How to Use Your Anxiety for Good with Dr. Wendy A. Suzuki [Episode #613]
This week’s topic is: How to Use Your Anxiety for Good with Dr. Wendy A. Suzuki
I am so excited to have my very special guest, Dr. Wendy A. Suzuki, who is a world-renowned neuroscientist, award-winning professor of Neural Science and Psychology at NYU and author of “Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Misunderstood Emotion.” Listen in as Wendy shares how anxiety affects your overall health, how to use your anxiety for productivity, and tools for mental health and a happier life.
Flight or flight and what is really happening with your brain during stress…
High levels of anxiety and its effects on the reproductive system…
Everyday anxiety and learning from your anxiety…
Using your anxieties for productivity…
Tools for mental health and a happier life…
Pairing exercise with affirmations and its positive effects…
Wendy’s core message regarding anxiety…
About Dr. Wendy A. Suzuki
Dr. Wendy Suzuki is a Professor of Neural Science and Psychology in the Center for Neural Science at New York University and a celebrated international authority on neuroplasticity. She was recently named one of the ten women changing the way we see the world by Good Housekeeping and regularly serves as a sought-after expert for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Shape, and Health. Her TED talk has more than 31 million views on Facebook and was the 2nd most viewed TED talk of 2018. She is the author of Good Anxiety and Healthy Brain, Happy Life.
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Kimberly: 00:01 Hi Beauties. And welcome back to our Monday interview podcast. I am very excited for our very special guest today. Her name is Dr. Wendy Suzuki. She’s a world renowned neuroscientist and award winning professor of neuroscience and psychology at NYU and the author of good anxiety harnessing the power of the misunderstood emotion. I saw her Ted talk a little bit and go with my husband, John. And we were both blown away by her energy and her passion for helping other people be happier through understanding the brain. And I think her Ted talk now is something like 31 million combined views. She is amazing. She’s a very powerful woman with a big message to help the world. So I cannot wait to share this interview with you.
Fan of the Week
Kimberly: 00:59 Before we get into it, I want to give a shout out to our fans of the week. This comes from Lauren&Michael Fan and they write it’s no secret that the past year has been different. And I owe my resilience and calm spirit to Kimberly and the feel good podcast, listening to this podcast. And while on long walks, or even when washing the dishes grounds me, inspires me and somehow makes me feel incredibly supported. Kimberly’s wisdom, knowledge and kindness has changed my life. And I am so grateful. Well, Lauren and Michael, I am so grateful for you guys for being part of our community. I send you a huge virtual hug. Thank you so much for being part of our community and so much love, love, love, love, love LA LA LA. I love just hearing from you guys and I love our connection, our sacred connection.
Please leave a review on iTunes
Kimberly: 01:48 It really means the world and Beauties for your chance to also be shouted out as the fan of the week. Please just take a moment or two out of your day and please leave us a review on iTunes. It’s just a beautiful way to support the show. It’s free, easy, and yeah, just, it means the world. So thank you so much. And if you take a screenshot of your review and you email it to firstname.lastname@example.org, we will send you our self-love affirmation series, where I give a little talk and describe this process has been really, um, impactful on my own life. And we’ll just email it right over to you. It’s a great, great tool. So thank you again in advance. And while you’re over there, please be sure to subscribe to our show and that way you don’t miss out on any of these amazing interviews or Q&A podcasts on Thursdays. All right. All of that being said, let’s get right into our interview today with a wonderful Dr. Wendy Suzuki.
Interview with Dr. Wendy A. Suzuki
Kimberly: 00:13 Wendy, I have to tell you last night in bed, my husband and I watched your Ted talk and we loved it. It was such a surprise. We were, you know, like a typical Ted talk, there was information and research, but then when you had everybody stands up and start doing the exercise, it was, it was disruptive and it was really impactful. Were you nervous doing that part of the TedTalk?
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 00:43 No, I, it was the end. It’s like, um, although, you know, the one thing that the Ted people told me, they said, Wendy, you know, maybe they won’t stand up. And so I want you to prepare for them. Don’t tell me that, like, nobody has ever not stood up when I’ve done that. That was obviously not the first time that I asked my audience to stand up and it’s like, come on, it’s a Ted audience. They want to be there. They’re like, so with you, it would be weird if they didn’t stand up. And thankfully I’d forgotten that comment. But by the end, it’s like, you know, you can see them. There was great energy there. And I knew they were going to stand up and it was so much fun.
