrow…

Yoga

Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual ancient Indian practice which is designed to promote physical and mental well-being. The well-established benefits of yoga practice are accelerating its growth and it has now become mainstream. This study showed the benefits of yoga practice in improving the stress response by our sympathetic nervous system (which controls our fight or flight behavior).

Yoga is also effective in improving physiological markers of health with this study showing the impact of a yoga protocol on total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides reduction in Type 2 diabetic participants. What’s not to like about yoga? If you are like me and don’t have much patience, start with a short practice and build up from there. How about this 10 minute yoga to try:

It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you are struggling with mental health issues so that appropriate care options can be discussed. Remember that you are in charge of your life so speak up and ask for help.

Kicking off the New Year With Intent – 10 Steps to Improve Your Mind

Many of us have had to deal with anxiety, stress, and depression especially over the past year. The uncertainty of today’s environment is enough to make us crawl under a rock and hope that all this nonsense will go away. The thoughts that race in our head as we worry about health, relationships, and finances can often put us in a downward spiral that makes us feel even more worried and stressed out. The good news is that there are evidence-based ways to reduce these anxieties and manage our mental health to improve our well-being. Everyone benefits from different strategies so it’s not a “one size fits all” approach – what works for your friend may be a total dud for you. It’s important to try as many strategies as possible to see which ones are optimal. And remember, none of these approaches will work if it’s not something you’ll stick to and create a habit around. So read on and try adopting some of these approaches in the new year.

1. Breathing

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is a collection of neurons that influence the function of many different organs in our body including heart, lungs and stomach. Within the ANS, there are two subsystems that have mostly opposing effects. Our sympathetic nervous system is activated during stress, anxiety and dangerous situations. But when we are at rest, we activate our parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for relaxation. Using breathing exercises is one of the easiest ways to activate the parasympathic system. Take a few minutes to try out the 4-7-8 breathing technique taught by Dr. Andrew Weil to naturally tranquilize your mind.

Also, there is The Breathing App you can download on the App Store. This app includes timers and sounds to breathe with – along with an inflating/deflating ball to match breathing rhythm. It’s pretty cool.

2. Diet

Try adding these tryptophan (protein building block) rich foods to boost levels of serotonin which will improve your mood and help reduce anxiety:

  • Pumpkins seeds
  • Chicken and turkey breast, beef liver
  • Vegetables like spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, eggplant
  • Fruits like apples, berries, peaches, pineapple and bananas

A cup-a-joe in the morning is an invigorating way to start the day but for some, caffeine can be overly stimulating and lead to increased anxiety and mood swings. So you may want to stick to herbal tea, decaf or dandelion coffee if you don’t react well to caffeine.

Check out these guidelines for decaf coffee selection. Here’s my favorite dandelion blend as a coffee substitute:

3. Exercise

Get your daily exercise – it will release those happy endorphins to keep your mind positive. A hike, a run, yoga or any kind of workout is good as long as you stick with it. Even a brisk 20-minute walk around the block to kick off your day on the right footing would be great. It may be hard to get started on your own so keep it social and exercise with a buddy – ask your buddy to help you commit to a regular schedule so you are less likely to head back to the couch.

4. Journaling

How about writing in your journal before bed to record your thoughts, emotions, challenges and accomplisments for the day? It will help you increase awareness about yourself and reflect on what happened. We often go through the day experiencing many emotions but never take time to take stock of it and why we felt that way. By identifying and labeling your emotional state and writing it down, you can learn and document what steps to take to prevent or minimize any negative thoughts.

5. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a form of meditation that is a great way to gain control of your busy and stressed out mind. This technique will help reduce the feeling of being out of control and ruminating on negative and busy thoughts. Studies have shown how it can help you make it through your busy day in a calm and productive manner. Mindfulness often involves meditation but doesn’t necessarily have to as it is a combination of being present and accepting who you are.

How about this 7 minute mindfulness practice to calm your body and mind and allow stress and fearful emotions to dissipate?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXeelzR9vw8

Here are some other meditation tips:

  • Set up visual reminders to create a conducive zone for meditation. It may be a plant, set of beads, sound bowls, or trinkets to help set the mood.
  • Start with a short practice even for 5 minutes and gradually work up from there. You can set a timer for 5, 8 or 10 minutes or try this short meditation to start your day.
  • If you have trouble settling in to meditate, take a moment to question why you are resisting this opportunity for growth? Remind yourself of the intention for meditation. It’s also important to know that not thinking isn’t realistic. Think of thoughts as filling your bathtub, but your drain is open so as it fills, it flows out. Remember that you are not your thoughts – they are just draining through the bathtub. You can focus on your breath or say a positive affirmation to remain in the present moment. 

