20 Jul Self-Care for Depression & Mental Health | Dr. Gregory Brown
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If we’ve learned anything this past year, it’s that we need a bigger spotlight on the significance of mental health. There’s no one size fits all fix for depression – different things work for different people. However, a larger focus on self-care as a society could be a game-changer.
WELCOME TO THE DARIN OLIEN SHOW
As both a psychiatrist and a patient, Dr. Gregory Brown knows the power of self-care.
Gregory S. Brown, M.D. is a columnist for Men’s Health magazine and a board-certified psychiatrist. He is also the founder and director of the Center for Green Psychiatry and an affiliate faculty member at the University of Texas Dell Medical School. Dr. Greg’s own experience with depression shapes his focus on the importance of self-care while treating mental health. He’s a firm believer that depression does not have to be a chronic illness if the patient is equipped with the right tools.
Don’t worry. This episode isn’t about bashing psychiatry or the medications used to treat depression and other mental illnesses. In fact, Dr. Brown sees medication as a “ladder” that can help a patient climb out of the ditch that is depression. But with proper self-care, education and a shift in perspective, it doesn’t have to be a permanent plan.
We had such a great conversation. Dr. Brown and I share very similar values regarding the role an active lifestyle can play in your mental health. We discussed his own struggles with depression and how they helped guide his career. And he had some pretty amazing advice when it comes to putting yourself and your mental health first. Self-care is key, guys. And it looks different for everyone. The trick is finding what works for you and making it a priority.
ALSO IN THIS EPISODE:
- How the pandemic has brought mental health to the forefront
- The root of anxiety
- Movement and depression
- Re-entry anxiety
- Take a mental health day
- The power of breathwork
- Medication as a “ladder”
- Sleep hygiene
Read Dr. Brown’s columns in Men’s Health
Follow Dr. Brown on Instagram and Twitter – @gregorysbrownmd
Get 20% off your Caldera + Lab purchase with the code DARIN
Darin: You are listening to the Darin Olien Show. I’m Darin. I spent the last 20 years devoted to improving health, protecting the environment, and finding ways to live a more sustainable life. In this podcast, I have honest conversations with people that inspire me. I hope that through their knowledge and unique perspectives they’ll inspire you too. We talk about all kinds of topics, from camping up your diets to improving your well-being to the mind-blowing stories behind the human experience and the people that are striving to save us and our incredible planet. We even investigate some of life’s fatal conveniences, those things that we are told might be good for us but totally aren’t. So here’s to making better choices in the small tweaks in your life that amount to big changes for you and the people around you and the planet. Let’s do this. This is my show, the Darin Olien Show.
Hey, everybody. Welcome to the show. Thanks for being here. Thanks for your time, your energy and your willingness, cause I could feel it. Your willingness to be a better human. To garner and gain knowledge to apply. That’s the greatest thing, right? So when you hear something that inspires you, you hear something that you want to look up a person you want to follow, like my next guest and learn and expand- that’s what it’s all about. So take action when you hear something that impacts you.
My next guest – Dr. Gregory Scott Brown. He is incredible, dude. I love this conversation. He’s an affiliate faculty at the University of Texas Dell Medical School. He is the founder and director of the Center for Green Psychiatry based in Austin, Texas.
He co hosts Friday sessions for Men’s Health – A weekly mental health show on Instagram live. He reaches thousands of people every week and he has a different way in non pill, first approach, right. To deal with depression. And he believes that depression does not have to be this chronic quote unquote ‘illness’, that you can have and change the playbook.
And this is important. But this includes evidence-based self care movement – mindfulness, meditation, yoga, nutrition. We get into all of this. There’s different ways, different innovations. We need people like Greg, who don’t just go to school and take the indoctrination of drugs as a way of life. Through psychiatry now more than ever, people are suffering mentally because this world is nuts.
It is bonkers. And I don’t care what side of the aisle you’re on? This is crazy and this is putting stress. Even myself, man, just this week, I was feeling mentally stressed and waking up and reading the next thing and the next thing and the next thing I’m like, oh my God, stop. And I literally had to tell myself, ‘Darin, stop reading. Go back. Go into meditation. Go into prayer. Connect to yourself.’
These are ways and many, many other things that we can do, which we talked about with my great warm, bright new friend. Enjoy this conversation with Dr. Gregory Scott Brown.
Darin: Dude, this is a perfect time to talk about what you’ve dedicated your life towards because obviously overall health has never been more important from the particular atmosphere that’s out there as well as our point of view about life, our mental health. This has been such a stressful time on a global scale that it’s very hard to reach for the comforts that may have worked in the past.
But anyway, I just want to say welcome. Thanks for coming here. And I’m stoked to have this conversation.