Flight or flight and what is really happening with your brain during stress
Kimberly: 01:21 Oh, I absolutely loved it. And I’m so fascinated about your work. There’s so much. I want to ask you before we, before we dive in, though, Wendy, you could give us a very quick one-on-one one-on-one on the brain because I know the hippocampus is like a big passion of yours, but we hear so much about know fight or flight amygdala, prefrontal cortex. Can you just give us a little bit about, let’s say something, you know, disturbing happens or, you know, you’re in with your research memory. What’s really going on with our brain in the most simplistic sense, because I know this is a question that could take years and years to answer, but you know, overview.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 01:59 So, um, let’s focus it on the book. Good anxiety. So let’s say there’s something that happens. You hear this scary piece of news and it causes anxiety. So what’s happening. There is the brain area that’s immediately that immediately gets activated is a brain structure called the amygdala. It is threat detection system. It gets activated when there is a lion running towards us, or if there is a threat of a line running towards us. So you can imagine this brain area is getting activated with every new cycle we read with all the, you know, scary things we hear about COVID getting activated, activated. And so that is, um, uh, the amygdala is, uh, generating some of those feelings of fear and worry that comes with anxiety. But importantly, it also fires up, um, the physiological, uh, stress response that always comes with anxiety. You know, your stomach tightens up with heart
Kimberly: 03:00 Beating targets.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 03:02 Yeah. So exactly. So what happens there is this is an activation via the amygdala of a part of the nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system. Most people know it as the fight or flight part of our nervous system. So it’s basically preparing us to take action. Um, it is increasing our heart rate, increasing our respiration, uh, shunting blood to our muscles so that we can either run away really fast, cause there’s something dangerous or we can fight. And that is a response that has been with us, um, for millions of years, since with our earliest ancestors. And what does it, therefore, this is one of the main, uh, messages of the book. It’s there to protect us. I think dangerous. Do you want to just be sitting there like, oh yeah. Maybe I should run away or do you want to be really active and ready to, to, um, really save yourself?
How to slow down your heart rate when anxiety or stress hits
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 03:55 And so that’s, what’s happened when we, we get triggered with anxiety, but there’s good news. Can I, could I share the good news ladies, please tell us. So here’s the good news. Everybody knows about the fight or flight response and uh, you’d like stress. That’s the stress response. Yes. That’s all true. Your heart rate goes up, all these things that make you feel about butterflies in your stomach, that’s all your stress response, but did you know that there’s an equal and opposite part of the nervous system called the parasympathetic nervous system? That’s basically your de-stressing part of a nurse based system. There’s a whole part of the nervous system, uh, devoted to this. And it does exactly the opposite of that fight or flight system. It slows your heart rate down, slows your respiration and it shunts blood back into your digestion and reproductive organs.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 04:47 It’s called, you know, uh, um, weekend rest and digest a part of the nervous system. And so, um, in, in situations of anxiety, when you start feeling those feelings, the best thing to do is activate that de-stressing system. How do you do that? Well, just start breathing deeply. This is what the system is already doing. And you can kind of rev it up simply by taking slow, deep breath, take a deep breath. This is what your grandma, your mother tells you. There’s a reason for that you are actually activating your de-stressing part of your nervous system. Okay.
Kimberly: 05:22 Only when you do that, Wendy, are you taking it out of the amygdala into a different part of the brain or does it calm down or is it still the energy is still in your medulla?
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 05:32 So, so the medulla is, is the first point where the threat is detected and then it’s not just the medulla. Uh, um, we know that there is a huge wide network of brain areas that get activated to bring up the feelings of fear and worry, and then activate this sympathetic, that stress system. And so what you’re doing is for those systems that are, you know, changing things in your body, um, that is what the breath work is for. It is actually activating, uh, and, and kind of a counter balancing that stress response. So it gives you a chance to kind of, uh, um, distress right there. And it’s so powerful because, you know, we have so many kids going back to school, people are going back to work in, in uncertain situations and you want something in your back pocket that you can bring out and really help immediately in situations of anxiety.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 06:29 This is it simply deep breathing, and I’ll go one step further. And I recommend a boxed breathing approach, which is simply inhaling for four count, holding a four count exhaling for four counts, holding for four count. You can do it anytime. I do recommend practicing it before you need to put it into action, but you could teach your kids. You could, you know, uh, teach your friends. You can do it. Uh, as I have it at the start of my classes or at the start of my lab meetings, like, let me come there. Let’s, let’s, let’s come together. Let’s just calm down for just a second so that we can focus on the, on the work at hand.
