You Can Change Your Mood
On this past Saturday, Flourish’s cofounder and Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Carreon led the third part of our livestream series on mental health during COVID. Here are the key takeaways and show notes. To preserve the privilege of those who showed up to watch the live session:), we will publish the rerun for the live session on Apr 18. You can still sign up to our final livestream on Apr 18 here (rerun will be posted on Apr 25).
- Lifehack: Sometimes get off your butt.
You have probably heard of a million cliches for why physical exercise is good for you. Exercise can increase the gray matter in our brains in key regions that are involved in emotional processing.
To start off, don’t be too ambitious. Just set a goal that you can easily meet. This can be walking around the street block for two minutes. Doing a little exercise can make a big difference in your mental health than no exercise at all.
- How your mood forms.
A common framework for how our mood is formed is the following. Our childhood experiences and DNA shape our brains and how our brain cells are wired. The wiring of our brain leads to thoughts. Our thoughts then lead to our moods.
- Neuroplasticity: You can make your brain smarter.
It turns out that your brain can change just like your muscles can change as you exercise. This change in your brain is called neuroplasticity.
When you twitch your little finger away from your hand, you will use a muscle called abductor digiti minimi. There was a study that asked a group of people to just think about using abductor digiti minimi for 15 minutes / day for 12 weeks without actually using that muscle. Astonishingly, the people in the study experienced a 30% increase in their physical muscle strength with abductor digiti minimi just by thinking about it! This is an extreme example of attention changing your brain.
- You can direct your attention to change your moods.
A simple analogy for neuroplasticity is to think of your brain as a lump of clay. By directing your attention, you can shape your brain like you can shape the clay.
Okay Dr. C, this sounds great (some might even say gimmicky), but how do you actually change your brain?
When you feel anxious next, you can keep your attention on your anxious thoughts, such as “how will I ever get a job after COVID?”, or you can shift your attention to the beautiful sunset outside your window. Both thoughts are present. But you can change the wiring of your brain to become more resilient by focusing on the sunset instead of ruminating on your anxious thoughts.
- Lifehack: Don’t believe in dumb things about yourself.
You might not be able to control how your thoughts automatically come up. But you can choose not to believe in them and dwell on them. Many of our negative thoughts are exaggerated false statements.
Take the thought “I am worthless” as an example. Many of us have had this thought when facing criticisms or rejections. But is it true that “I am literally worth nothing to this world and people around me?” When we examine this thought, it’s clearly not true. There is always someone in our lives who finds our love comforting, our work valuable, or our sense of humor enchanting.
According to neuroplasticity, thoughts lead to emotions, and emotions lead to thoughts. When we focus our attention on exaggerated negative thoughts like “I am worthless,” we are changing our brain such that it will actually produce more negative emotions.
- Lifehack: if you change your mind, you will change your mood
Dr. David Burns, Dr. David Carreon’s mentor at Stanford, wrote a bestselling self-help book titled “feeling good.” Dr. Burns believes that “your feelings result from the messages you give yourself…you can learn to change the way you think about things, and you can also change your basic values and beliefs. And when you do, you will often experience profound and lasting changes in your mood, outlook, and productivity.”
- The recent TMS study is possibly the biggest breakthrough in psychiatry ever!
Dr. Nolan Williams, Dr. Carreon’s colleague at Stanford, devised a treatment that relieved depression in 90% of participants in a small study.
According to Stanford’s press release, “The treatment is called Stanford Accelerated Intelligent Neuromodulation Therapy, or SAINT. It is a form of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of depression. The researchers reported that the therapy improves on current FDA-approved protocols by increasing the number of magnetic pulses, speeding up the pace of the treatment and targeting the pulses according to each individual’s neurocircuitry.”
Dr. Carreon has been treating his patients with SAINT and has observed a similar recovery rate of around 90% at his clinic Acacia.
- Preview for next week
In our final episode of the livestream series, Dr. Carreon will be discussing the meaning of life and why it matters to your mental health in the midst of the pandemic.
Thank you for reading. Until next time, take ownership of your thoughts and start feeling better!
The Flourish and Acacia Team