Greg: [00:04:28] Yeah, thanks for having me. You know, I think the silver lining there Darin,, is that, you know, despite everything that’s going on in the world or has been going on the world with COVID, with the civil unrest. I think it’s really caused us to pay attention to our mental health in a way that we haven’t before. And then, you know, I’m really huge into self care too. So I think it’s taught us that there are things that we can do that can actually not only protect our mental health, but help us live lives of purpose, balance, and contentment and hope.
All of those things that are so valuable to each and every one of us.
Darin: [00:05:00] Yeah, man. You think about things like this, where literally it’s so out of our control, so much that has happened this year. And the word that pops up for me is ‘resiliency’, right? So it’s like if you have had, you know, nurturing patterns that have created fortitude in your life, then when things get hit, it still is uncomfortable, but you’ve got a foundation of resiliency that can kind of weather the storms. And you’re seeing the exposure of so many people that may have not had that. And I contemplate this all the time. It’s like, it’s such a 3D world of coming at us and under strife and strain and anger and fear or whatever, we either distract and go more into trying to control OR we’re forced to go in.
Greg: [00:05:55] Totally, totally. I mean, and I always tell folks, you know, at the root of anxiety – If you imagine anxiety is this weed, right? So at the root of that, you have two main things – You have fear is one of those things that could precipitate anxiety. The other thing you have is the perceived lack of control.
Right? And so I liked throwing in that word perceived there because there are always things there and that we can control. Right? And so, so many folks during COVID, for example, uh, we’re focused on the fact that there’s nothing that we can do that would prevent us from, you know, transmitting this terrible virus and spreading it to other people, but there are things that we can do to mitigate the risk.
Right? And so those are the things that we really have to focus on. And I think that the past year – year and a half or so has really taught us that we have more power.
Darin: [00:06:48] Yeah. That’s the parallelization of that fear, right? Because if you keep feeding that fear, then you literally feel like you have no choice.
Whether it’s COVID or not, there’s always going to be life and you don’t get out of jail free. We decided to come here, we’re here. It’s got every bit of the spectrum. It’s got all the emotions. It’s got all the experiences. Good, bad, indifferent. And it’s going to continue. To happen. Nature is going to keep moving. Humans are going to keep moving.
What are some of the things that you think, especially coming out of seeing all this stuff happen for people to go ‘God, you’re right. I need to, I need to double down’. What are some things that can give like 10 X benefits to the things that you can invest in that can then create the foundation of the resiliency that will be better served when something else happens?
Greg: [00:07:48] I mean, first of all, I think, I mean, I think that’s an excellent question, but I think it’s worth exploring what does ‘resiliency’ even mean? Like we’re talking about that as you know, I’m a columnist for Men’s Health, so I do a lot of work with men. And, a lot of times this idea of resiliency is interpreted as the tendency not to break.
Right? So we just have to tough through everything. Right? Tough it out. I like to think of resiliency as our ability to adapt right? To adapt, to change, to adapt to uncertainty. And I think that’s the real challenge we have in front of us right now. So a couple of things, um, I think perspective is a powerful, powerful, powerful tool.
And that’s something that no matter where you are, what your walk of life, we all have control over our perspective, the way that we view certain situations, right? The other thing is self care. Right? And so I often talk about these tenants of self care, especially when it comes to mental health, sleep, spirituality – which doesn’t just mean religion, right? – nutrition, breath, and movement. And then, you know, the last thing that I would really encourage people to focus on is this idea of community. I think that, you know, right now, especially this idea of curiosity before judgment connecting with the people around us, understanding their stories.
I think things that can actually help us maintain better mental health and maintain all of those things that take care of us. As we navigate these uncertain times.
Darin: [00:09:18] There’s so much there, I just had a friend of mine just this morning, he’s flying to Texas. It was a fellow Princeton grad who he was with and he ended up killing himself.
And so my friend’s going to his friend’s funeral. And you know, when we talk about perception, it’s easy to talk about perception when perception’s not that hard, but when you’re gripped-. There’s a lot of things here. Obviously resiliency is a building up and a building of the foundation with all of those things, nutrition, health, and all of that stuff.
You know, when people feel like they have no choice, that’s gnarly, right? That is an intense situation where you literally feel like you’re collapsed in, there’s only one way. You know, life is miserable, period. I see nothing else.
And I realize that you can’t give a perfect answer because every person is individualized. But we also feel right in our lives when we feel like, ‘Hey, that person did that to me, period. I know they set out to do that and they harm me’. And you’re out willing to change that perception because you want to be right in those situations. So, if anyone’s hearing this right now that are feeling kind of closed in on, what are some things that people can do to help snap out of that, to supercharge themselves and to kind of tweak their perception?