High levels of anxiety and its effects on the reproductive system
Kimberly: 07:10 I love that I haven’t heard it referred to as a box breath, but that makes it very easy to visualize. Very easy to remember. And also, Wendy, you said something really interesting that caught my attention a few moments ago. You said, oh, it restores circulation blood flow back into the digestive system, which makes total sense. But then you also said the reproductive system, we had this fertility and pregnancy course coming out in a few months, um, Dr. Wendy, we were talking to so many different experts and other finding research, correlating, stress, fertility, so on and so forth. So tell me about that a little bit. Tell me about like high levels of anxiety and what that’s doing to your reproductive system.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 07:45 Yeah, well, lots of situations of stress, including anxiety, but also the stress that comes with, for example, lack of sleep. Oh, that has long-term effects on your reproductive health on both in both males and females. There are direct studies on testosterone levels. For example, if you, you, you get just one hour less of sleep than you usually get. Those levels really go down and, um, similarly in, in females as well. So, so longterm stress, you might think, oh, you know, it’s something, everybody it’s inevitable. I have to just deal with it. But if you don’t do something to better control it, which is why I wrote this book, good anxiety. Um, it does have long-term effects on your reproductive systems on, on your digestive systems, on brain functions. Long-term stress will first damage brain cells, particularly in, in, um, my favorite brain structure called the hippocampus critical for memory long-term memory.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 08:50 Um, and then eventually it will kill those cells. So for example, we know people PTSD have significantly smaller hippocampus and the whole temple is actually smaller. So this is not, I do not wish this on anybody. This is why it’s important at this time of global heightening of anxiety, global heightening of that stress response that we all learn more about it, learn how to harness it because we do need a stress response. I’m not trying to get rid of it or the uncomfortable feelings that come with it, because those are very informative. What I’m trying to do is get it back to a level where it can be protective. It can be helpful. It can help us do the things that we want to do, like give a great podcast interview. So I want to be, I want to be up for this. I don’t want to be all weekend. Relax. I want to be up so I could answer all of your questions. That’s how anxiety is working to my favor, right in this moment.
What happens when brain cells are damaged
Kimberly: 09:55 Well, you mentioned about some of the P um, you know, the post-traumatic syndrome. Sometimes I get the acronym mixed up, sometimes easier for me to say it out, but th the part of their brain was actually smaller when we damage our brain cells, Dr. Wendy, do they not regenerate? So,
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 10:12 Uh, the vast majority of all brain areas, once you lose these brain cells, they’re gone for good. However, there are two brain areas where brand new brain cells can be born in adulthood. One is the all factory bulb, um, which is important for your sense of smell. And so what stimulates that well, if you actually, uh, have a very rich olfactory life, think about chefs, things think about [inaudible], um, that suggests that you are, um, or studies show that, uh, a very varied olfactory experience can help grow those brain, those olfactory brain cells, but more importantly, the second brain area where you can grow new cells is my favorite brain area, the hippocampus critical for long-term memory. And that should be everybody should be going to woo. That is such great news because how you do that is you move your body physical activity. Every time you move your body, you’re giving your brain this wonderful neurochemical bubble bath. I like to say. And part of the ingredients in that neurochemical bug bubble bath are growth factors that goes into your hippocampus and help primordial cells that are, that exist in the hippocampus grow and integrate. And so with long-term regular exercise, you are literally making your hippocampus nice, big fat and fluffy. And that’s what we all want. Big fat, fluffy HIPAA camp.
Kimberly: 11:43 I know the guy, I love this sentence when he big fat, fluffy have a cafe. It’s such a, um, it’s, it’s so interesting when we start to get down into the specifics of our brain, because you know, most of us don’t know this, and that’s why your research is so interesting. I want to get into the exercise part in a minute, because I think that’s like a whole big juicy piece, but one thing personally, the reason I was drawn to your work, one of the reasons Dr. Wendy’s, you know, this, this concept of neuroplasticity and long-term memory, and we’re talking about anxiety. So I’m going to get really personal for a moment, because I think, you know, sometimes personal stories with your work can show how applicable this is and how important your book is. So, as I become, you know, an adult and I started to become more self-aware of reactions and things that bother me, I realize, you know, like a lot of us there have, there has been some trauma in my childhood, right?
