Showing posts with label CBT. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CBT. Show all posts

Sunday 8 May 2022

How to Fuel Your Brain With Energy

What is your fitness philosophy?


In other words: why do you train and exercise? What is it that you hope to achieve by being physically active?


Many of us train because we want to look better. Some of us train because we want to be healthier and stave off disease. Others train because they want to perform better at a particular sport or activity they enjoy.


But I have a different reason for training: I train because I want to change the way I feel and because I want to change my mindset. And this is also one of the driving factors behind my diet choices.




One of the biggest limiting factors in most of our lives – one of the things that most prevents us from achieving all that we want to achieve – is tiredness. You wake up in the morning and instead of leaping out of bed filled with enthusiasm, you instead struggle to drag yourself up and to actually start being productive. Then you get home and instead of doing something fun, interesting or productive, you instead just crash on the sofa and watch day time TV. Sound familiar?


Everything you do is less enjoyable when you’re tired. All of your decisions are worse. All of your challenges are harder. And I’m not talking about physical tiredness – I’m talking about mental tiredness. And that’s what you can actually fix with the right training program and diet, unbeknownst to many.


How to Increase Brain Energy


So how can you increase energy in your brain? One method is to increase the strength of your heart. If you do this, then you’ll be able to pump more blood, oxygen and nutrients to your brain, thus allowing it to perform more optimally. How do we do this? With steady state cardio This means the kind of cardiovascular exercise that involves long durations of exercise. A good example is running a few miles twice a week, which can help to enlarge the left ventricle in your heart. This also reduces stress by helping you to lower your resting heartrate and thus produce less cortisol.


Also important is to increase the efficiency of mitochondria. These are the parts of the cells that turn glucose into usable energy and the more you have and better they function, the less tired you will feel. You can increase these with a combination of HIIT training and foods/supplements that are known to support them such as CoQ10, PQQ, l-carnitine and others.

Everything You Need to Know About Panic Attacks in Order to Stop Them

It’s one thing trying to improve your ability to control your own stress response so that you can combat anxiety and improve your health. But it’s quite another when you experience serious panic attacks that leave you crippled and that prevent you from engaging in normal activities.


But in fact the tools you will use to achieve both ends are similar. The difference is just that panic attacks might require a more intense and a more focused approach.


And in either case, understanding the biology behind the experience can be a fantastic tool to help you take control more effectively.


Let’s look at what panic attacks are and how you can take them on head-to-head.


The Basics of Panic Attacks


When you experience any kind of stress, it’s because your sympathetic nervous system is releasing specific hormones and neurotransmitters into your system. Specifically, these are:


- Adrenaline (epinephrine)

- Noradrenaline (norepinephrine)

- Cortisol

- Testosterone

- Estrogen

- Dopamine

- Serotonin


When these occur together, your experience of pain is dulled, you become more attuned to your senses, your thoughts are focused, your strength increases your muscles contract. Your heartrate accelerates significantly and more blood and oxygen are sent to your muscles.


But the thing is that this increases your overall strength your reflexes and your ability to fight or run. This is a useful response in the right context.


The problem is when you misinterpret these signals and cause a panic attack. What happens in this case is that you notice yourself get anxious and you become worried that this is going to cause you embarrassment or make you faint (perhaps because you have previous experience with panic attacks). You begin to hyperventilate and this combined with the elevated heartrate causes chest pain. And some people mistake that chest pain for the signs of a heart attack.


All this makes you more anxious and that in turn means you ramp up the response even more. Your heartrate increases more, you get more anxious and eventually you might even start to get dizzy from all that oxygen.

The Solution


The solution then is to recognize that you’re having a panic attack but not to give it any power over you. And the way you do this is to try and detach yourself from it and essentially continue to go about your normal business. Of course, this is easier said than done but as soon as you stop letting it control you and as soon as you aren’t afraid of panic attacks, you’ll find they end a lot more quickly and eventually they can stop happening entirely.