Greg: [00:10:54] I think it’s a beautiful question and, you know, the way that I would navigate that- Again, all of us, all of us have hardship in our lives. Right? All of us are going to die someday. I mean, that’s, that’s a given, right? And so if we’re here, if we’re here, then there must be some reason why we are here. Let me just explain it in this frame.
I’m open about the fact that I’ve struggled with depression in the past, which is a very common mental illness, obviously. Right? I know depression like the back of my hand. I mean, I’d see patients with depression every single day and many of my patients, again, including myself when I was in it, will tell you that is one of the worst things, worst, you know, situations that a person can endure.
And when you’re in it, when you’re walking through it, you feel like you’re trapped, right? Like there is no way out. Can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Reflecting back on it now I can tell you that walking through depression was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me.And I think people, when they’re going through it, when they’re going through hardship, if they can say to themselves, why is this happening?
What can I learn from it? How can I become a better person through this experience? You know, Darren, a lot of people who struggle with depression, you know, they’re going to therapy, they’re meeting with a psychiatrist and if they’re not plugged in to conventional help systems, ideally they’re at least connecting with their family on a deeper level.
I mean, these are ways that we can learn about ourselves that we never would have if we didn’t go through these types of hardships. So again, I think that there’s an opportunity if you just, again, are able to shift that perspective and ask yourself, you know, what can I get from this? Knowing that there really is light at the end of the tunnel, regardless of what you’re going through.
Darin: [00:12:42] Yeah, because it’s literally life is a perception. How we look at everything is only right based on what we’ve decided is right. If you’re in that situation – I love that because what you said is so powerful in that if you’re willing to ask a question about what can I get out of this? What could I extract from this that could help me understand and also change my perception of my very, very limited view of myself, my life and my current situation.
Greg: [00:13:18] I mean, discomfort is an opportunity for growth. Right? If you’re feeling uncomfortable with your life then, I mean, usually that tells us, okay, we need to make some changes. We don’t just have to sit in the discomfort, not do anything about it. Right? And so again, I think that that can be a really beautiful learning opportunity about ourselves.
Darin: [00:13:36] There’s a lot of things like I remember in my master’s psychology program, this lady stood up and I remember in front of the class, it was like two hundred and something people in the class, in front of the professor and she was kind of ruminating and looping, and she, she had been kind of doing it all day on a certain trauma.
And the professor basically said, ‘Can you just stop for a second, literally jog around the room’, You know? And she came back and it changed her whole thing.
Greg: [00:14:05] Listen, I’m all for that. When I talk about movement too. You know, I’m a very kinetic person, you know, when I start ruminating lights, start having these anxieties, it’s useful for me to get up and move to rather it’s going for a walk or going for a run.
And I find that if I move with it, it really can help. And there’s science behind that too.
Darin: You know, I don’t put a lot of thought into my skincare routine. I just don’t like spending the time. But now that I turned 50, I’m thinking about it a little more.
I’ve been using Caldera Labs, ‘The Good’ serum on my skin at night. So I was stoked when they introduced a new product line that compliments the good, ‘The Clean Slate’.
This stuff is amazing. This stuff is pH balanced for the skin as a cleanser, using biome friendly probiotics and mineral rich ocean silt extracts to naturally cleanse the skin. Come on. That’s just the way it’s got to be. Then I follow through with ‘The Base Layer’. A nourishing day moisturizer designed to protect your skin from environmental stress like pollution and even blue light radiation. It uses plant stem cells – I’ve dug into this a little bit, it’s incredible science – to deliver intensive hydration without that greasiness. It feels like I have nothing on my face, but I can feel the nourishing benefits.
So, that’s my morning routine. And then at night I wash with the cleanser again and follow up with ‘The Good’ serum. It’s easy. It’s quick. I wake up with awesome skin every day. Super easy. Fantastic.
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Darin: So many things to that resiliency. So it’s almost like we should train, like we’re all special forces because there is always going to be something you’re going to get a phone call and someone’s going to say bad news. You’re unfortunately, maybe someone passed away or someone just said, oh, ‘you know your business, partner’s going to sue you’.
Who the hell knows. Right? The resiliency side of this thing, I think is like, let’s talk about that because I think if people can understand their actions now are creating the future of their resiliency, fortitude, perception, strength over time. Like, I just love all of the different educational aspects that you have and also perception.
I didn’t even know, you know, personally, you probably have a lot more, the fact that you studied at Julliard, like it gives all of this and integrative medicine. So let’s unpack that. What are some powerful resilient things that people can do now that are going to affect them now. Make them feel good now. But also create that future strength.
Greg: [00:17:48] Yeah. There’s actually a tech investor. I’m blanking on her name right now, but she gave a really provocative TED talk about one of the most useful ways of really tapping into our adaptability. Is the, having the, the ability to unlearn, right? So unlearn what we think we know about, you know, the way the world works around us.