Everyday anxiety and steps to take to learn from your anxiety
Kimberly: 12:33 Not acute, like I wasn’t, um, physically hit or anything, but there was some, um, you know, just, uh, I guess you could say some neglect in a way where I was at latchkey kid. I was left to my own devices. Um, I started to equate achievements with self-worth and I also have, I realized as an adult, some abandonment issues. So these are things that were programmed at a very young age. And then as an adult, I say, oh, if someone says something like this, it triggers that anxiety you’re talking about. It’s not really a tiger coming after me. So I love the idea of, you know, calming myself down. But with, with those of us that have this kind of trauma is impossible to reprogram those memories or get to the point where we can change our brain, where those things don’t even cause that reaction in the first place, or we know we’re going to have to deal with them forever and sort of work to do, you know, to calm ourselves down afterwards.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 13:28 Yeah. Yeah. I think that, um, so one thing to recognize is the changes in your brain that caused those memories, that you mentioned, the, the, the more traumatic memories that is also an example of brain plasticity. It’s your brain changing in response to the difficulties in your environment and how you adapted. And so now, I mean, the reason why I’m so optimistic about all the tools that I write about in good anxiety, all the new ideas that I’m putting out there in the world, so that people can start to kind of take power back to themselves from their own anxiety is because I know that one of the most astounding features of the human brain is brain plasticity. So if you go back to try and not erase, not, you know, it’s not like, um, uh, the, I always forget the name of that movie with, uh, Caitlin flit and, um, Jim Carrey, the spotless mind, the, uh,
Kimberly: 14:30 Oh yeah. I know what you’re talking about. Um, yeah. Yes,
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 14:36 But it just happened to on another show. I, I have to remember that, that neighbor, that movie, everybody knows what I’m talking about before they go back. And they completely erase that. What I talk about is in situations of an everyday anxiety, there’s, there’s a situation that is, that is anxious, that causes anxiety for you. And the, the approach that I talk about is first, you know, get a handle of your anxiety on your anxiety, use breathing, use exercise to make yourself feel better, because what does that do that allows you to just step back for just a moment and ask yourself what is causing these uncomfortable emotions? I worried about this. Am I afraid about that? And nowhere and nowhere in this book, do I say, get rid of those feelings, those aren’t good feelings, those are informative feelings. In fact, what I say is invite them in, make friends with those uncomfortable, um, uh, emotions and ask those emotions, ask yourself, what does that tell me about my values, um, how I respond, how I’m responding, what I want to respond this way.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 15:50 And can I think of other ways to maybe approach the situation, to allow me to, to, to see the situation in a different way. Now I’m not talking about terrible, terrible, traumatic, uh, memories and root programs. I mean, that, that, that that’s a slightly different thing, but, but the idea is it’s similar. It is kind of trying to learn from your anxieties and, um, really befriend your anxiety and, and, um, know that those uncomfortable feelings are there for a reason. They’re saying, Hey, pay attention. This is either dangerous. This is uncomfortable for you. And it’s your job to figure out why and ask, you know, can I change the situation because all of us have the same anxiety, broken situations that happen over and over and over patterns, patterns. Yeah. So, um, I, uh, so the book is about, uh, using those approaches to, um, take a new look at those emotions, learn from those emotions.
Using your anxieties for productivity
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 16:54 And when you’re able to do that, that’s when you get into kind of the, the, the, the part of the book that I’m most excited about, which is the gifts that come from your own form of anxiety. Um, there’s lots of, lots of gifts. Um, one that is, uh, kind of the most obvious one that everybody can use immediately right now I’ll share with you, which is, um, the gift of productivity. You, the God, that’s not, how is it productive? Well, I don’t know about you, but, um, anxiety hits me often right before I’m going to go sleep and I’m about to go to sleep. I’ll feel so good not to get there. And then Oop, did I, what if I, I didn’t respond in a good enough way. What if I didn’t do it fast enough? What if you know all these things about, about what you did or what you need to do, and, um, that really causes a, of anxiety and causes sleep loss for me.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 17:51 And so the, the gift is just turn all of those, what ifs into two dues. So put that on the list. It still wakes me up, but then I tell him, I said, okay, I’m just going to take all of these useful things. That could be a worry, and I’m going to check off each one of them. And it is, it helps resolve the anxiety cause that anxiety was meant for you to do something with it, to run away from the line. Okay. I’m not running away from the line, but I am either receiving that email and, and, uh, um, changing the way I respond so that I never am worried that I’m rude or whatever worries you. I guess that’s one of my, all of my anxieties are coming to rude. I don’t want to be
Kimberly: 18:39 Sweetest woman and don’t worry. I don’t think you have to worry about that one. Dr. Wendy.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 18:45 So, so it is, um, using your anxieties of, uh, for your productivity. And this comes from a lawyer that I talked to while I was writing the book, who said she used to high, paid lower than she is because she uses her anxiety to make her case as strong as it could be using all those what-ifs that come up in her mind. Wow.
Kimberly: 19:07 Wow. Well, it’s interesting how you said to, you know, sit back a little bit and actually start to introspect and see where does this come from? Because I can say for myself in the past, I wouldn’t, I would identify with it. I would say, oh, well, this is how it is. And now I’ve gotten to the point where I do question, why does it bother me so much? You know, w w X, why does this make me feel abandoned? And then I can just start to see, okay, here’s some tools. This isn’t true. And you start to reprogram, but Dr. Wendy, can you actually go back into the hippocampus? And let’s say there was an unprocessed memory of your childhood. Let’s say someone said something to you. And I talked about this in my third book, there was a moment when I was six or seven.