6. Music/Binaural Beats

Music and sounds are medicine for our mind. This study showed that listening to calming music after a stressful event helped reduce cortisol levels in subjects studied. Cortisol is what our body produces in response to a stressful or anxious situation which is good but when we have too much, it prevents our body from relaxation and inhibits sleep. Here’s some Zen music to help create a peaceful ambience to soothe your mind.

How about binaural beats to increase the energy vibration in your body? Binaural beats are basically an auditory illusion: if you are listening to a sound in your left ear that’s at a frequency of 132 Hz and in your right ear, you’re listening to a frequency of 121 Hz, your brain processes the difference and hears a tone of 11 Hz. It is believed that binaural beats create the frequency needed for your brain to create the same waves experienced during a meditation practice. Want to fall into a meditative state with these beats to improve your mood? Here’s one to try – make sure you have headphone/earbuds in both ears.

7. Positive Affirmations

How about some affirmations for a healthy mindset? Research has shown that practicing positive affirmations helps lower stress and your brain begins to sense that the positive outcomes have already occurred. This also allows you to become aware of your daily thoughts and reduces the chances of negative thinking slithering back into your life. You can create your own or here’s a short 5 minute practice to try.

8. Sleep

Did you know that a lack of sleep can contribute to anxiety and depression? So sleep in! Our society has glamorized the caffeinated, sleep-deprived culture to push ourselves to the limit. But our bodies need sleep to heal and repair our body and mind. Aim to get to bed 30 minutes earlier until you’ve established a habit of getting more shut-eye.

9. Stay Positive and Stop Ruminating

People with anxiety and depression tend to focus on the negative things in their life and ruminate on all things that are wrong – this feeds a continuous cycle of negativity, rumination and more anxiety, depression, etc.  Someone once said, “If you ruminate or worry about something you cannot change, you suffer twice. Why put yourself through that?” This study showed that distracting your attention from negative thoughts to positive and neutral ones helped reduce anxiety. And do you notice how you tend to ruminate when your mind has nothing else to focus on? This happens to me all the time – I’ll worry about an issue (i.e. health, car accident, kid’s problem) more than I should until my mind turns to something else – it could be as mundane as taking the dogs to the vet or paying my bills but I feel a lot better from having distracted my mind and accomplished a task or resolved a simple problem. 

10. Turn off the News, Social Media, and Disconnect

Avoid the news as much as possible as fearmongering keeps people glued to the TV which in turn sells more advertising for the networks. You can ask a friend or family about the latest events if necessary – otherwise, just skip it. The same goes for social media – it can promote negative experiences such as feeling inadequate about your life compared to your friends. Since most people tend to share the good highlights of their life rather than the bad ones, it’s easy to feel envious and dissatisfied with oneself. If you have a fear of missing out (FOMO) and feel like others are having more fun or living a better life than you are, try disconnecting for a week/month and see how much better you feel. I get my news and updates from frequent phone calls and texts with family and friends – it’s private and I enjoy the personal connection with them even though it is virtual.

Hope these tips help put you in a positive frame of mind, despite the chaos and uncertainty in today’s world!

Top 10 Essential Oils for Stress and Anxiety

In this blog, I’d like to discuss the use of essential oils for managing stress, anxiety and mood. Aromatherapy stimulates the receptors in the nose and sends messages to our nervous system which impacts the body’s energy systems. This fragrant modality has been used for centuries to maintain and improve well-being.

Here’s my list of recommendations.

1. Chamomile
Chamomile has a wonderful scent and is used widely in oil and tea form for general relaxation. This study showed the effectiveness of chamomile for treating generalized anxiety disorders (chronic anxiety and neurosis).

Here’s one that’s blended with jojoba and ready to use out of the bottle:

2. Fennel
This delicious anise spice is more commonly known for its digestive properties but this study highlighted the use of fennel in reducing depression and anxiety in post-menopausal women.

Here’s one to try:

3. Frankincense
Frankincense oil is extracted from the resin of the Boswellia tree and it means ‘quality incense’ in old French. In the Christian religion, frankincense was a precious spice with great significance and value in ancient times – it was one of the first gifts given to Jesus by the wise men to symbolize his divinity. This oil has a musky, strong aroma with hints of pine and citrus. In this study, frankincense was used to reduce anxiety in women during the first stage of labor (I sure wish I knew about this during my childbirth!)