And Darin, I think it takes a lot of humility, you know, especially for, you know, folks who are really intelligent and think they figured stuff out about how to be successful and um, to unlearn things. Right? And so, you know, being willing to kind of dismantle the structure of, you know, our perception of the way the world works and explore new things.
And, you know, and I’ll give you an example – During COVID obviously most people were working from home. They weren’t going into the office as much. For me, it totally transformed my practice as a psychiatrist. I’m a guy who said I will never do telemedicine visits ever. Right? When I was in my early twenties, I met with the shrink on telemedicine and it was just the worst experience of my life.
But now I have patients, even though the world is starting to get back to normal. They’re like, ‘Hey, I love this telemedicine stuff I can log in from my back porch and talk to you. It’s much more convenient for me’. And so I’m kind of at a crossroads. I mean, what should I do?
Right? And so I have had to unlearn what I thought I knew about the way to be a good psychiatrist and relearn a better way. And I think that a lot of people are having to do that too. And then the other thing I just want to add briefly is, you know, we don’t necessarily have to be so gung ho about life returning to normal as it were.
And so life is this thing that is constantly moving forward. So, I mean, would we want to return to the days of the 1950s or the 1960s? We want to go back in time? Probably not. I mean, there are good things about that era, but there’s a lot of progress that’s been made since then. If we just look at this as an opportunity to continue moving forward, I think that helps with adaptability and resiliency as well.
Darin: [00:20:00] What are some of the biggest issues that people are coming to you with right now?
Greg: [00:20:05] One of the biggest issues that I’m hearing about right now is this idea of, it’s not an official diagnosis or whatever, but re-entry anxiety. So, so many of us have been home for so long that just being around people again and being in the crowds.
You know, seeing people is just, the stimulus can be overwhelming for people. Right? And it’s interesting because a lot of my, the people I was talking to before, a lot of my patients before the pandemic who struggle with anxiety, they actually did a lot better during the pandemic because they didn’t have to go to work.
They could manage their own time. Right? And now getting back into things is just overwhelming for a lot of people. But at the same time, again, a lot of businesses, a lot of companies are evolving as well, you know, and they’re allowing people to work more remotely and being more flexible with the way businesses usual quote unquote is conducted.
So it’s probably the biggest issue I’m hearing about right now.
Darin: [00:21:01] It’s probably kind of one of those things where you get to reassess going, okay, well, this is what I had to do now. We’re getting back to a place where we’re interacting more. Well, how about I reassess and life has presented at different opportunity and so maybe I extract the opportunity that works better for me. And that obviously there’s a lot of character types that people really thrive being around people. So those people are also this other side, like how did they do, uh, I knew a few of them and they just don’t know what to do with themselves.
But like you said, and I believe this to my core. There are literally extraction points and opportunities within all pain and all aspects of suffering. I really, really believe that. What are your thoughts on that?
Greg: [00:21:56] I totally totally agree with that, right. I mean, no one looks forward to suffering, but it’s inevitable.
So I, I grew up in Houston and hurricanes and tornadoes are just things that we have to be prepared for kind of like out in California, I presume earthquakes are something that you just kind of have to, to deal with. Right. And fires, you lost your home. But again, you know, so if you’re dealing with mentioning this ruminating earlier this loop, right.
So if you’re dealing with something that you can kind of expect, whether it’s anxiety or a fire or an earthquake or a hurricane. Then I think that there is kind of like an anticipatory advantage to that. You can know what to expect. You can prepare yourself for it. I mean, we know when to evacuate the city if we need to, or board up the house, you can do what you need to do so that, you know, won’t just totally catch you off guard
Darin: [00:22:55] I’ve got a wild question for you. If you were the surgeon general, let’s say you were the surgeon general of the plant. Mental health, I think governs most things. Let’s keep it to that. If you had that position and you were able to construct policy to support people in living a healthier life mentally, what is wrong with society? Number one. And what would you do to create it? I totally, everyone listening. I did not give him this question earlier.
Greg: [00:23:34] I’m not a policy expert, but I’m going to do my best here to play along. Okay. Um, Men’s Health did a piece of phew, I guess, about a year ago about, uh, mental health days. You know, I think that that is something that would be beautiful if we had, somehow, if everyone in the planet or on the planet could have a mental health day, whether it’s once a week, whether it’s twice a month. Time where they were not allowed to work where they were just to engage in meditation or, you know, take a cooking class that really helped them tap into their nutrition. Or they were to read your book and learn everything about superfoods. I mean, something that was really going to benefit them long term, you know, as far as their mental health.