Cognitive behavioral therapy can help with this, as can using the technique known as AWARE which is simply a set of steps to remove yourself from the experience and to avoid being afraid of the stress.


Most people will have a panic attack at some point in their lives but if you can understand what is happening and control your emotions, you’ll find it can disappear as quickly as it arrived.


How Anxiolytics Work and Whether You Should Use Them

If you can control stress, calm your mind and avoid anxiety then you’ll find it has huge benefits for both your body and your mind. The stress response actually makes us stronger, faster and even smarter in the short term. But over time, this can place a serious strain on the body that eventually wears you down and leaves you more susceptible to illness and other problems.


This is why people who experience a lot of anxiety might consider the use of anti-anxiety medications called anxiolytics. But what exactly do these do? How are they affecting your mental state? And should you use them? Let’s look at the way they work in more detail.


What is an Anxiolytic?


Anxiolytics are any drugs that reduce the stress response and to do this, they alter the neurotransmitters and hormones that the brain produces in order to encourage calmer and to act even as a mild sedative.


One of the main neurotransmitters that anxiolytics act on is GABA. GABA stands for Gamma Aminobutyric Acid and is a neurotransmitter that suppresses neuronal activity. That is to say that when it is released, it prevents neurons from firing. This in turn causes you to experience few thoughts and ‘slower’ thinking. It lowers the heartrate and it makes you less attuned to your surroundings.


GABA is one of the neurotransmitters that is affected by alcohol in fact and is responsible for some of the symptoms that we associate with being drunk. This is why some people will self-medicate with alcohol for stress or social anxiety.


Alternatively, some anxiolytics work by increasing serotonin. Serotonin is the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter and this is also how anti-depressants work such as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors).


The Problem


To increase GABA, most anxiolytics work by blocking the reuptake of GABA in the brain so that there is more of it free in the brain. When you do this over a long period of time however, it causes changes in the brain and adaptations. Specifically, because there is too much GABA, the brain stops producing as much of it itself and decreases the number of receptors. Now you need to take larger doses of anxiolytics to experience the same heightened levels of GABA and now you will likely feel even more anxious when you’re not using them. This is called ‘tolerance and dependence’ and it can lead to addiction.


What’s more, is that anxiolytics do not address the thinking that leads to the release of those hormones in the first place, it deals with the symptoms rather than dealing with the cause.


And then there are the short term, immediate side effects associated with anxiolytic use such as drowsiness and confusion.


So, should you stop using anti-anxiety medication? This is very easy to say but not so easy if you experience frequent and severe bouts of anxiety. You should always listen to your doctor’s advice. But just know that this medication is not a long-term solution. Focus on therapy in conjunction with medication in order to address the root cause of the issue more permanently.


How Your Body and Mind Are Intimately Linked Through Your Hormones

In the book Calm Mind, Healthy Body, we discuss in detail the importance of having a calm mind and we look at how controlling and calming your thoughts can ultimately improve your health by removing the stress response. 


But did you know that this also works just as potently the other way around? That is to say that your health can also impact on your stress levels? Even your hunger can impact on stress, which in turn impacts on hunger again. It’s a complex interplay and in a moment, we’ll see more about this works and why your lifestyle is a key factor in controlling your stress.


What Happens When You Eat


If you’re stressed right now, then one method you might be able to use to fix that is to eat more. When you eat, your blood sugar spikes. This is then in turn followed by a spike in insulin, which triggers the body to remove the sugar from the blood along with any nutrients.


If you’ve eaten carbs (which provide the fastest sugar spike) then you will also have tryptophan in the blood. Tryptophan is an amino acid that also happens to be a building block of the neurotransmitter ‘serotonin’. Because tryptophan can cross the brain barrier and because it gets left behind by the insulin response, this then leads to a sudden spike in serotonin in the brain and you feel very good.


This is why you feel in a good mood after you’ve eaten! 