Kimberly: 19:47 My mom didn’t mean anything so serious. I came home with a 98 on a test and she said, why didn’t you get a hundred later? She said, I was being facetious. Why did, why was the teacher being nitpicky? But to me, my memory went to, it’s not good enough unless you’re perfect. Right? So later in life, my mom and I, you know, before she passed, we kind of played it out. And I thought, well, maybe this is helping me process it, but is that possible? Can you recreate memories and make them feel better about old events? Can you do that in your hippocampus? Well,
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 20:19 So, um, that is a beautiful interaction between the hippocampus that is helping you remember the details of that episode in your life. That is what the hippocampus does. It programs the episode who was there, where were you standing? You know, who said what, when first, second, third, all the episodes, but also, uh, infused in that memory or the emotions that underlie it, that from, uh, the amygdala. Um, and, uh, often, you know, we remember the happiest and the saddest moments of our lives because that emotional resonance that helps memories become so memorable, that lasts for a long time, that comes from the amygdala, so that, you know, that, that slapping on the wrist when you were little, that perfect until you got a hundred, um, uh, comes from, from the amygdala. And so now you have this kind of merged memory of that, of the emotion and the episode, can you change it?
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 21:20 You could absolutely change the way you think about it. Uh, the memory is the memory. That is how it happens. Again, it’s not, uh, it’s not science fiction where you can go back and, you know, change your response. Um, I think it’s important to, to be realistic. Uh, you know, that’s a reasonable response of, uh, of a young kid. Uh, something said off the cop that wasn’t meant to be a, Hey things, get, I get bent out of shape occasionally as an adult, nobody mentioned anything bad. So it especially happens as a kid. And then, you know, just the realization that, you know, it’s ridiculous to think that, um, you must be a robot perfect hundred percent all the time, uh, especially because we know that we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our, from our complete successes. And so kind of reframing it that way and bringing in your knowledge that you’ve accumulated as you’ve grown and become more wise, um, can shift that memory into, uh, maybe one that you could think of as wasn’t that funny when, I mean, that’s, that’s when you know, you’ve conquered it when you could kind of laugh it off and says, wasn’t that funny?
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 22:39 It’s like, I, I, and I have memories like that. Somebody, my piano teacher’s mother called me Husty I think when I was eight years old was like Husky.
Tools to use for mental health and a happier life
Kimberly: 22:50 Oh yeah. Oh my God. I just feel like we’re so vulnerable at that time. And I’m so I try to be so aware with my kids. I have a one-year-old and a five-year-old and I think, oh my gosh, like, this is the time where they’re so impressionable, you know, and, and, you know, sometimes, you know, we’re a little, you know, it can be tired and I, you know, I, I just there’s that pressure again, I don’t want to be this perfect mom. I put this pressure to be the perfect mom, but I am aware of, you know, the things that I say, because I know how much, what my mum said to me at that age really did affect me. So going back to the neuro-plasticity for a moment, you know, if anyone’s listening to this and saying, well, if I have these like beliefs or this way of being in my, my doomed, or can I really change my brain just the way we can change habits? And if so, how long does that take to do, like, you know, like how do we change our way of being, how could we apply some of your tools, Dr. Wendy, to, you know, so much you talk about is, is having a happier life using our brains to work for us the tools. So let’s say, someone’s saying, oh, well, it just, you know, I feel really frustrated. I keep going back to these patterns, how do I, how long will it take for me to do this with practice, to make some positive shifts?
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 24:06 You know, I think, uh, to be completely realistic, you know, to really change some of our deepest longest term, uh, anxieties could take a while. But, um, what I recommend in the book is to practice with easier anxieties. And luckily there’s lots of anxiety to, uh, to get around these days. And so, you know, take something that is new, that is come up recently, anxiety over the pandemic, for example, there’s that fear coming from for you? How can you mitigate that? Can you start to use breathing exercise to decrease those feelings of anxiety and then start to use your creativity to, um, um, to come up with ways to make the situations that you are dealing with right now, um, less anxious for you, whether it’s taking your kids to school and helping them deal with anxiety or going back to work or not going back home to work and dealing with that uncertainty. Um, these are all things that, you know, it’s cumulative, we pass this, these shifts of mindset and on, on, you know, don’t on, on easier things to address, and then we can get bigger and say, oh, I see how, you know, looking at these emotions that similar emotions, fear, anger, worry are coming up with, uh, um, with, uh, pandemic things probably also with, with these longer term, uh, emotions and just kind of build up your confidence that way with the tools that I, I talk about in the book.
