Episode 22: Can You Think Yourself Well?
Are there tangible health benefits to positive thinking? What’s up with the placebo effect? And can simply thinking about being well lead to real wellness? Our guest today, Sandi Scheinbaum, says yes.
A licensed clinical psychologist for over 35 years, Sandi founded of the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy in collaboration with The Institute for Functional Medicine where she trains health coaches on how to use positive psychology to reverse chronic illness. For years, she’s studied and taught about the psychology of eating and mind-body medicine, in addition to running clinics for treating ADD, panic attacks and anxiety.
On today’s episode, Andrea talks to Sandi about how we can use our thoughts to drive real physiological changes, such as decreasing inflammation and soothing our guts -- and how our thoughts can also turn our bodies against us. They also discuss the placebo effect and the common symptoms that Sandi sees from toxic, negative thinking. Plus, Sandi answers one of Andrea’s burning questions: Do positive mantras work if we don’t believe them?
As a gift to listeners, Sandi is offering her Positive Psychology Short Course for free. Go to functionalmedicinecoaching.org/program/microbiome/, click on the Positive Psychology Short Course and enter the code FMCAGIFT at checkout. The code is good through September 30, 2019.
To learn more about Sandi, head to www.functionalmedicinecoaching.org or follow the academy on Twitter (@fxmedcoach), Instagram (@functionalmedcoach), or Facebook (Functional Medicine Coaching Academy).
On this show, you’ll learn:
- Sandi’s experience and background (1:28)
- Tuning into what’s going on internally for a more personalized approach (3:26)
- How can our thoughts increase or decrease inflammation (5:47)
- How our subconscious factors into our disease states (9:33)
- Understanding what you’re feeling in your body and its impact (14:46)
- Using our inner monologue to shape our experiences (18:16)
- Do positive mantras work if we don’t believe them? (27:29)
- Living in the moment (31:13)
- Placebo effect and positive thinking (32:57)
- Common symptoms from negative thinking (36:42)
- Getting started switching your mental state (38:27)
- Further books and speakers to check out (43:54)
Andrea Wien: Welcome to the Microbiome Report. This episode is powered by BIOHM Health, a company on a mission to better your gut health. Check out their products, including an app home testing kit at biohmhealth.com. That's B-I-O-H-Mhealth.com. I'm your host, Andrea Wien, and my guest today is Sandi Scheinbaum, founder of the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy in collaboration with the Institute for Functional Medicine, a licensed clinical psychologist for over 35 years. She now trains health coaches on how to integrate the positive psychology model of coaching to reverse chronic illness. On this episode, I talk to Sandi about how our thoughts, mental images and emotions impact the gut.
We dive into our subconscious beliefs and how they drive our disease states and how changing our mind can change our health. Enjoy the show. Sandi, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Sandi Scheinbaum: It's a pleasure to be here.
Andrea Wien: We talk so much here on this space about the proper diet, the right supplements, the right external factors that really form the health of our gut. And today, I'm excited because we're going internal. We're talking really more about how shift your mental state to be able to heal the gut. To start, can you give our listeners a little bit of background on who you are and the experiences that you've had in the space?
Sandi Scheinbaum: Definitely. Before I founded the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy to train health coaches in the functional medicine model, I was a clinical psychologist. And as a psychologist, I specialized in mind-body medicine, which at the time, we're talking early '80s, was quite new and pretty radical. And then I blended that with cognitive behavior therapy, which is how you stop disturbing yourself by changing your thinking, and blended all of that with what yet had to have a name, which is positive psychology. And that's the focus on what's right with you as opposed to what's wrong. Before that, I was a teacher, I started out in special education. I taught many courses at a college level and blended all of those skills.
So educating as well as looking at how people accept themselves and how they work towards change, blending that with functional medicine principles, I was in the first class to become certified in functional medicine and then founded the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy with the Institute for Functional Medicine. And now, I train health coaches in this model. So blending all of those components that I originally trained in, so functional medicine, mind-body medicine, positive psychology, cognitive behavior therapy.
Andrea Wien: And I think we're really starting to see a move towards more of this, what's right versus what's wrong mentality in a lot of things like intuitive eating, for example. So it's not about the diets of the '80s, '90s and early 2000s, where we were starving ourselves, low fat, not eating, weight watchers was at its heyday. And now, it's all about really tuning into what's going on internally and making a decision based on how you feel and really getting in touch with our feelings instead of just our mental idea of what's right or wrong.
Sandi Scheinbaum: Exactly. It's not somebody else telling us what we should be eating for example, but really determining what feels right for us. It's personalized as well as learning to accept what is, accept where you are in this journey towards better health habits.
Andrea Wien: When we think about how our thoughts, our mental images, our emotions are impacting, not just our gut, but our overall health, what does that picture look like?
Sandi Scheinbaum: Well, I always like to say, for many years, I would work with clients and we would focus on this concept of what's real in the mind is real in the body. It all really does boil down to our thoughts, our feelings, our perceptions, and every one of those is registered somewhere physiologically. And what we know now that we didn't know back in the late '70s, early '80s, when I first started to work in this field, there's so much research that shows the connection. For example, Barbara Fredrickson in her work, she is a noted positive psychology researcher, and she looks at the direct connection between positivity, between happiness and physiological status. That's things like inflammation, directly connected to the mind, to what you are focusing on, to your mood.
Andrea Wien: Yeah. I think there was a book a while back by Dr. Gabor Maté, When the Body Says No, and I remember picking that up a couple of years ago and just being blown away by the case studies that he had in there of people who seemingly were very happy on the outside, were great mothers, great wives, fathers, whatever the case might be, and then they would contract or get some terrible disease like MS or Crohn's disease. And they found that when they switched their mindset and really started advocating for themselves, changing the way that they talk to themselves, changing the way that they interacted with their family members and friends, those disease states were able to diminish or sometimes entirely be cured. Can you talk a little bit about how that's happening in the body? Like how can our thoughts really cause inflammation or decrease inflammation?