What’s more, is that serotonin eventually converts into melatonin, the sleep hormone. That’s why everyone always falls asleep after Christmas dinner!


What Happens When You Get Hungry


But let’s say you haven’t eaten for a while. What happens then? 


Well, you now have very low levels of tryptophan in your brain and this in turn increases cortisol, there is no way to impact a single neurotransmitter in isolation; levels of one will always impact on levels of the other.


Cortisol then replaces serotonin and this increases the production of ghrelin, the hunger hormone. That’s what makes your stomach start to rumble. It also increases stress and triggers anxious thoughts. This is why we get ‘hangry’ and why you’re ‘not you when you’re hungry’.


Other Things That Impact on Your Mood


There are plenty of other ways we can impact on our levels of neurotransmitters and hormones too though. 


For example, when you wake up first thing in the morning you will have been fasting all through the night. At this point your serotonin levels are incredibly low and you have high cortisol making you stressed. At the same time, the light from the sun also increases the release of cortisol which wakes you up (stress hormones are stimulatory whereas relaxation hormones tend to be sedative). Cortisol removes melatonin from the brain and also widens the veins via nitric oxide.


Then there are other things you can do: exercise for instance is well known to increase serotonin and other endorphins and boost the mood. It’s time to stop thinking of your brain as an isolated thing!


The Basics of CBT for Eliminating Stress

Whether you have normal levels of moderate anxiety, or you experience large amounts of stress leading to panic attacks and health problems, CBT is the number one tool for dealing with it. CBT stands for ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’ and is the preferred tool for therapists trying to deal with all manner of different psychological disorders.


This is partly because CBT has a huge amount of evidence supporting its effectiveness. But what also makes CBT so useful is the fact that it is portable and affordable. CBT involves teaching techniques which can be learned even remotely over the internet. This means you can teach yourself the techniques and be incredibly effective at controlling your emotions and your stress responses.


How it Works


The basic idea behind CBT is that we ‘think ourselves’ into our mental states. Associations and conditioning partly affect our emotional response to stimuli but so too does what we think.


For example, when you’re afraid of talking in public, it’s probably because you are thinking of all the things that could go wrong. You maybe think ‘people will laugh at me’, or ‘what if I stutter’ or ‘what if I faint?’. Thinking these things, and visualizing them as we tend to do, can be enough to trigger the release of hormones or other hormones and this then makes us panic and possibly even causes us to make those mistakes!

The trick then is to change those thoughts so that you no longer believe those things will happen. And if you can do that, then you can completely remove the fear and the response. 


Cognitive Restructuring


The way you are taught to do this in CBT is through something called ‘cognitive restructuring’. This is a set of tools that you can utilize in order to ‘reprogram’ your thoughts and change your beliefs.


One example of this is something called ‘thought challenging’. Here, you simply challenge the negative thoughts that are causing you to be stressed or afraid by looking at how realistic they are. Would people really laugh at you if you stuttered? In all likelihood no, they would be sympathetic. Are you really likely to faint? Probably not.


Another very useful tool is something called ‘hypothesis testing’. Here you don’t just convince yourself that your fear is unlikely, you actually prove it to yourself to make sure you really believe it.


So how might you do that? One example is that you might put yourself in the situation you are afraid of and see what happens. So in this case, that might mean giving a speech in front of people and then purposefully stuttering to see if people react badly. Just remind yourself: it really doesn’t matter what they think. Now let yourself stand there and try to reduce stress. When you see that there is no negative outcome, you’ll remove the stress entirely.


Finally, CBT also incorporates meditation, exposure therapy and other known techniques to give you a powerful tool set for overcoming stress, phobias and more.


What is Meta-Cognition?

Meta cognition simply means thinking about thinking. This simply means being aware of how your thoughts work as well as being aware of what your thoughts are doing at any given time. 


This is split into two different ideas: metacognitive knowledge (knowledge of your own thoughts) and metacognitive regulation (control over your own thoughts using various strategies).