Kimberly: 25:45 Yeah. It is a process. And like you said, this awareness, this attention, even when you were speaking about, earlier about using your anxiety for productivity, I look back and I say, you know, that was, you know, one of the driving forces, why I was so driven, I had to get straight A’s. I had to be the best in my class. So there was a positive effect because I became a very good student. Um, but now as an adult, I can balance that I know how to get things done, but now I balance my self-worth isn’t, you know, in what I do, like I have to be okay with me. And then there’s that balance at the end of the day, there’s a certain hour where now I do turn my computer off versus before I would just work all night. So it’s like we drive ourselves, but then we have to realize that there still has to be a balance. And self-care because our out here in our work can’t be everything that we, that we do otherwise, we’re just, you know, fraying ourselves. And that, that, isn’t a happy life
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 26:40 That, that isn’t a happy life. And yeah, that balance is so important for good overall mental health. And I, you know, as, uh, I was always one that, that judged myself only on my, you know, work accomplishments. So only as good as the last good thing you did at work. And it’s a terrible, it’s a terrible metric to judge your life on because it forces you to kick out all these other great, wonderful things like your friends, like your family, um, like hobbies, uh, that, that, that are good for your mental health and, um, you know, good for your body, if, if one of your hobbies is exercise. And so, um, that overall balance, uh, hopefully is infused. I, I certainly practice it myself. I talked about it more in healthy brain, happy life, my first book, which was much more autobiographical. Um, but this one is, uh, you know, it was, I had a purpose. We, we have two high level of anxiety and I knew that anxiety could work for us. And, um, and so that was the purpose of this book to show people that, to be able to convince them that this mindset shift about anxiety is powerful. They could do it, show them how to do it, and then show them some of the gifts that come with that shift.
Wendy shares her story towards understanding the need for balance
Kimberly: 28:04 Where are you? So it was so passionate to write this book, Dr. Wendy, because you saw the benefit in your own life. Can you, can you share a little bit about your story? I was really touched by it when you talked about it in your, in your Ted talk, and as I read your, you know, your bio and, um, and you know, things I read about you online, how you’re saying, like, you hit this point where you were in the lab all the time, we were doing so much, and then you went on this white water rafting trip, and there was this moment where you started to realize that you needed to have more balance and take care of yourself. Was that, um, was, did that epiphanies come like in one, you know, one day or was it building, and then was it hard for you to let go of some of that over pushing and sort of restructure your behaviors and your patterns?
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 28:48 Yeah, so I had a big kind of, um, um, revelation. Uh, I was, uh, I was going through a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety trying to get tenure at New York university. It’s a, it’s a very, very stressful six year process where all of your colleagues are judging you and your whole institution will judge you on this one document that you produce about, you know, how, what, how good of a scientist are you really? And, um, you know, stressful.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 29:18 And if you pass, they give you a job for life. That’s what tenure is. So that’s good. But if you don’t, you get kicked out and you know, the humiliation, and basically you have to go find a new job and, and, you know, leave with your tail between your legs. And so, you know, it’s, it’s stressful. And so I decided that I was, uh, I had a great strategy was the only work I was just going to work. Nothing else. Um, no cooking, no, just take out. There’s so much great takeout here in New York city. I was gonna just eat, take out, uh, work all the time until I got this tenure. And of course I got so stressed. I didn’t have a lot of social connections. Um, I gained 25 pounds and, um, but I did decide to go on vacation. That was a good thing.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 30:08 And I went, I went, but I went by myself because I had no friends. So I go all by myself on this, uh, river rafting trip. And I have this epiphany at the weakest one on this whole trip. I’m in my thirties, in my late thirties. And I’m so weak. This is not good. And it was just, okay. It, it was right in front of me. I loved the trip. It was so inspiring and met so many great people. But, um, uh, but I was there alone. I was 25 pounds overweight. I was weak, so, okay. I’ve got to do something also. I was, I was river rafting. I was like, finally moving my body a little bit. And that kinda got me going and got me out in nature. It was beautiful. I was on the COTA Watsi river and in central Peru, it was so, yeah.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 30:58 And, um, so right after, like the day after I got back from this trip, I had mosquito bites, all mosquito bites had mosquito bites and I went to the gym closest to my office and I signed up and I started going. And even after the first class, it’s like, oh, I feel so much better. And, um, you know, I, I left the gym with a smile on my face. And so that part was relatively easy because I think my, I, I’m just very responsive to exercise. And I had deprived myself of exercise for, so Dr. Wendy, before that, when was the last time you had exercised, you know, I was going to an occasional yoga class, but, but nothing really aerobic and not very regular. So I think if I look back on myself at that time, I abs, and also lots of takeout, not, not the best diets.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 31:53 And so, um, I definitely needed a wider range of fiscal activity, nothing against yoga. I love yoga. It’s now part of my routine, but not only yoga and, um, I just needed more, more activity. And the other thing is, you know, it got me to a place where there’s lots of people to meet. And so I kind of, uh, for social connection made more friends at the gym, and that was a huge benefit to me. And, um, that’s year and a half later, I lost 25 pounds feeling good, you know, feeling great. And I had changed my diet too. Cause there was so many carbs. I was, I was eating. Um, and so it was the whole thing, uh, feeling much better doing all of this. And that’s when I noticed how much my brain seems to have benefited. And I was writing a grant, uh, that the lifeblood of a scientist.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 32:46 And I just noticed how, how well writing was going. And I had never like had that realization. I never said to myself, oh, that was a good writing session. It was always like, oh my God, that was so hard. But that day I said that, you know, writing was good and I thought, what is going on? I’ve never had that thought. And um, the major, the only major change I had made in my life was this, um, um, you know, loss of 25 pounds and much more regular exercise that it was so enjoying. Um, and so that’s what got me to think about what was that physical activity doing for my brain. And I ended up switching my entire research program to start to answer that question.
Pairing exercise with affirmations and its positive effects
Kimberly: 33:32 And then Dr. Wendy, how do you take that a step further in your, you know, your prior book and your Ted talk. You’d also talk about pairing the exercise with affirmations, positive affirmations. Where does that come in? Because there’s a, um, you know, I’m a student of yoga, there’s a, there’s a component where some of the yogis talk about the importance of really reprogram deep beliefs after meditation with deep affirmations. So what’s happening when you’re exercising with your brain, that you can say these affirmations and it really changes your beliefs. Yes.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 34:02 Yeah. So I, um, let me step back for a moment. So there was a class that I discovered at the gym that made me come back all the
Kimberly: 34:10 Time. Well, is it though, is it called the class?
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 34:14 No,
Kimberly: 34:15 It’s not. There’s another class that does a lot of affirmation.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 34:17 I know, I know I’ve, I’ve worked with the class too, but when I did this thing, uh, when I had my own transformation, it was a class at the gym called intense Sati built by missing a fitness instructor. Who’s based in LA now, Patricia Moreno. And, um, it’s a wonderful combination of physical movements from Kickbox and dance and yoga and martial arts, very aerobic, but each move is associated with a positive spoken affirmation. So when you’re punching back and forth, like you would do in kickboxing class, it just, just straight punches back and forth. We would say something like I am strong now, or I am inspired now. And you just string together. All of these moves with the affirmations and what the affirmations are doing is physiologically. It is increasing the kind of your cardio respiratory output, because it’s harder to run and talk at the same time, but it is just to run alone. But it’s also the meaning, the meaning of what you are saying that you are declaring with your voice. I am strong. I believe I will succeed. I am inspired. And of course all the things that we say are all these empowering things. Um, students have asked, well, what if I, if I use the opposite psychology, what if I say I’m really, really fat? I want, you know, like, no, no, no, no. You’re not allowed to do that. Don’t
Kimberly: 35:46 Experiment.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 35:47 Don’t experiment very dangerous, only do positive affirmations. And so what, what, what is it doing? So the physical activity is changing. As I talk about in the Ted talk is the most transformative thing that you can do for your brain, because it is literally giving your brain this wonderful neurochemical bubble bath of neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, nor adrenaline, uh, growth factors that help the hippocampus grow. Um, and, uh, so imagine giving your brain a wonderfully nutritious bubble bath regularly for your entire life that is really helping your brain be the best kind of situation possible to learn and grow. And then let’s add those affirmations. What do the affirmations do? And we know from studies, not of intense Sati, but of positive statements that people make relative to neutral or negative statements that does also improve your psychological level, it improves positive effect. So it’s basically kind of extra, extra dopamine and serotonin boost from, from these positive declarations that you’re doing in this particular, in this particular class. And so that hooked me. I couldn’t wait to go back to class. Uh, you know, when it ended, it’s like, oh, when’s the next class? When can I come back? And that’s what helped me lose a 25 pounds. And I love it so much. I became an instructor, 10 Sati, which is what I was doing at the end of that Ted talk that was taught to me that we were all doing together.
Wendy shares how she has so much energy
Kimberly: 37:20 Well, Dr. Wendy, do you think that’s one of the reasons you have so much energy, you always been this effervescent, or do you think the shift of like combining your research with your passion, for helping people understand their brain and also affirmations? Like what is, what is the reason that you have so much energy, do you think?
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 37:37 Um, you know, I, I must say that it is, it is absolutely what you said. I it’s this, uh, I’m in a point where I’m able to combine my passion, my research, and being able to speak to different people. But I must say that I always, I also, especially when I do things like this, I am optimally using my good anxiety I want to do well. I have a little bit of butterflies, even though I’ve done so many podcasts since the start of this book, I didn’t know you. And so there’s a little, Ooh, wish what you’re going to be like. You know, she asked me a question that I don’t know the answer to. And so, you know, I use that activation energy that comes from that a little anxiety before any of these kinds of things. But I use it, I channel it because I know the best talks I’ve ever given in my entire career. I was scared. I was scared. I went on stage. Wow.
Kimberly: 38:35 I love that. I just got goosebumps. And I love that. You really talk about that in this new book because it’s energy, right. So we can take that energy. We can channel it towards positivity instead of, like you said, just making a feel like it’s going to break us down. It’s all bad. We can take it and spin it in a positive way.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 38:53 Yeah, exactly.
Thoughts on supplementing for brain health
Kimberly: 38:54 Wow. So, and getting a little practical here for a moment, doctor Dr. Wendy, because I hear you talk about exercise and breath, which I love because it’s so natural, but what about now, there’s a lot of talk about things like neuro tropics and things that you should ingest or supplements for brain health. Do you think we need to take all of these external things for brain health and your opinion?
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 39:20 I am. Uh, I must say I have not done extensive research on, on, I haven’t read any studies, not one study on the effects of nootropics. I have read many more studies on nutrition and the best diets for the brain. And what I can say is there’s lots and lots and lots of evidence that normal diets that come from food grown from the earth, you know, and, and, you know, fish and a little bit of maybe red meat, a little bit, um, that can provide a very, very healthy brain boosting brain sustaining diet. And that is what I, uh, what I, I use. Okay. I take a multivitamin multivitamin together with, with basically the Mediterranean diet. This is what, what all of those people that live in the blue zones, they’ve lived to over a hundred years old with, with great brain function. They are, they’re not taking nootropics real food.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 40:23 So that is, that is why that is my first thing that I always, uh, just, just, uh, plug, eat real food, uh, Mediterranean, lots of colors, lots of fruits, lots of vegetables. Um, yeah. Do I like a piece of chocolate cake every once in a while? Sure. I love it. But, but majority fruits, vegetables, I do eat a lot of fish, occasional meat. Um, I feel like I have a really good diet. I feel like it really sustains me. And, um, cause I can draw on that energy when I, when I get to do, you know, podcasts like yours.
Kimberly: 40:56 Yeah. And you know, we had, um, we had Dr. Wendy Dan Buettner on the podcast a couple months ago. Who’s amazing as you know, discovered the blue zones and he’s done such incredible research. Um, he wrote a little section for my next book. I, I respect him so much. And like he said, I asked him a similar question with you. I was asking about no tropics with him. I was asking about some of these like super foods and things people have to take. And he’s like, look, he’s like, none of these blue zones are spending all this money on all these like little things. He’s like, keep it simple. Most of it is peasant food, you know, and those, those cultures are, you know, 90% plant base is very simple. It’s like a pound of lentils is like a couple of bucks vegetables things from the earth. So I really liked that approach because sometimes, you know, we tune into the news and we think, oh, to, to get to this level, I need to spend all this money to buy all these things. But it goes back to your lifestyle and balance, like you said, breathe, understand like, look at what’s going on here, use exercise. And I really love that because it’s accessible to everybody.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 41:56 Exactly, exactly. Nothing, nothing special. Um, but, but it makes sense. And, and really, it, it it’s backed by the largest science, the largest kind of volume of science out there. So, so that is what I, that is what I practice medicine, what I preach.
Wendy’s core message regarding anxiety
Kimberly: 42:15 So, uh, finally doctors, uh, Wendy, I could talk to you forever, but you know, because you’re focusing on anxiety now in this new book and we know that there’s so much of it in the world, what is a core message that you would like any woman, anyone listening to this to really, um, just to know like, like a passion from your heart, what’s something that someone can really take away and say, oh my gosh, I’ve so much anxiety. I have, I struggle with this. Um, what’s a little tidbit right from Dr. Wendy’s heart to her heart.
Dr. Wendy Suzuk…: 42:46 Okay. So here is my wish for everybody reading this book. This is why I wrote the book is that, um, if you read the book and learn how to dial down your volume of anxiety and start to look inwards at the knowledge and the wisdom that comes from those uncomfortable emotions associated with anxiety, that process that I try and lead you through in the book will lead you down a road to a more fulfilling, more creative and a less stressful life. That is what I found when I’ve used these approaches in my life. And that is what I wish for all the readers out there.
Kimberly: 43:33 Oh, so powerful. I love hearing the Y Dr. Wendy, cause we can align to that and get behind the why and then really use all this amazing research, all these tools. Thank you so much for your wisdom, Dr. Wendy, I’m so excited that you put this book out into the world. Can you share with our readers, um, the best way to find out about your work book and we’ll link to this? Beauty is also in the show notes. Wonderful.
Kimberly: All right my loves, I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I enjoyed doing it with Dr. Wendy, what a, what a force, please check out our show notes email@example.com for other podcasts. I think you enjoy articles, information, recipes, meditations. We’ll be back here Thursday for our next Q&A show till then take great care of my love. Remember how precious important you are. You are completely unique. I am here to support you every step of the journey. I’ll see you on social. I’ll see you on the app. I’ll see you on the website. It’s sending you so much love. See you soon.