I think that that would be useful there. I mean, there are over a hundred suicides a day in the United States, right. And one is too many, so we need more actionable policies. I think that really focuses on mental health and what’s wrong. You know, I think one of the things in general that is wrong with the way that we perceive mental health and mental illness is I think we focus too much on medications as somehow being this panacea for whatever it is that people are dealing with, whether it’s depression or heartache right? Or loneliness, right? Medications are useful. But I, I, I really feel like there needs to be much more of a focus on self care. And I feel like the government should put as much money into studying these self-care strategies and making them evidence-based as they are doing with these new drug therapies.
Darin: [00:25:18] Amen to all of that. That was a bomb of a question. And I was laughing to myself when it came in and you handle that freaking beautifully.
Greg: [00:25:26] The next surgeon general of the planet.
Darin: [00:25:28] Right? Telling you, you’re getting my vote. I mean, obviously you can’t mandate and force people to take that, but if you make it a national holiday, like we celebrate most of the other holidays, some of which don’t mean anything, others mean something and we don’t do it correctly. But the fact that we’ve created holidays allows us to contemplate life differently. And I think that’s a great strategy. Nothing’s stopping you in acting that as a chain wave of people policy. I think about that. Like, I practice every day, right? Because I know that that fills me up, but the fact that we’ve rat raced ourselves into stress, anxiety, overworking, under appreciation of our own life to take at least a day a week and focus and stop. Because what I hear in that too, is a timeout of all the rat race stuff.
Greg: [00:26:31] Right. Yeah, totally.
And I think that again, we’re just engaging in some wishful thinking as far as this being a policy. Yeah. I do think that there are things that everyday people can do, right? There are things that employers can do. I manage a small clinic. I have folks working in my clinic and, you know, mental health is something, obviously I’m a psychiatrist, but it’s something that I prioritize and the people psychiatrists get burned out too. Right? And I know that there’s several companies, you know, around the country that have implemented things like this as well. So I think we, I mean, Darin, I mean, you and I, and everyone else this, and I mean, we can all do our part in to making things like this happen.
Darin: [00:27:10] Yeah. We should. And we could, and we will, because I think it’s necessary more than ever. What are some of the ways that you would construct? Cause I love, you know, again, movement and yoga and obviously the mental health aspect, the integrative medicine aspect. What do you think are broad strokes, but also very powerful things that you feel can directly affect going back to that word, resiliency of someone and to fortify themselves in a powerful way?
Greg: [00:27:42] Each of us takes between 20 and 30,000 breaths per day.
And most of the time when we breed, we’re not even consciously aware of it. And in my view, breath work is one of the most underutilized tools in all of medicine. And it’s something that, I mean, anyone listening to this, almost anyone can learn how to breathe for the purposes of benefiting their mental health and their wellbeing.
And so, I mean, I would encourage those who don’t have time here obviously, but to explore different breath modalities – 4-7-8 breathing. Ujjayi pranayama breathing, which is often taught in a yoga class. Alternate nostril breathing. Coherent breathing.
I mean, it goes on and on and on and on, but again, I think just, you know, there’s one takeaway, just learning how to breathe I think can help with all sorts of mental health issues that can actually benefit all of us as a whole.
Darin: [00:28:37] Yeah. So talk about that a little bit. How effective that is. Because obviously we are unconscious. You’re reacting through your life. You’re sympathetically dominant. What are some of the things that you see that can down-regulate.
Greg: [00:28:52] So when you breathe again, the technique I think you want to focus on is having a longer exhale component. I think that’s the biggest mistake folks make. You tell someone to ‘just breathe’, it’s kind of like saying ‘just relax’ when they’re anxious and they’re going to hate you for that. But I mean, again, if you take a breath, you inhale count of four, hold, count to seven, exhale, count to eight. You can do this with your mouth open or with your mouth closed. This is just one of those many techniques that I talked about. That longer exhale component is really what’s activating the parasympathetic nervous system. So the parasympathetic nervous system is the rest and digest portion of what’s the so-called autonomic nervous system that allows us to calm down, to fuel an emotional state of calm.
You also see things like an increase of GABAA waves in the brain and alpha activity on EEG’s. I mean, these are all physiological markers of rest and relaxation.
Darin: [00:29:54] One of the little things that I say, like people say, ‘okay, add another thing’. And I do it just as a way before I eat every meal, in the morning I have my meditation. That’s one thing. But before every meal, it’s a gratitude, but it’s also that conscious breathing, just like you said. You can breathe through the nose, you can just slow that down and then prepare your body to bring it in. We have the energy to unpack the delicious type of medicinal foods that we can take in to build resiliency too.
But that’s kind of that nurturing side of just thinking. You don’t even have to believe anything. It’s just knowing that the biology and chemistry is shifting to prepare your body better to assimilate the food. And it’s that powerful.
