Mental Health Toolkit: Tools to Bolster Your Mood & Mental Health

Mental Health Toolkit: Tools to Bolster Your Mood & Mental Health

Mood & Mental Health Toolkit (00:00:00)

  • Contains information from interviews with Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett and Dr. Paul kti.
  • Tools provided aim to enhance mood and mental health.
  • Also introduces specific research articles that provide a basis for the discussed tools.
  • Brings up novel research emphasizing the importance of light exposure and darkness in improving mental health.
  • Recommends exposure to morning and afternoon sunlight alongside avoiding light for 6-8 hours during night time for optimal mental health.

First Principles of Self-Care & 6 Pillars of Mental Health (00:05:35)

  • Stresses the importance of taking care of one's biology for improved mental health.
  • Highlights the 'big six' major pillars of health: sleep, light exposure, movement, nutrition, social connection, and stress control.
  • Points out the connection between biological functions and the production of vital neurotransmitters and hormones.
  • Points out that controlling these factors can influence mood and mental health.
  • Recent data suggests including periods of darkness as an important factor.
  • Suggests that further investigation can be done on for specific protocols or tools related to the six pillars.

Pillar #1: Sleep & Sleep Routine (00:13:58)

  • Most people need between 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night, with some needing as much as 9 or 10 hours.
  • It's necessary to strive to get sufficient quality sleep as many nights of our life as possible.
  • Sleep should be viewed as a within-life ongoing process which we should always strive to improve on.
  • Having a consistent sleep routine can be beneficial for mood and mental health.
  • It is recommended to sleep and wake up at roughly the same times each day, within plus or minus one hour of regular sleep timings.
  • Varying sleep timing could lead to issues such as waking up feeling groggy and problems with mood regulation.

Pillar #2: Light, Sunlight (00:18:00)

  • Exposure to sunlight as early as possible after waking has numerous positive effects on mood, focus, alertness, and nighttime sleep.
  • It is safe to view early morning sunlight without sunglasses.
  • On overcast days, one might need to be exposed to the light for longer durations, around 20 to 30 minutes.
  • For those who don't get enough sunlight, a bright light source (like SAD lamps) can be used.
  • Wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses does not impair the process of light absorption.
  • Getting light through a window or windshield is not effective as it filters out the relevant wavelengths of light.
  • It is not necessary to look directly at the sun, indirect sunlight exposure works fine too.
  • Getting bright light in your eyes throughout the day can improve mood and mental health.
  • Pain or discomfort from sunlight is a sign that the light is too bright and could damage the retina.

Tool: Nighttime Environment & Darkness (00:24:38)

  • Recent studies suggest light is beneficial for mood and mental health.
  • Findings also indicate that darkness during certain stages of the 24-hour circadian rhythm is beneficial to mood and mental health, independently from light and sleep.
  • A comprehensive study found that exposure to daytime sunlight and nighttime darkness independently had positive effects on mental health outcomes.
  • Maintaining a very dim to dark environment for a continuous 6 to 8 hours within every 24-hour circadian cycle can improve mental health outcomes.

Pillar #3: Movement; Pillar #4: Nutrition (00:28:33)

  • Regular exercise like Zone 2 cardio per week and getting your heart rate very high once a week can benefit mental health.
  • Cardiovascular and resistance training, which can be done separately on different days, are also recommended.
  • Nutrition is essential for mood and mental health. The recommended diet comprises quality, non-processed, minimally processed foods and an appropriate calorie intake.
  • Macronutrients like proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, as well as micronutrients, are essential for production of neurotransmitters that influence mental health.

Pillar #5: Social Connection (00:34:51)

  • The quality of social interactions significantly affects mood and mental health.
  • Aim to limit interactions causing stress and seek out interactions that are positive and enriching, which can effectively regulate mood and mental health.
  • Reflecting on the positive or negative impact of certain interactions and individuals can help improve one's choices and overall mental well-being.

Pillar #6: Stress Control; Physiological Sigh (00:40:00)

  • Stress is an inevitable part of life and can both negatively and positively affect us depending on our perception and management of it.
  • The effective management of stress relies on readily accessible stress management tools which fall into two categories: real-time tools and long-term threshold-raising tools.
  • One of the real-time tools is a pattern of breathing known as the "physiological sigh". This is a natural pattern we utilize during sleep to restore carbon dioxide and oxygen levels to their optimal ratios and can also be done consciously to reduce stress levels.
  • The physiological sigh involves a deep inhale through the nose, a brief additional inhale, and then a long exhale through the mouth. This pattern of breathing can significantly lower one's stress levels, is cost-free, and supported by scientific evidence.
  • Effective stress management impacts resilience, confidence, mood, and overall mental health by regulating negative emotions like stress and anger and fostering feelings of agency and control.

Tool: Raise Stress Threshold, Deliberate Cold Exposure (00:45:40)

  • A tool for raising one's stress threshold involves self-inducing the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline and training the mind to stay calm even under these elevated adrenaline states.
  • Deliberate cold exposure, such as taking cold showers, is a cost-effective method of inducing these adrenaline states, improving one's demeanor in stressful situations, and ultimately, raising one's stress threshold.
  • Cold exposure triggers a natural spike in adrenaline and noradrenaline which initially feels stressful. With practice, one can learn to control their internal state and thinking even under these uncomfortable, adrenaline-rich conditions.
  • Building a higher stress threshold is vital for improving cognitive function and decision-making under stress. It is similar to learning to drive in foggy, rainy, or snowy conditions; once you practice a few times, you become more comfortable in these extreme conditions.
  • This practice is recommended at least once a week and should always be done safely. Other adrenaline-spiking activities can be chosen as well, as long as they are safe. This should be complemented by real-time stress management tools such as the physiological sigh.

6 Pillars & Brain Predictability, Affect & Emotion (00:50:00)

  • The six pillars are essential for mood and mental health as they establish a neurochemical environment leading to predictability in the brain and nervous system. This predictability is a critical aspect of mood and mental health.
  • The functions of the brain are not just about regulating breathing, heart rate, thinking, planning and memory, but also involves generating predictions about what's going to happen next, ensuring one is prepared for it.
  • Our affect, which involves our levels of autonomic arousal, hormones, transmitters etc., sets the stage for different types of specific emotions like feeling elated, happy, sad, or depressed.
  • The six pillars, when tended to regularly, create a neurochemical and neural environment favorable for positive predictions, helping in the regulation of mood.
  • Tending to the six pillars on a regular basis makes us feel generally better and our emotions during different conditions or interactions tend to be more positive.
  • Our emotions are context-dependent states which help us navigate not just our present circumstances but also our brain's best guess about what we are soon going to encounter.
  • By tending to the six core pillars, we are shifting towards more positive affects and emotions, regardless of life circumstances and the stressors encountered.
  • The brain, acting as a metabolic regulator, decides which organs need resources and how much, and these functions will be best supported (biased towards positive mood, emotions, and mental health outcomes) when we're tending to the six pillars.
  • Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett referred to this concept as the brain regulating a brain-body budget, where a daily investment in the six core pillars leads to an accumulation of energetic resources to spend on whatever life circumstances come our way.

Pharmacology, Psychedelics, Supplements & Neuroplasticity (00:57:58)

  • Prescription drugs are one of the main tools used by psychiatrists to target specific neuromodulator systems in the brain and body, such as SSRIs and atypical anti-depressants.
  • There is growing excitement about clinical trials using high dosages of psilocybin, a psychedelic that closely mimics the chemical serotonin.
  • However, it is noted that mood disorders are not necessarily deficits in chemicals like serotonin or dopamine.
  • These drugs are more accurately viewed as tools to open or access neuroplasticity - they increase the propensity for the brain to rewire itself, which is then combined with talk therapy to work through the sources of the mental health disorder.
  • There is ongoing debate about the usefulness of these drugs, their side effect profiles, and their appropriateness for young populations - this is particularly the case for psychedelics.
  • The purpose of these drugs is to offer potential improvement in mood and mental health, best used in combination with talk therapy. They are not the definitive or exclusive solution to mental health problems.
  • Some people use supplements, such as 1-3 grams of tyrosine and 300-600 milligrams of alpha GPC to enhance neurotransmitters. However, these do not have the same potency as prescription drugs.
  • These pharmacological tools should not be viewed as the end-all answer to enhancing mental health. They are a path to improvement and should ideally enable patients to engage in improving their mental health in other ways, such as six core pillars or first principles of mental health. It is possible that patients could eventually come off these drugs entirely, depending on individual circumstances. The six core pillars of mental health are essential and are not replaceable by medicine.