Frankincense is very expensive but you don’t need much so here’s one to try:

4. Geranium
Geranium oil is extracted from the stems, leaves and flowers of the geranium plant and this sweet-smelling oil has been used widely for mood and emotional wellness. This study also showed how geranium essential oil can effectively reduce anxiety for women during labor. Here’s one to try:

5. Holy Basil
This is from the same plant family but not the same basil that is common to Italian cuisine. Holy basil is called tulsi and has been widely used in Ayurvedic medicine and contains eugenol, a compound that gives it a spicy, minty aroma. According to this study, holy basil was used effectively for treating anxiety, stress and depression.

Here’s one to try:

6. Jasmine
Jasmine oil can be used to increase your sense of well-being and calmness without the drowsiness factor. It also has a wonderful floral scent. This study showed that jasmine oil has stimulatory effects on the function of the nervous system promoting positive emotions. 

Here’s one to try:

7. Lavender
Lavender is a very popular oil and is thought to promote calmness by impacting the part of the brain that controls emotions. This study shows how lavender oil has been used to reduce pre-operative anxiety.

Here’s one to try:

8. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm has been used to support alertness, focus and a healthy mood. This study using lemon balm capsules demonstrates its effectiveness in reducing anxiety and improving sleep.  Lemon balm is readily available in edible capsules, tea and extract form. If using the essential oil, only use in a diffuser or in a bath.

Here’s one that’s ready to use out of the bottle and doesn’t need to be diluted:

9. Rose Oil
Rose oil, extracted from rose petals, has an intoxicating scent and in this study, it was observed that rose oil had physiological and psychological relaxation and anti-anxiety effects.   Remember that rose oil is not the same as the more common rosehip oil. Rosehip oil is produced from the fruits of various wild forms of the rose flower and is typically used as a carrier oil similar to jojoba or avocado oils. Pure rose oil is very expensive but if your wallet can handle it, here’s one to try:

Here’s a more affordable pre-blended version:

10. Valerian
Valerian is an herb that due to its mild sedative effect has been used over the centuries to promote sleep and calm nerves. This study shows the use of valerian to reduce anxiety and promote sleep.

Here’s one to try:

How to Use Essential Oils:

One of the easiest and safest ways to use essential oils is in a diffuser – they are inexpensive and do a great job of distributing the oil through the fine mist. With a diffuser, you only need 2-10 drops of pure oil (depending on the size of your diffuser) so more is not necessarily better. You can use it wherever you are during the day or put it in your bedroom in the evening. In lieu (pun intended) of a bathroom fragrance spray/odor remover, I use a diffuser and put 2-5 drops of different oil in depending on my mood. Or you can add them to a warm bath with a carrier oil (almond oil and jojoba oil feel great on the skin – half an ounce of carrier oil to 7 drops of essential oil is a good ratio you can pre-blend and add to your bath). Or you can find pre-blended essential oils if you don’t want to mix it up yourself. If you are on the go but looking for some essential oil relief, you can try this bracelet – just add a few drops into the cotton pad and it diffuses throughout the day. 

Diffuser Bracelet on Amazon

Safety Precautions:

  • Do not put ANY essential oil directly on your skin undiluted as it can burn and/or irritate the skin. Remember that more is not better when it comes to these concentrated oils!
  • Make sure you do NOT ingest essential oils – there’s insufficient research on safety for internal consumption despite claims that may suggest otherwise.

Here is the latest research on clinical aromatherapy and safety guidelines:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7520654/

The Benefits of a Healthy Gut – Dr. David Perlmutter Podcast Review

This is a podcast from 2015 of Dr. David Perlmutter – he is well-known for his New York Times bestseller, ‘Grain Brain’, published in 2013. He is a board-certified neurologist and a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition. His key philosophy is around preventative medicine and he believes that diseases like Alzheimer’s, ADHD, MS, depression and auto-immune issues can be prevented with lifestyle changes, good diet and exercise. He also believes that a healthy gut microbiome is our body’s ‘brain maker’ and talks about the results he’s had with patients using these practices.