Greg: [00:30:41] I think we have to believe that it works. I mean, that’s the biggest barrier I often have.
I mean, it’s easy to take these pills because you know, there’s science or studies people are like, ‘Oh, if you take it, it’s going to work’. But then we have these medicines that have been around for ages and ages and ages. And we have to do a lot of convincing. Like this is real stuff. This is not pseudoscience.
So that’s, I mean, that’s the biggest barrier to get over. It works!
Darin: [00:31:03] It’s like I have found herbs around the world that have been used for 20,000 years and then people will reach for their Doritos and not question anything. And you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, what is happening?’ And all that. Your Doritos have a direct effect on your biology, your chemistry, your mental outlook.
So it’s, again, like everything is a choice. Everything has an action, a consequence.
Greg: [00:31:35] Right. And when it comes to something like meditation, for example, there’s something called the default mode now. And basically that’s the mind’s mind. That’s a part of the brain that is the most active when you’re just sitting down and relaxing your daydreaming.
And studies have shown that the default mode network is overactive and people who struggle with anxiety, depression, even people who are at risk for Alzheimer’s dementia. And so things like breath, work meditation, as we spoke about yoga, have all been found to quiet the default mode network.
So definitely there’s science behind it. And we just have to believe that it can work and then start utilizing it.
Darin: [00:32:16] There’s a lot of science around all of these ancient principles. And then we just have to actually do it. People get overwhelmed, ‘Oh, I’m not doing it right’. But literally. Just stopping and breathing and just that little exercise that you gave, you know, take a breath in for four and hold for seven and out for eight.
Like that’s it, don’t make it more complicated than that.
Greg: [00:32:38] I totally agree. I mean, anyone who thinks they’re not doing it right? I would encourage them. Try it and then give yourself permission to ask yourself how you feel afterwards. I mean, if you feel better, you’re doing it right. I mean, that’s really all there is to it.
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Darin: Let’s talk a little bit about your meditation and maybe, you know, people listening and they haven’t tried meditation or they’re, they’re one of those people- and we all have done it- where they say ‘I really have to do it. I really have to do it. I really have to do it. How do I start? How do I start? There’s this app. There’s that’.
Number one, you don’t need an app. You want to use an app, whatever, but you don’t have to buy anything. So what would you say to people to start tomorrow or even, even at the end of this podcast? How, how would, how could they go about meditation?
Greg: [00:35:24] You know, I’m going to steal a line from Dan Harris.
I interviewed him recently, you know, his idea of 10% happier. I mean, I think if people even focus on 1%, right. Just do what we can start somewhere. Right. I mean, for me, There. And the first time I tried meditation was a few years ago in a yoga nidra session. And so yoga nidra is a type of yoga where you’re in a supine position. A lot of guided imagery is utilized. It was an hour long. And I just, I mean, it was so difficult for me because I couldn’t turn that monkey mind, that monkey brain off. I was just thinking about everything I had to get done, you know, when that stupid meditation class was over. And so what I found was useful for me is just breaking it up into like five minutes increments. That’s really how I started just finding yourself in a quiet place and a quiet room on your back and just giving yourself five minutes, say for this five minutes, you know, even if everything from the day is running through your mind, don’t try to repress that, acknowledge it. It’s not going to hurt you.
It’s not going to kill you. Right. And then the next time you try it, maybe you can extend that to 10 minutes or 20 minutes. So I would just say start where you can find that in time, I don’t know what your experience has been, but it gets to be something that you just, you crave it. You have to have it.
If you don’t have it, you just don’t feel right. I mean, that’s what I’d recommend.
Darin: [00:36:49] Yeah. What would you say is an easy way to start watching, counting the breaths, watching the breaths? Like what is your favorite way for people to kind of get going?
Greg: [00:36:59] For someone who’s never done this before? Totally. I mean, I agree with you.
I think paying attention, drawing your attention, your awareness to your breath. Again, 20/30,000 breaths a day. You don’t even notice your breathing. I like to lay on my back, put one hand on my belly, one hand on my chest. I love Insight Timer. So I’ll put that on. It’s an app that you can put on your phone.
Set it for four or five minutes and just feel the rise of your belly and the fall of your belly as you, as you breathe. And I think that is a great place to start there. Also tons of useful information on, on YouTube and guided meditations that people can tap into. I love these wearable devices. I have an aura ring that tracks my sleep and also has some great meditations on there as well.
But let me just, just really start where you can. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way to meditate.
Darin: [00:37:55] Sometimes it, like, I think it was the last solstice and a friend of mine sent me this guided meditation on the solar system. Like, yeah, let’s do that. And it’s such a peaceful thing. It’s kind of like, it takes the monkey man that gives us something to do.
And I find sometimes that I fall very deep because the mind is off kind of tracing whatever the person is doing, and then I’m all of a sudden, I’m the witness that in here going, ‘Oh, this is great’.
Greg: [00:38:25] Yeah. I, I mean, I’m just, I totally agree with you. That’s the exact experience that I have. I mean, you become kind of like this witness or bystander to all the chaos that’s going into your brain and then it doesn’t really bother you as much anymore.
Darin: [00:38:37] Yeah, I’ve played with that actually, Untethered Soul. Have you ever read that little book?
Greg: I have not read it.
Darin: It’s so great cause it really takes that witness and it really makes a point that the witness is always there, it always has been there throughout your entire life and there’s moments where you get aware of it.
Right? There’s moments when you contemplate going, ‘Oh yeah. I knew that. I mean, I didn’t know that. I didn’t think I knew that at the time, because I’m in some sort of craziness, but I actually knew’. It’s almost that being that soul inside of us that is always present, always there, always consistent, not yanked around by all of the stuff. And it’s getting to tap into that, which is infinitely powerful, infinitely, calming, and you’re kind of, you’re….
Greg: [00:39:34] you’re doing it. You’re doing it, right? That’s really what I want people to understand. I’d say the crux of my work is really teaching people that they have more power and control and agency than they ever give themselves credit for.
So we’re not talking about anything here that people can, it’s esoteric and people can tap into or access. I mean, anyone can do this stuff.
Darin: [00:39:57] Why do you think we do that? I think that’s the frickin pandemic man. The fact that we’re running around and we under appreciate the majestic power and miraculousness of this existence, of our existence, of our bodies, of our life.
This is extraordinary. Like, yeah, if we really talk about how that hell you want, and I we’re talking right now through a device, but yet we’re still vibing and we’re forming thoughts. It’s a fricking unbelievable what’s going on here, but we don’t acknowledge that. Like what do you think that affliction is as a human that we under appreciate this miraculous life that we have?
Greg: [00:40:45] Yeah, I think we’re kind of wired to do that. I mean, a lot of it has to do- as a psychiatrist I can tell you like the Prozac revolution of the 90’s, you know, decades before that we had, what was it? Mother’s little helper. Rolling stones. Valium craze in the 1960s. Right. You know, I think that we are just somehow conditioned with these advancements in neuroscience and modern biomedicine to think that, ‘Hey, you know, we’re not connecting or if we’re feeling lonely or we’re feeling burned out, then there must be some neurochemical deficit in our brain. And if we find the right pill, then that’ll fix it’. Right. That’s all we need to do is just find the right pill. And again, I do not by any means disavowal medications. I prescribed them every day. But I think we cannot undermine the power of self care, the power of connection, the power of nutrition, or the power of all of these different modalities, like breath work that can really help us maintain our, our best mental health.
Darin: [00:41:44] Yeah man, I think you bring up a really, really good point.
It’s using it as a tool and not thinking it’s going to be fixed or dependancy. When people don’t take care of the foundation of like, you know, if you’re not meditating, if you’re not drinking good water, not eating well, you’re not sleeping, you’re stressed out of your mind. Like if you’re not taking care of your foundation and expect a pill to give you back, all of which you’re not even acknowledging or practicing in your life. That’s a really bad scenario.
But the medications, and I want you to talk about this a little bit, like provide a space to get into some balance to then maybe have the fortitude, to then put into practice some of the foundational things. What do you think?
Greg: [00:42:33] That’s totally right. So I often tell folks with, um, you know, my patients, it’s kind of like if they are struggling with a mental illness, like they’re stuck in a ditch, right?
So what medications can do, it kind of gives you a ladder, right? It helps you find out of that ditch, but then it’s really the self-care strategy that you’re going to have to utilize so that you stay out of the ditch. Right. Cause it’ll be really easy to slip back in. Now there are certain conditions, schizophrenia, severe bipolar, one disorder that evidence just shows, I mean, you’re probably going to need to be on long-term medication in order to maintain your best health.
But for other issues, you know, generalized anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, which can totally be debilitating, I’d like to focus on giving my patients this idea that- which I think is totally attainable – that one day you might be able to come off of these medications and it’s not necessarily something you’d have to be dependent upon for rest of your life.
Darin: [00:43:35] Yeah. And the thing is, but they have to do it right? They have to do the work and do that foundational stuff. So what are some general things then in that, in that realm? Like say generally speaking of course, as everyone’s individual, if someone’s like, ‘Hey, I’m dealing with depression’, let’s throw a ladder down, let’s get them out of that severe ditch they’re in.
Then let’s create a fortitude pathway forward of replenishing what may be lacking. What are some of the things that you do from a food perspective and sleep and all of that and exercise etc.?