Tool: Emotional Granularity (01:07:26)

  • Emotional granularity refers to the specificity and precision with which we can label our own emotions, contributing to our overall mental health.
  • According to Dr. Lisa Felman Barrett, putting more granularity or specificity on what we feel improves our emotional processing and often leads to overall feelings of well-being.
  • However, placing more specificity on negative emotions can enhance the negative experience, showing the duality of this feature.
  • It is suggested for mental health improvement to add more specificity to positive emotions, both in language and depth of processing.
  • Two studies related to emotional granularity exist; the first focused on people with depression, asking them to report their emotional state throughout the day. The second study, involving non-depressed individuals, had similar cueing and also included physiological measurements.
  • The key point derived from these studies is that thinking about and labeling your emotions more regularly and precisely throughout the day benefits mood and mental health.
  • It's recommended to periodically assess emotions, perhaps three to six times daily, with assessments either shared or held internally.
  • Negative emotions should not be disregarded or avoided, as they provide information about situations or social interactions that might be worth avoiding in future.

Tool: Heart Rate Variability & Emotional Graduality; Physiological Sigh (01:14:39)

  • Increasing emotional granularity, or being more descriptive and expressive about emotions, correlates with improvements in physiological metrics related to mood and mental health.
  • Vagal tone is a key physiological metric in this regard, which refers to the impact of the vagus nerve on your heart rate and feelings of calmness or alertness.
  • Heart rate variability, a measure of the time differences between heartbeats, is correlated with positive physical and mental health outcomes.
  • Regular cardiovascular and resistance exercise and a good amount of quality sleep each night can increase heart rate variability.
  • A very rapid way to increase this variability is by activating vagal innervation with something called Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia (RSA)—involving a process of speeding up heart rate with inhales and slowing it down with exhales.
  • Putting more granular descriptions on emotions has also been shown to improve RSA and heart rate variability, creating positive mental health outcomes such as lower levels of anxiety, improved sleep, and improvements in overall mood.
  • A simple breathing pattern, called cyclic physiological sighing, for five minutes per day can significantly improve various metrics related to mood, anxiety, sleep, and heart rate variability.
  • It is suggested that thinking about emotions more frequently throughout the day and providing more granular labels for them can improve RSA, heart rate variability, and overall wellbeing.

Tool: Unconscious Mind (01:23:49)

  • A significant part of mental processing occurs in the unconscious mind which plays a crucial role in what we feel, think, and do.
  • By understanding the unconscious, one can find how it influences conscious processing in both healthy and unhealthy ways.
  • Psychological defenses, which can be either healthy or unhealthy, often come into play in this process.
  • Tools and protocols include understanding and acknowledging the role of the unconscious mind, and conducting a structured exploration of self to better comprehend how unconscious processing affects thinking, feeling, and behavioral patterns.

Tool: Self-Concept, Self-Narrative Exercise (01:26:54)

  • The exercise involves creating a deeper understanding of self-concept that goes beyond basic biography, impacting self-confidence and the sense of personal agency.
  • The process uses the creation of a life narrative to explore one's self-concept, which can be done digitally or physically.
  • The narrative is divided into increments of life, with each increment being a different folder containing a document which provides bullet points of key life moments.
  • The types of events recorded can range from positive, negative or neutral, and can be mundane or profound moments.
  • The tool isn't meant for setting goals or writing an autobiography, but rather for understanding one's past and present self and gaining insights about future aspirations.
  • The exercise helps track the passage of time, identify patterns in life, and provides a structured narrative for self-evaluation.
  • Suggestions are made not to create folders for every year or every decade, but rather in 3 to 5 year increments to make the task manageable.

