This morning, my six-year-old son hopped into bed with me, and I asked him how he had slept. “Not good,” he replied, “I was trying to sleep, but my brain was like ‘Oh, I want to talk to you! Oh, I want to talk to you!’” Amused, I asked, “What did your brain want to talk to you about?”
“I don’t know,” he replied, “I didn’t say yes.”
Wow. Is this my child or a tiny little Buddhist monk? He intuitively knows that he is separate from the constant chattering in his brain AND that he has to give his consent to allow it in. It was only a few years ago that I came across the idea that we are not our thoughts. Meditation is a great way to practice letting go of all the thoughts that are buzzing through your brain, often causing feelings of overwhelm, worry or frustration. The goal is to be able to take control of your own mind when you feel yourself losing your temper, losing your focus, or lying awake listening to your brain chatter on.
Meditation is done by focusing on the sensations in your body without any judgement, the sounds and smells, the weight of your body, the air entering and leaving your lungs. Thoughts will inevitably appear, but the goal is to allow them to drift away as you bring your focus back to your body. You may be able to keep this focus by silently counting your breaths or repeating a word or sound. This is far more challenging than you might imagine. Despite all of your best efforts, your monkey mind will surely grab ahold of you and go swinging through the trees. You may not even notice that you’re lost in your thoughts until several minutes have passed. Similar to physical exercise, this exercise of the brain may be unpleasant at the time, but the benefits will last all day. Over time, your monkey mind will learn to behave. You will sleep better. You will find it easier to focus at work. You will be more present with those you care about. You will experience less day-to-day frustration. Just remember, next time your brain wants to talk to you, you don’t have to say yes.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, let’s talk about self-love and self-care. Some feel this is an indulgent waste of time, but it’s not all spa-days and bubble baths. In reality, self-care is about taking care of yourself, investing in your physical and mental health, so that you can show up as your best self. It is actually very similar to the way we care for our children. It’s about setting strict boundaries, scheduling, and planning ahead. It’s about eating all your vegetables and going easy on the sweets. It’s about brushing, flossing, and seeing the dentist. It’s about getting plenty of sleep and exercise and not too much screen time. It’s about learning to say “no” to the things that we want in the moment so that our future selves will thank us later. Sometimes, we may tell ourselves that love means saying “yes” because we want to make ourselves and our loved ones happy. Yes to fast food, yes to dessert, yes to a late-night Netflix binge when you have to get up early tomorrow. But as parents, we know that sometimes the best way to show our love is to say “no”. Are you setting rules for your children and then breaking them for yourself? Are you always putting your own health at the bottom of your list of priorities? This Valentine’s Day, don’t forget to show yourself some love by making those healthy choices and maybe even investing in a Direct Primary Care membership for yourself and your family. Self-care: it’s a lot of hard work, and it’s not always fun, but it’s the best way to keep your mind and body healthy.
Last year, about half of my patients and I engaged in a 12 week wellness challenge for improving both physical and mental health. Those who remained committed lost weight and lowered their blood pressures, blood sugars and cholesterol. They were excited about increased energy, fewer medications, and the ability to tuck in their shirts. In this program, I taught about the science behind weight gain and loss and the psychological principles behind motivation and habit formation, which are necessary for both weight loss and weight maintenance. The key to weight loss is lowering insulin, and this can be achieved with a low-carb / high-fat diet, intermittent fasting, more sleep, and reduced stress. This is easier said than done of course. The real work is in figuring out why you’re currently engaging in unhealthy habits and avoiding the healthy ones. The secret lies within your thoughts. Everything that we do or don’t do starts with a thought. Identify and practice those thoughts which lead to better choices, and you will create amazing results for yourself. This month, we will be starting a new 12 week wellness challenge. The challenge is open to everyone, but my patients will get a huge discount. This is a great time to become a member of Fountain Direct Primary Care and invest in your health.
Thanksgiving is coming, and it’s supposed to be a day focused on gratitude. However, your first thoughts may have instead filled you with anxiety and overwhelm. The planning, the cleaning, the cooking, the in-laws, the travel, the overeating. Our brains are wired for negative thinking, and this helped our ancestors survive in an unpredictable world. Currently, most of us are fortunate enough to live in a safe environment where our daily survival is not a concern. Instead, these patterns of negative thinking create an unpleasant reality and make us more susceptible to depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and even chronic disease.
Did you know that you can reprogram your brain with a daily gratitude practice? Gratitude makes you feel happier, improves your relationships, and makes you more productive. It also decreases your blood pressure and your cortisol levels and improves immune function. A 2008 UCLA fMRI study of gratitude showed increased levels of serotonin and dopamine as well as increased activity in the hypothalamus, which regulates sleep, appetite, temperature, and mood regulation. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and anxiety, and low levels of dopamine are associated with obesity and addiction. Those who practice gratitude on a regular basis, have better sleep, improved metabolism, more energy, less pain, less stress, and improved overall physical and mental health.
Choose a time each day to sit down and write out five things that you are grateful for. These don’t have to be big things like family and health, which you might mention around the Thanksgiving table. You can write down little things that bring you joy. The process of searching for things that you’re grateful for, changes your brain and becomes habitual. Do this every day during the month of November, and you will truly have something to be grateful for on Thanksgiving.