Mental Health Toolkit: Tools to Bolster Your Mood & Mental Health
The podcast episode discusses tools for mood and mental health. Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett mentioned several important tools for improving mood and mental health. Dr. Paul Conti, a psychiatrist, provided tools for understanding oneself and improving relationships. Recent publications highlight specific actions that can significantly improve mood and mental health. Viewing morning sunlight and avoiding light at night have been shown to improve mental health outcomes. Deliberate cold exposure can induce positive shifts in mood, alertness, and focus. Plunge offers a versatile at-home self-cooling cold plunge for deliberate cold exposure. 8Sleep makes smart mattress covers with cooling, heating, and sleep tracking capacity to optimize sleep quality. Waking Up is a meditation app that offers various meditation programs to achieve different brain and body states.
The Six Pillars of Self-Care
The six pillars for improving mood and mental health are important regardless of age or the severity of mood disorders.
Breathing Techniques for Stress Reduction
One effective real-time stress reduction technique is a specific pattern of breathing called physiological sigh.
Enhancing Mood and Mental Health
Tools for enhancing mood and mental health always operate against the backdrop of overall neurochemical milieu and autonomic function related to the six core pillars.
Emotional granularity, or putting specific labels on internal emotions, can improve overall mental health and well-being.
Heart Rate Variability
Heart rate variability (HRV) is the distance or time between heartbeats and is correlated with positive physical and mental health outcomes.
Journaling and Dream Analysis
Journaling and dream analysis provide valuable insights into oneself and can positively impact mood.
Processing traumas should ideally be done with the help of an expert clinician, but there are self-directed tools that can accelerate the process.
Generative Drive for Mental Health
Engaging the generative drive is crucial for achieving mental health and experiencing peace, contentment, and delight.
Summary and Key Insights
Implementing a few tools regularly can improve mood and mental health without taking up too much time.
- Tools for Mood and Mental Health
- The Importance of Sleep and Light
- Getting Sunlight and Bright Light
- The Six Pillars of Self-Care
- Breathing Techniques for Stress Reduction
- Enhancing Mood and Mental Health
- Summary and Key Insights
Tools for Mood and Mental Health
00:00 - 07:16
- Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett mentioned several important tools for improving mood and mental health.
- Dr. Paul Conti, a psychiatrist, provided tools for understanding oneself and improving relationships.
- Recent publications highlight specific actions that can significantly improve mood and mental health.
- Viewing morning sunlight and avoiding light at night have been shown to improve mental health outcomes.
- Deliberate cold exposure can induce positive shifts in mood, alertness, and focus.
- Plunge offers a versatile at-home self-cooling cold plunge for deliberate cold exposure.
- 8Sleep makes smart mattress covers with cooling, heating, and sleep tracking capacity to optimize sleep quality.
- Waking Up is a meditation app that offers various meditation programs to achieve different brain and body states.
The Importance of Sleep and Light
13:12 - 19:15
- Sleep is a necessary but not sufficient pillar of mental health, and most people need between 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
- Having a fairly consistent sleep routine is important for regulating mood and mental health.
- Strive to go to sleep at more or less the same time each night and wake up at more or less the same time each morning.
- Deviating from your regular sleep schedule by more than one hour can lead to issues such as grogginess and mood regulation problems.
- The second pillar is light, specifically sunlight. View sunlight with your eyes as early as possible after waking up.
- Looking at low solar angle sunlight without sunglasses is safe and has positive effects on mood, focus, alertness, and nighttime sleep.
Getting Sunlight and Bright Light
24:37 - 31:24
- Getting sunlight in your eyes early in the day has positive effects on mood, focus, alertness, and nighttime sleep.
- Even if there is no direct sunlight where you live, there are still photons coming through the cloud cover that can benefit your mood and mental health.
- If you can't get sunlight, consider investing in a bright light source like a sad lamp or a 900 lux light tablet.
- It is okay to wear eyeglasses or contact lenses as they focus the light to your retina.
- Do not stare directly at the sun or any bright light that causes discomfort. Instead, offset your gaze slightly to the right or left.
- Standing in the shade can still provide some sunlight to your eyes but ideally face directly towards the sun first thing in the morning.
- Getting bright light in your eyes throughout the day from sunlight or artificial sources improves mood and mental health.
- Very bright lights activate cells called melanopsin that project wires into specific parts of the brain improving mood and well-being.
- Get as much light in your eyes throughout the day as is safe for you without getting sunburned or damaging your retina.
The Six Pillars of Self-Care
31:00 - 37:35
- Taking care of one's biology is essential for overall mental and physical health.
- The "big six" pillars of self-care include sunlight (or light/dark), sleep, movement, nutrition, social connection, and stress control.
- Each pillar has its own importance in maintaining good mental health but requires further exploration.
- Movement, including both cardiovascular and resistance training, is crucial for improving mood and mental health. Strive for 180 to 220 minutes of zone two cardio per week and incorporate high-intensity workouts at least once a week.