Tool: Unconscious Mind & Dream Analysis; Liminal States (01:34:34)

  • For self-improvement, it's beneficial to build your self-concept which impacts confidence and the understanding of motivations, both conscious and unconscious. This can be achieved through self-analysis and reflection techniques.
  • Tools designed to tap into the unconscious mind have been extensively discussed, with one powerful method being the analysis of dreams. This doesn't have to be complex or overly interpretative, it's more about reflecting on the content of dreams to understand what they signify about the unconscious mind's influence.
  • Everyone dreams but not everyone remembers their dreams. To tap into this unconscious dialogue, it's recommended to keep a journal and record dreams, either in detail or as bullet points. If remembering the dream is difficult, lying still and keeping eyes closed immediately upon waking can aid recall.
  • The aim is not necessarily to interpret dreams, but to note recurring themes or patterns. These might provide insight into the influence and workings of the unconscious mind.
  • This tool can also be used upon waking, during the liminal state between sleep and full wakefulness. Paying attention to where your mind drifts during this time can give access to unconscious thought.
  • By documenting thoughts and feelings as you awake, you may achieve insights into the themes and concerns of the unconscious mind. Such self-analysis can help in understanding and managing various real-world situations.

Tool: Journaling; Generative Drive (01:42:52)

  • Journaling is an effective tool for processing emotional states, trauma, and enhancing one's self-understanding.
  • It can be carried out on a consistent basis, with no hard and fast rules about frequency.
  • There are two main styles of journaling: free associative and structured journaling.
  • Free associative journaling involves writing down any thoughts or feelings within a given period of time. It can be useful for clearing mental clutter.
  • Structured journaling revolves around setting an intention or a specific topic for each entry, often focusing on self-set goals and aspirations.
  • Engaging in the process of journaling helps to activate the 'generative drive'; the innate human desire to create, build and contribute to the world in meaningful ways and appreciate the process. This drive is considered a central feature of mental health.
  • Consciously thinking and writing about one's goals and aspirations, even if uncomfortable at first, is a crucial step towards actualizing them.
  • Structured journaling can be used to detail both tangible and feeling-based goals such as wanting to feel part of a community or becoming an active contributor.
  • Although some people might feel an initial internal anxiety and friction about starting structured journaling, overcoming this anxiety can put them in a better place to actualize their goals and aspirations.

Tool: Processing Trauma (01:52:43)

  • Processing trauma should be carried out with a trained clinician, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, especially in the case of major, repeated traumas.
  • Even when working with a professional, there are self-directed tools to help the process that evolve around how we think and talk about traumas.
  • Traumas are often referred to as Big T (major traumas) or Little T traumas (minor traumas) but that doesn't reflect the impact they can have on an individual, mandating the need for professional guidance.
  • The way we modify our language to describe trauma can hamper our potential to heal; minimizing our language can worsen the negative consequences of trauma.
  • Often, people resist using language expressive enough to truly convey the impact of the trauma or minimize it until the trauma roots itself into our unconscious mind and negatively influences us – causing things like increases in anxiety and disruptions in sleep.
  • If we don't consciously process traumas using matching language, the subconscious mind cries for attention, causing disruptions in sleep or compulsive or obsessive thinking.
  • Dr Ki's book "The Invisible epidemic: how trauma works and how we can heal from it" is recommended for self-directed work as well as professional therapy to recover from traumas.
  • Failing to verbally and emotionally process trauma can lead to feelings of guilt and shame and can negatively impact our unconscious mind, leading to unhealthy defenses like denial; enabling, projection, sublimation, etc.
  • Tools and protocols help to feel and access a sense of agency, gratitude, peace and contentment on a regular basis and help in understanding the aggressive drive, the pleasure drive which play a role in the generative drive.
  • Generative drive is our desire to create, build, and contribute to the world in a meaningful way and appreciate the process, which is a core feature of our mental health. The goal is to access this drive regularly.

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