  • The peer-reviewed literature has been publishing information about carbs and gluten for several decades but no one has paid any attention – he wrote Grain Brain to make the public more aware.
  • As a neurologist, he was very involved in understanding how lifestyle factors affect human physiology and exploring beyond the brain into the gut microbiome – the 100 trillion organisms that live within us.
  • The argument against grains is that they are a concentrated form of carbohydrates. We are genetically programmed to seek out sugar but as a species, we’ve never consumed this much. Bread, carbs and grains are comfort foods but the amount we eat ramps up inflammation.
  • Our blood sugar is rising and research has shown in a study by the New England Journal of Medicine (2013) that there is a direct correlation of sugar level and risk for dementia.  As there is no treatment for Alzheimer’s/dementia, prevention is key.
  • Going gluten free is not the answer as it’s still high in carbs – you need to control the amount of carbs you eat.
  • An astrophysicist studying the gut microbiome in California using supercomputers noted that 1 gram of fecal material holds 100 million terabytes of information and plays a direct role in the health and functionality of the brain. These bacteria make neurotransmitters, aid in making serotonin, GABA, dopamine, and directly influence the level of inflammation in the body. Inflammation is the cornerstone of diseases like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, autism, etc. so healthy gut bacteria is very important. 
  • Studies have shown that fecal transplants have helped patients with Clostridium Difficile infections and reversed Type 2 diabetes.
  • When he works with patients, he starts off with a list of questions that helps him determine the level of disturbance of the gut bacteria like: Were you a C-section baby? Have you taken frequent antibiotics? Have you had your tonsils removed? Do you take NSAIDS? Do you have gut and digestive issues? etc.
  • There are tests available to test the quality of the gut BUT we don’t know what a healthy microbiome should look like (only at a high level). What is known that one of the best attributes for healthy microbiome is bio-diversity.
  • Fermented foods like sauerkraut, probiotics and prebiotics that are present in jicama, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, garlic, leeks, dandelion greens are all rich in fiber that amplifies the growth of good bacteria in your gut.
  • Also, our lack of a large array of different organisms, like parasites, also undermines bio-diversity. Humans have had parasites for a long time – we’ve developed tolerance to them and also lived symbiotically which contributed to our health. When we sterilize the gut, we set the stage for imbalances in the metabolism and favor overgrowth of bacteria that can make us fat.
  • The hygiene hypothesis proposed in 1986 holds that our obsession with hygiene and sterilization has paved the way for us to have allergic and atopic diseases and skin related issues.
  • Autism is an inflammatory condition and correlates with changes in the gut bacteria – researchers in Canada discovered that changes in gut bacteria in autistic children correlates to changes to chemicals in how the brain works. We need to let kids gets dirty and expose them to different organisms and not live in a sterile environment.
  • Stress stimulates the adrenal glands to make cortisol which allows us to be more adaptable to stress, but the downside is that it increases the leakiness of the gut, changes the gut bacteria and allows overgrowth of organisms like yeast. Cortisol also has a detrimental effect on the memory center. 
  • Gut is front and center to depression. Lipopolysaccharides (LPS), the cell wall that lives in the gut, goes into the bloodstream when the gut becomes permeable under inflammation. There is a correlation between depression, gut leakiness and LPS increase. This is also related to conditions like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
  • Overuse of antibiotics leading to antibiotics resistance is a key public health threat. Overuse of antibiotics is also correlated with increased asthma, allergic diseases and diabetes. C-sections deprive children of the microbiome during birth and your risk of developing diseases increases as you need to receive the genetic information from the birth canal. This first exposure of the right microbiome from the mother is critical for development.
  • Through years of a poor diet, our microbiome has become adept at extracting calories from food. Hence, weight gain and inflammation follows.
  • Prebiotics like acacia gum and pectin nurture the gut bacteria.
  • Interventional studies of probiotic bacteria showed changes that are measurable. A group of 75 children given lactobacillus rhamnosus showed that those that received the probiotic were healthy, whereas the control group had a 14% rate of autism and ADHD. 
  • Dr. Perlmutter’s daily routine: He is at risk for Alzheimer’s due to family history so he’s very careful about what he eats and is an advocate of regular exercise. He likes aerobics as he knows that this will turn on the genes that code for the chemical that will allow the brain cells to grow (BDNF factor). He favors a high fat, low sugar, grain free diet with lots of prebiotic fiber (15-20 grams), and adds in Vitamin D, Vitamin E, fish oil, a multivitamin and B-complex. He also only eats two meals a day and fasts for 12 to 15 hours after his last meal to keep his brain sharp.

Brain Maker can be found on Amazon and there are plenty of resources available on his website:

www.Drperlmutter.com

The podcast is on the link below: