Today our guest expert is Dr. Melanie Greenberg, who specializes in managing stress, love, and relationships using proven techniques from neuroscience, mindfulness, and positive psychology. She uses these techniques to educate, support, heal, and inspire people so that they can overcome emotional barriers to fulfilling their potential.
In Dr. Greenberg’s bestselling book, The Stress-Proof Brain: Master Your Emotional Response to Stress Using Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity, she examines health through the lens of the biopsychosocial model. Basically, she looks at mental health and health as the combined effects of your mind, body, and spirit.
How does the biopsychosocial approach work in practice?
For example, someone may comes into Dr. Greenberg’s practice with chronic pain. This pain makes them feel helpless and depressed, and this puts a strain on their social relationships. All of that can make the objective experience of the pain worse.
In treating this person, Dr. Greenberg would try to move them away from strictly using medicine to cure their pain, explain how stress can worsen physical pain, help them see how their thoughts and feelings affect the pain (so that they might feel less helpless), and coach them to interact with social relationships in a way that would empower the theoretical patient.
Exploring The Stress-Proof Brain
Dr. Greenberg describes stress as an automatic response that can trigger you into a state of flight or fight, in which you fall into an automatic response pattern. In the book, she offers readers tools they can use to manage that response and, instead, leverage its positive aspects.
By taking advantage of neuroplasticity, or your brain’s ability to change through experience, you can rewire your brain to shift from responses that promote stress to healthier responses. This is important on many levels.
On a biological level, stress can literally be a killer – it creates inflammation, changes blood pressure, depress the immune system, and more. In the short-term, this isn’t terribly harmful.
In the long term, continued stress can erode your immune system, develop into significant inflammation in the pathways going to your heart, and affect your glucose production. The negative results of stress can also compound other health problems, or other symptoms of stress.
On a social level, stress can make people angry, argumentative, and more likely to saying things they regret. It can get in the way of relationships and drive people away.
On top of all that, we often have unhealthy responses to stress. Sometimes we drink to excess, over eat, stop exercising, and generally stop taking care of ourselves. Those unhealthy cycles just add to the feedback loop.
One powerful tool for lessening or relieving stress is mindfulness. Mindfulness is meditation, but it’s also much more – it’s an attitude.
“Mindfulness is an open, compassionate attitude towards your own inner experience.”
–Dr. Melanie Greenberg
Mindfulness will teach you to see your judging thoughts, negativity, reactivity, and fear, and then create some distance between you and those responses so that you understand that those thoughts don’t define you.
If make that a regular practice then, over time, you can learn the difference between your direct experience in the body and the judging thoughts that you cling to. As a result, you will be able to decrease the power of negative thoughts over your life.
As you develop familiarity with mindfulness, you can employ it to change your life at work, online, and in relationships.
The Biggest Helping: Today’s Most Important Takeaway
Stress is a natural part of life. It doesn’t have to own you – it doesn’t have to get in the way of your health and happiness. If you learn to manage your brain’s automatic fight or flight response then you can put an end to unhealthy responses to stress, become more mindful, and develop greater compassion.
You can start the rewiring process by beginning a mindfulness practice today, even if it’s just five minutes a day. The most important part of the practice is consistency.
You can begin to learn mindfulness through a specific type of meditation:
- Focus on your breath as an anchor and watch it go in and out
- During this process, your breath will naturally slow down
- As you’re trying to watch your breath, your mind will likely wander to a judging thought (e.g. this isn’t working, I’m not doing this properly)
- In the moment that you can catch that thought, notice that you’re having it and bring your attention back to the breath
- You now have a little bit more power over how you focus your attention and a little bit more self-awareness
Thank you for joining us on The Daily Helping with Dr. Shuster. Subscribe to the show on iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play to download more food for the brain, knowledge from the experts, and tools to win at life.
- The Stress-Proof Brain: Master Your Emotional Response to Stress Using Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity by Melanie Greenberg, PhD
- Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace) by Chade-Meng Tan, Daniel Goleman, Jon Kabat-Zinn