Greg: [00:44:12] You want to focus on things that you can modify. So the biggest thing is like sleep hygiene, right?
And so what that means is that our bedrooms should be reserved for sleep and sex. We want to make sure the room is cool enough. So, uh, most evidence actually supports that the temperature in our bedrooms should be around 65 to 67 degrees, which is cold for a lot of folks, but that’s what’s been shown to give the most optimal sleep.
Dark curtains in the room can help. If you have a bed partner that snores, put in some ear plugs. Creating a sleep ritual, right? I mean, so many of us would wake up in the morning, we have our coffee, we watch the news, take the kids to school, and then it’s time to go to bed. We’re just in the bedroom watching TV and then just fall asleep.
Right? So somehow creating a ritual to wind down can help.
Nutrition. Focusing on anti-inflammatory foods. We are learning more about the fact that certain foods that are pro-inflammatory can actually increase your risk for developing mental illnesses, like ADHD, depression, anxiety, uh, etc. So making sure you’re getting enough omega-3, fatty acids, salmon, oily fish, tuna, mackerel, walnuts, flaxseeds, things like that can totally help.
Breath work. You know, we’ve talked about different breath work strategies.
Movement. So the American heart association, Darin, has actually recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise for cardiovascular health. And Europe, they actually have recommendations which are similar for mental health.
And so it’s probably only a matter of time before those same recommendations. Come to the US right? And so we know that moving our body at least a little bit every day can actually help reduce depression, anxiety. And then the last thing is spirituality. So I love talking about spirituality with my patients because it’s not only this thing about religion.
Religion is one manifestation of spirituality. But really what we’re talking about is connection. You know, a purpose outside of yourself, realizing that every decision you make and everything you do affects the people around you and vice versa. And some ways to tap into that are meditation, altruism, volunteering your time, self disservice, things like that.
Darin: [00:46:42] I love that. And I think that that is so underserved and so conflicting as well. So let’s definitely acknowledge the fact that there’s negative sides of religion, right? As stuck people with this amalgamation. Religion and spirituality, and then your relationship to all of that. And I think there’s such a power in literally developing your own kind of channel to the source, whatever your source is. Whatever word you want to call it, that’s fine. But like that personal connection. And that can be for me. I love journaling. Like literally close my eyes. Don’t care about perfect. After my meditations, don’t worry about spelling and all of that stuff but just connect to the deepest part of what I know myself to be in source. And I think that that is such a powerful thing and it’s like, we’re always looking for connection. And then when people and experiences leave, which inevitably they will, because like you said earlier on we’re all going to die, you know?
So your anchor points of people are going to move around like a chess game. So if you go to that place inside that really is never going to change that you’re connected. It’s always connected throughout all time, throughout all space. It is there and we just happen to have a body. I mean, I think that is so underutilized and so misaligned with religion sometimes.
Greg: [00:48:23] And, and again, to this day, I’ve never had a patient or someone that I’ve had a conversation with pushed back against the importance of spirituality, regardless of whether or not they’re religious. So it’s totally important.
Darin: [00:48:35] Yeah. And the fact that you’re a psychiatrist and you lit up with talking to your patients about that side of it and realizing and understanding. I mean, you’re rare, you’re a rare air here because you’re, you’re, you’re not just clinically talking, but also having the tools to clinically support someone. Right. But then having the spiritual basis for, for anchoring points and then, and then moving people towards this foundation of health and lifestyle
Greg: [00:49:12] Yeah. And I think we have to meet people where they are. I mean, seriously, Just imagine, you know, a patient not feeling comfortable enough to have these types of conversations with their psychiatrist of all people.
I mean, there’s, there’s something wrong with that.
Darin: [00:49:26] Well, dude, I’m telling you, we need more people with your breadth and width of not only legit education, but experience and your expansiveness of how you view the health of someone and I’m, I’m just, I’m super stoked. I want to stay connected with you. I’m super stoked that you’re on the planet and you’re doing your thing.
And I can’t wait for that book to get out because I’ll be a big fan and we’ll come back around and promote the hell out of it.
Greg: [00:49:58] Yeah, let’s do this again, man.
Darin: [00:49:59] Yeah. I thoroughly enjoyed this, Dr. Greg, and any time you need to come back, you have an open invitation here. Thank you,
Greg: [00:50:08] Darren. Stay in touch, man. Okay.
Darin: [00:50:10] Absolutely. Thanks brother.
Darin: What a fantastic episode. So tell me, what is one thing you got out of today’s conversation? If this episode struck a chord with you and you want to dive a little deeper into my other conversations with incredible guests, you can head over to my website, darinolien.com for more episodes and in-depth articles. Keep diving my friends. Keep diving.
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