- Nutrition is a complex topic with various opinions. For more information on different nutritional protocols, refer to the guest episode with Dr. Lane Norton on HubermanLab.com.
- Social connection plays a significant role in regulating our nervous system and overall well-being.
- Limiting social interactions that cause stress or negative affect can improve mental health and sleep quality.
- Positive social interactions can regulate each other's nervous systems and contribute to elevated mood and improved mental health.
- Stress is a natural part of life, and there has been debate about whether it is good or bad for us.
- Chronic stress can negatively affect memory, immune system, and overall health.
- Having readily accessible stress management tools is crucial for everyone.
Breathing Techniques for Stress Reduction
43:37 - 49:53
- One effective real-time stress reduction technique is a specific pattern of breathing called physiological sigh.
- The physiological sigh involves taking a deep inhale through the nose, followed by another brief inhale, and then a long exhale through the mouth. This can significantly reduce stress levels.
- The speaker discusses a breathing technique that helps to control stress and promote calmness.
- This breathing technique was discovered by physiologists in the 1930s and is hardwired into our nervous system.
- Regulating stress levels and negative emotions is important for long-term mood and mental health.
- The speaker emphasizes the importance of having tools to regulate stress, anger, reactivity, and elevate feelings of agency and control over one's life.
- The physiological pattern of breathing can be used to bring down stress levels effectively.
- Increasing one's capacity to deal with life stressors without feeling overwhelmed is crucial for mood and mental health.
- Elevating adrenaline and noradrenaline levels can help raise the stress threshold.
- Cold showers or deliberate cold exposure are effective ways to induce elevations in adrenaline levels as a practice for staying calm during stressful situations.
- Practicing staying calm in stressful environments improves the ability to manage internal state, cognition, and decision-making under stress.
- Raising the stress threshold is comparable to learning how to drive in fog or extreme weather conditions - it teaches adaptability and comfort in different situations.
- Deliberate cold exposure is a reliable and versatile method for raising the stress threshold but should always be done safely.
Enhancing Mood and Mental Health
1:09:34 - 1:55:25
- Adopt real-life tools, such as physiological exercises and offline activities like cold exposure, to learn how to calm yourself and maintain clear cognition when stress hits.
- The six pillars for improving mood and mental health are important regardless of age or the severity of mood disorders.
- The six pillars establish an environment of neurochemicals and hormones that lead to predictability in the brain and nervous system.
- The brain's major jobs include regulating breathing, thinking, planning, memory, and generating predictions about what will happen next.
- Affect sets the stage for different emotions to emerge, and tending to the six pillars regularly creates a neurochemical milieu that allows the brain to be in a better predictive state.
- Tending to the six pillars leads to more positive affect and emotions even in difficult circumstances or encounters with stressors.
- Emotion regulation and mood control have been topics of discussion in psychology and philosophy for a long time. There is evidence supporting both sides of the debate on whether feelings precede bodily responses or vice versa.
- Neurobiologists and psychologists believe that emotions and bodily sensations are interconnected.
- The brain acts as a prediction machine and a metabolic regulator, deciding how to allocate resources to different functions.
- Positive mood and mental health outcomes are best supported when focusing on six core pillars: social interactions, physical activity, sleep, nutrition, mindfulness, and cognitive engagement.
- Prescription drugs like SSRIs target specific neuromodulator systems in the brain but may not necessarily address deficits in serotonin or dopamine.
- These drugs can increase neuroplasticity and should be combined with talk therapy for optimal results.
- There is ongoing debate about the usefulness and side effects of these drugs, especially in young populations.
- Tools for enhancing mood and mental health always operate against the backdrop of overall neurochemical milieu and autonomic function related to the six core pillars.
- Any improvement in mood and mental health requires neural plasticity to occur over time.
- Drug tools are one potential way to improve mood and mental health but should be used in conjunction with talk therapy for long-term benefits.
- Supplement-based or nutrition-based approaches can enhance neuromodulators but may not have the same potency as prescription drugs.
- Some people are using supplement-based approaches to enhance neuromodulators like dopamine and acetylcholine.
- Amino acid precursors like L-tyrosine and L-tryptophan can increase the possibility for neuroplasticity, but their potency is not as strong as prescription drugs.
- Prescription antidepressants and psilocybin are being used in legal settings with support talk therapy, but they are not always the path to improved mood and mental health.
- Pharmacologic tools should be viewed as one path to improving mood and mental health, alongside other non-pharmacologic tools.
- Core six pillars of mental health are essential and cannot be replaced by drugs.
- Emotional granularity, or putting specific labels on internal emotions, can improve overall mental health and well-being.
- Placing more specificity on positive emotions can enhance feelings of well-being, while placing more specificity on negative emotions can intensify the experience of those emotions.
- Emotions can be enhanced by adding more specificity and depth to our positive experiences.
- Two studies highlight the benefits of self-monitoring and increased emotional granularity.
- The first study focused on people with depression, prompting them to report their emotional state throughout the day.
- The second study involved non-depressed individuals, who were cued to tap into their emotions multiple times a day.
- Asking oneself about current feelings and avoiding broad labels improves mood and mental health.
- Putting more nuance on emotions enhances positive affect and sensitivity towards negative emotions.
- Negative emotions provide valuable information for future interactions.
- Increasing emotional granularity correlates with improvements in physiological metrics, such as vagal tone.
- Vagal tone is related to heart rate variability, which is associated with better physical and mental health outcomes.
- Heart rate variability (HRV) is the distance or time between heartbeats and is correlated with positive physical and mental health outcomes.
- Regular cardiovascular exercise, resistance exercise, and sufficient sleep can increase HRV.
- Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) is a rapid way to increase HRV by activating the vagal innervation of the heart.
- RSA occurs when inhaling speeds up the heart rate and exhaling slows it down, mediated by the vagus nerve.
- Placing more descriptive granularity on emotions is correlated with improvements in RSA and HRV.
- A clinical trial showed that a specific breathing pattern called cyclic physiological sighing for five minutes per day improved mood, reduced anxiety, and improved sleep.
- This breathing pattern had positive outcomes in terms of improving autonomic function related to sleep and HRV.
- Thinking about emotions frequently throughout the day and deliberately labeling them correlates with improvement in RSA and HRV.
- Cardiac vagal control, which involves slowing down the heart rate through breathing or reflecting on emotional states, is beneficial for overall mood and mental health.
- The improvements in mood and mental health are not just temporary but extend throughout the day.
- Overall levels of mood and mental health are enhanced, not just during specific practices, but throughout the day.
- The guest series with Dr. Paul Conti focused on exploring the self and tools for better understanding oneself and relating to others.
- The iceberg model of the mind was discussed, highlighting how unconscious processing influences conscious processing.
- Defenses, such as projection, can be both healthy and unhealthy.
- Understanding the role of the unconscious mind is crucial in gaining insight into thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions.
- Developing a clear self-concept can lead to increased self-confidence and agency in pursuing goals.
- Building a life narrative by organizing key milestones into folders or documents can be a powerful tool for exploring and building up one's concept of self.
- Creating a structured narrative representation of key life events is important for developing a historical sense of oneself.
- These folders are not about writing an autobiography, but rather understanding oneself at present and anchoring the perception of the passage of time.
- The exercise helps identify patterns and determine if one is on the right path.
- It is not about goal setting or projecting forward, but about exploring the unconscious and conscious mind.
- Making increments across lifespan manageable, such as three to five year intervals, is recommended for organizing the folders.
- Dream analysis can be a powerful tool to tap into the unconscious mind and gain insight into its influence on waking states and behaviors.
- The unconscious mind exerts influence on our thoughts and behaviors, whether we are asleep or awake.
- Keeping a dream journal can help explore the contents of the unconscious mind and understand recurring themes.
- Not everyone remembers their dreams, but lying still with eyes closed or getting up and waiting for the dream to surface can help recall them.
- It is important to record key takeaways and themes from dreams rather than focusing on immediate interpretations.
- By identifying recurring themes across different dreams, patterns in the dialogue of the unconscious mind can be understood.
- Exploring one's thinking during liminal states, such as right upon waking, can also provide insight into the contents of the unconscious mind.
- Closing your eyes and remaining still for a few minutes in this liminal state allows observation of where the mind goes and its contents.
- Writing down these observations is similar to dream journaling and provides access to the unconscious mind's contents that may be difficult to access otherwise.
- Journaling is a powerful tool for exploring the self-concept and processing emotions and traumas.
- There are two main styles of journaling: free association, where you write down anything that comes to mind, and structured journaling, where you set an intention or specific topic for your writing.
- The goal of structured journaling is to explore self-goals and aspirations, focusing on generating positive outcomes.
- Mental health is defined as being in states of agency and gratitude for as much of our waking life as possible.
- Achieving agency and gratitude requires engaging in processes related to three drives: aggressive drive, pleasure drive, and generative drive.
- People vary in their levels of aggression and desire for pleasure, but it's important that these drives never overshadow the generative drive.
- Engaging the generative drive is crucial for achieving mental health and experiencing peace, contentment, and delight.
- The aggressive drive and pleasure drive never outweigh the generative drive, which is essential for mental health.
- Journaling, whether in free association mode or in a conscious structured way, helps access and build the generative drive.
- Writing down goals and aspirations is a crucial step towards achieving them.
- Overcoming anxiety and actively thinking about goals and aspirations increases the likelihood of actualizing them.
- Journaling and dream analysis provide valuable insights into oneself and can positively impact mood.
- Processing traumas should ideally be done with the help of an expert clinician, but there are self-directed tools that can accelerate the process.
- Language plays a significant role in how we think about and talk about traumas. Using language that accurately reflects their magnitude is important for healing.
Summary and Key Insights
2:01:23 - 2:04:07
- The podcast discussed the importance of processing negative emotions and maintaining an optimistic mindset.
- Implementing a few tools regularly can improve mood and mental health without taking up too much time.
- Elevated mood and mental health contribute to better relationships with oneself and others.