Toxic patterns of thinking can damage more than just your emotional health. It can also affect the physical functioning of brain and even cause inflammation in the body! In this third episode of a series with ‘Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess’ author Dr. Caroline Leaf, she and the Amens take an in-depth look at her 5 steps to a cleaner mind, including an effective technique for making sense of your personal observations to give you a map for rewriting your own thought patterns.
For more info on Dr. Caroline Leaf’s new book ‘Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess’, visit https://www.cleaningupyourmentalmess.com/
Daniel Amen, MD:
Welcome to The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen, BSN RN:
And I’m Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.
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Welcome back. We are here with our friend, Caroline Leaf, the author of Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess: 5 Simple, Scientifically Proven Steps to Reduce Anxiety, Stress, and Toxic Thinking.
And I assume you can buy this anywhere great books are sold.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Yes, anywhere books are sold. Amazon sold out three times, but they’ve restocked. That’s another story.
Congratulations on the success of the book.
I guess it is just needed now more than ever before. And the whole idea I just love is that you can change your brain now.
Been sort of a theme of my life.
Now you can do it with your diet. No question. You can do it with exercise.
But allowing an undisciplined mind makes your brain works.
It makes it a mess.
The chronic stress damages your brain. I was just thinking about a study they did at UCLA on people who had OCD. And OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder, has its own signature in the brain where the basal ganglia are really active and the anterior cingulate is really active. And one group, they gave Prozac to calm things down. The other group, they just taught them how to control their thoughts and it also calmed the brain down. So doing the mental work to clean up your mental mess can help to optimize, as you show in the book, the physical functioning of your brain.
So we’ve talked about gathering awareness you are not your mind getting some psychological distance. I have a fun technique. We actually learned it from our friend, Steven Hayes, on one of these podcasts to give your mind a name.
Which is, again, it’s just that psychological distancing. Reflect. So think about it. That’s what separates you from all the animals, ask, answer, and discuss. And then in this podcast, I want to talk about the next three steps. So we have to be fairly brief. We want people to get the book. Get the book. It will help you. It doesn’t mean you don’t need therapy, but it’ll make therapy go so much faster.
I did a few years of therapy, intensive therapy several times a week, and it’s still having those tools in between that just help you really dig deep. I think one of the benefits of really successful therapy and successful therapists is when they give you the tools to do it yourself in between, like you said.
Absolutely. And they’re supporting me.
But you’ve got to learn how to be introspective. Otherwise you’re going to need therapy for the rest of your life.
Yeah, that’s exactly… I agree with you. And what I showed and totally what you said, what I showed with the most recent trials is that we had a control and experimental group, and the control group did not get the treatment. They did not get the five steps, the NeuroCycle, and the experimental group did get the five steps. And they were doing a daily via an app because we have an app as well. And the difference was unbelievable. Both became very aware of the issues because we did all the blood biomarkers and the psychological testing and the narrative, which was the most important, the DNA testing, the brain, the QEG, but the treatment group got the five steps versus the others.
And so the control group, what we saw as they got worse and what was one of the strongest indicators of how they got worse was looking at their telomeres. So all of them at the beginning of trial, they all came in really in a bad place. And we looked at their telomeres and they were… And telomeres are, as you guys know, but for the audience that don’t, it’s the chromosomes that look like Xs and it’s all fingernails. It’s [inaudible [00:04:53] at the end of the chromosomes. And just very briefly just to show you how powerful managing your mind is through a system like the five step, the NeuroCycle, is that a lot of our subjects, their telomeres were so weakened and so short.
Now, that sounds really good because you make a million cells plus every second and telomeres are involved in that process. And telomeres, the recent research shows that they’re proxy for mind management. So the more your mind is a mess, the shorter the telomeres, the more your cells are affected, and the more your body becomes vulnerable and biologically not in the best place to increase your vulnerability to disease up to 35% to 98%. So we found some of our subjects in the trial, and I put a case study in who was… Their biological age was almost 30 years older than the chronological age and in a sickly body. So [inaudible [00:05:38] 30s and they had a body of a 60, 65 year old.
Within nine weeks that had reversed and their chronological and biological age matched the telomere significant length. And there was no drugs involved, no diet involved, it was pure mind management, because your mind is driving. You’d speak about also your diet, exercise. We have to deal with all of those. But essentially what we saw was that those subjects that manage their mind, their biological and chronological age matched up. And then also all the immune, for the biomarkers immune system, the inflammation, the brain markers, everything changed dramatically, but the ones that didn’t, they got worse. It was so bad that they had so much high anxiety by the end of the study.
Obviously we gave them the mind management and it changed things immediately, but the key thing here is that our mind is working anyway. You can go three weeks without food, three days without water, three minutes without oxygen, but you don’t even go three seconds without using your mind. So you’ve got to get the help of therapy and all the professionals like yourselves and get the help that you offer in clinic and therapy, but we have to also [inaudible [00:06:41] between those sessions. And that’s really what the five steps do.