In theory, learning to better control your own thoughts can help you to improve your self-knowledge and to tap into the full potential of your brain at any given time. Let’s look at how you can do that.


Some Things You Didn’t Know About Meta Cognition


Firstly, what would be a good place to start with meta cognitive knowledge? A good place to start would be with the biology that underlies the way your brain works. By understanding this, you can know what’s actually going on inside your brain at any given time when you experience certain things or do certain things.


This means learning about the role of neurotransmitters and hormones and how they impact on your emotional state and also your ability to focus, to remember and to relax.


It also means learning about the nature of thought itself. This is a subject people don’t discuss that often but it’s filled with interesting titbits. For example, a Sapir Whorf hypothesis states that we think in ‘language’ and that by changing the language we think in, we can actually upgrade our thoughts. For example, if you could think with shorter words, you might be able to think faster. Likewise, choosing certain language could potentially impact your emotions, so changing your vernacular could be a good strategy.


But then there are others that say language is unimportant. More important is the way we visualize what words mean or even feel what they mean by feeling what it would be like to enact a particular story we’re listening to for example. This is called ‘embodied cognition’ and it’s another very compelling school of thought.


How to Regulate Thought


Once you understand the nature of thought and how thoughts lead to learning, associations and the release of hormones and neurotransmitters, it can be useful to start thinking about the tools you can use to harness that knowledge.


One great example is CBT. This is ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’ which is a set of psychotherapeutic tools that are used to give people more control over their thinking. Self-hypnosis and neurolinguistic programming are similar examples of frameworks and tools for changing your thoughts. Likewise, so are different approaches to psychology such as psychotherapy.


Meditation is likewise the practice of controlling thought and also of being able to distance yourself from your thoughts.


There are various ways you can directly and indirectly impact on your emotions too. One example is ‘priming’ which basically involves watching films, listening to stories or engaging in activities you know will stimulate certain emotions just before you try and use them. Another is to use power poses or facial feedback to try and trick your body into acting the emotion you want to feel.


Can Nootropics Make You Smarter?

When it comes to changing your mindset in order to change your life, you probably think of things like ‘the gratitude attitude’ or maybe meditation. You’re probably aware of mindfulness and of CBT.


But what if you could simply flick a switch and completely change the way that your brain works? What if you could become smarter and cleverer overnight? Wouldn’t that be the ideal?


This is what we see in the film Limitless. The main character Eddie Mora takes a single tablet and suddenly gains access to latent power of his brain. He becomes smarter, wittier, more charming, more creative – and in no time at all he has written a bestselling novel, made a huge amount of money on the stock market and run for political office.


This is what science would call a ‘nootropic’ and the shocking part is that they’re real…


What Are Nootropics and Do They Work?


Of course, the reality is nothing like the movies. There is no pill that can make you smarter. But what some nootropics claim to be able to do, is to make you a little more alert, to boost your memory and perhaps to help your motivation.


These work in a variety of ways and they take many forms. For instance, one of the most popular types is something called modafinil. Modafinil is a drug used to treat narcolepsy but it has also been used by fighter pilots and top CEOs in order to help them need less sleep and work longer and harder. This works by affecting a neurochemical called orexin, which regulates our sleep wake cycle.


Others might work by stimulating our fight or flight response through dopamine or adrenaline. Others meanwhile appear to enhance brain plasticity to increase learning. Some simply give the brain a bit of an energy boost to help you feel less tired.


So, do they work? The answer is simple: it depends! Some nootropics work well and really can give you a boost in focus. Others don’t really have much effect, while others still might actually be bad for you and cause headaches or even addiction!


The key is to finding the best ones by reading around and doing the research. But suffice to say that normally the best ones are the natural ones and the ones with the milder impact on the way you feel. Stick to these and you’ll reduce negative side effects – but just know that nothing can turn you into a genius overnight.