So the third step is then, as I mentioned, is the right turn for step of both right steps. And the first right step is get your mind and brain on paper. Don’t worry about like a literary piece, just pour it out. The biggest thing is to drag as much out as you can. So I developed a system called the MetaCog, which has 38 years in research. And it’s really is a very strong way of writing. It’s pack and writing that basically matches what these trees look like. So like a tree has a trunk and branches growing or branches grow out of the previous branches, you basically create these patterns on the page and you just put down your thoughts. And then you just put down these words and whatever comes up, whatever… It’s basically your memories and your thoughts.
And there’s a total mess, but almost like you’re vomiting it on paper, but that really pulls the two sides of the brain together and really activates hippocampus and all the different prefrontal cortex. It creates such a dynamic flow in the brain because the mind is driving the brain. And as you bring this order in the mind, you’re bringing this order in the brain.
And then the fourth step is the recheck where you can now go back and see, wow, what did I just write? This is unbelievable. I experienced this and this and this. And I didn’t even know [inaudible [00:07:53]. It’s a very revealing process. I use it all the time in therapy with my patients. So I’ve made a simple version in the book. And then the fifth step is… Sorry. So the four step, just to finish that step, you’re going back into the messy MetaCog, pouring your brain on paper and on page literally, and you start finding your patterns, your activators, the cycles that are happening. And you start creating looking for the antidotes, the reconceptualization, the other perspective. How can I see this differently? What does this mean? And honestly, this doesn’t happen in one sitting. I have to stress this. That to sort out, as we all know, toxic thinking-
Just like exercise, you have to do it regularly for [crosstalk [00:08:35].
Exactly. On day one, you may just identify that you’re depressed, like a depression and I’m redoing and there’s something going on, something in the past, and my recheck is I’m going to have to do some more work. It’s tiny little bits every day. And there are certain key days where we saw major neuroplastic changes like at day seven, day 14. Day 21 was extremely interesting because that’s where we saw [inaudible [00:09:03] peaks where people actually were starting to say, instead of I am depression, I know why I’m depressed. And they were starting to say, “I know what to do.” And then, as I said, the changes happen over time till 63 days where the behavior start changing.
So the first step then is to kind of round off the day’s work. And that is okay. So this is what I’ve learned. I’ve learned that I’m feeling depressed. I’m [inaudible [00:09:26] my behaviors. Our perspective is life sucks, and my body has got tremendous hotbox stations and there’s just a lot of physical stuff going on. I’m not sure why, but I can start seeing that there’s a reason behind this and it’s definitely something from my past because this is a pattern. It’s happening differently in these certain situations. So they for my active reach could be something like it’s okay to feel depressed. There’s a message in the depression. And you literally write that statement down and you put it somewhere or put it in your phone, or I have an app called the NeuroCycle app, and it’s got a little section to reach reminders where you could tap it in. And then it pops up during the day.
And during the day, you know how we had the tendency to ruminate, especially when we’ve activated something from the past and you’ve got this scary thing that these flashbacks are frightening and overwhelming. We have to limit the time we focus on those. So the active reach keeps you in a safe space so that you can go about your day. And every time you tend to do fall back and go and rethink through you say, “No, I’ll do that tomorrow. I’m just going to focus on my active reach.” And so, that’s just a very simple summary. There’s a lot more detail in the book and there’s many ways you can do each of these lots of detail with each of the steps, but that’s the basic overarching principle. And then you repeat it the next day and you repeat it the next day and so on until you get to day 21.
From day 22 to 63, you do just step number five because by day… It takes at least 21 days to, as a thought detective, to embrace, process, and reconceptualize this into this using the five steps daily. And then this is now the new pattern we want to grow, but like any new little plant that you’ve grown, it’s just a new little thought. It doesn’t have enough sufficient enough energy to impact your consciousness. So you’re not going to have a behavior change yet. So you’ve got to deliberately practice this new way of thinking at least for a minute to two minutes every day for [inaudible [00:11:16].
I love that you-
Did not make this three minutes to everlasting change [crosstalk [00:11:23].
Oh gosh, no. No, it’s a less term.
If you want control of your life, if you want to manage it, you have to change your habits and it’s a daily practice.
Making sure you’re eating right.
That’s why you’re eating right, exercise, whatever it is.
Allover. Yeah. And that’s all mind-driven.
[crosstalk [00:11:40] learning to manage your mind and you have to do it every day. It’s got to become more [inaudible [00:11:43].
Yeah, your mind’s always with you. So if you don’t manage it, then it’s a mess. And so with all the mess-
And when we come back, we’re going to talk about some stories in Caroline’s book and how you can go further to clean up your mental mess. Stay with us.
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