Sandi Scheinbaum: Sure, I'd be happy to. So I'm going to go back to what I think is just a favorite example, a great way to look at how the mind influences the body. This is an example that was given to me many years ago. It comes from Judith Green, who is a noted researcher and practice of biofeedback. That was one of the fields that I focused on for many years. So it goes something like this. Imagine you're driving down the street, it's late at night, it's pitch black, there's no lights on, like a power failure everywhere. You pull into your driveway or parking lot of where you live, you get out of the car and you step down and something like wraps around your leg, and it's snake. So imagine how you would feel at that moment, imagine the physical reaction. Of course, your heart is pounding, you are just frozen or you're struggling to run away.
You are in full fight or flight response mode. And now imagine that you opened the car door a little bit more, so the light's activated, you look down and you see that it's just a garden hose that was left out there. So now you start to come down from that response and you may say to yourself, "Oh, isn't that silly that I responded that way?" Think about what caused that tremendous physiological response. If it was a garden hose all along, what was responsible? Well, you said to yourself, "It's a snake." It was that word snake. It was that perception, that thought, and that was like, you triggered an alarm. It's just like, you have a home alarm and you press that button and it has to be fast, so you react instantly. But coming down from that response is slow, it takes a while for the body to shut down.
So it was the thought all along, because there was nothing, it was a garden house all along. And so therefore, how do you get out of it? Well, it's simply a matter of changing snakes to garden hose. And I like to use this picture of everything being sorted, like a laundry, doing laundry, and you're sorting, darks, lights. And every waking moment you have that system of sorting. Is it going to trigger the home alarm to activate this response or is it going to be no danger, all clear? So safety, danger. You have those, just those two categories. It has to go in either one of those piles of laundry. It can't be in the middle, darks or lights.
And when you switch to the light pile, then it's a profound physiological healing response, digestion happens because when as we know, you're in that fight or flight, everything stops, your reproductive system, you don't want to be having a baby if you're in that fight or flight, if you are in that panic mode or you think that this is a survival. A way that you can get out of it then is to start to shift your thinking.
Andrea Wien: This is very the conscious state, which I think a lot of people understand and recognize. And we talk quite a bit on here about the fight or flight response and what that can do to us physiologically, but how does what we subconsciously believe about ourselves, our worthiness, our fears that are maybe buried that we don't have access to? How are these things factoring into our disease states?
Sandi Scheinbaum: Well, I think it's really misnomer to say that we don't have access to it because that doesn't sound very empowering. Well, if we can't control it, there's some force within us that we don't know about. That doesn't sound very hopeful that we can do anything about it, and I believe that you absolutely can. And how do you do something about it is with practice, you decide that you are going to be very aware. It's always a thought, it's always a perception, you've experienced an emotion, so you're feeling angry for example. So you can really expand your awareness to focus on, "Why am I angry?" And as you increase that awareness, it will become apparent to you that maybe this is familiar, maybe what you're really focusing on is something that happened in the past.
And so we tend to come to believe some things about ourselves, we all have a personal narrative, a life story. For example, it can be something like, "Oh, I'm such a screw up. I always screw up, I always act before thinking. I say things just at spur of the moment and I regret afterwards. I just am always like making these mistakes, I'm just a screw up." And so that may be how you've come to define yourself, but where is it coming from? Well, it's usually an old narrative, it's usually coming from someplace in the past, and particularly, if you go far enough into your past, into your childhood, it's where we swallow things whole. So there's a field of psychotherapy, way of looking at things, it comes from gestalt therapy.
And one of the basic tenants of gestalt therapy is like swallowing things whole without thoroughly analyzing it fully to see if it really fits for you. And as a young child, that's where we're supposed to be developmentally, swallowing things hold because you don't have the reasoning power to really analyze your own thinking yet. So something happens at school or with your parents and you get this label, that you start to define you, "Oh, I'm dumb. I don't know enough. I'm not smart enough." And you get these general labels about yourself. But as an adult, you have now developed a greater capacity for analytical thinking. What does that mean? It means that you can take apart that label, and you can understand that it's false, it's inaccurate.
And we know that we can take it and we can debate. So when you referred earlier to that subconscious, what that really means is that you want to practice this process of disputing all of your irrational thoughts and crazy thinking. I was fortunate that I trained personally with Albert Ellis, he developed what was called Rational Emotive Therapy. It's a form of cognitive behavioral therapy. This is where all this comes from. It's a way of really looking at your thinking, your ways of really defining yourself and arguing with them and finding out the nuttiness of them. And this is a process where you catch yourself and you backtrack and you can develop another more rational, realistic thought, because a lot of these stuff from unrealistic and magical thinking.
And Ellis wrote a book, which I would recommend, I think it's out of print, you may still be able to get it on Amazon, How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable about Anything. And it goes through a great process of how to change this thinking. And what's the power in it? Well, when you change your thinking, then you are easily then shifting into a more peaceful state. So your mind quiets and what's real in the mind is real in the body, and therefore, you are sending signals to the body, "Quiet down." It's like, you don't need to have your finger on that home alarm, you turn it off and now you get a signal, "All clear, no danger."
Andrea Wien: What it sounds like to me is just being aware, being aware, having an awareness state as you move through your day. So if something triggers you, you mentioned something with anger. So my coworker yells at me at work, in a meeting in front of everyone, or I get cut off in traffic or something like that, it's really, instead of just going with the emotion and powering through and moving on to the next moment, it's taking a second or a few moments to step back, really understand what I'm feeling in my body and be able to start tying that awareness to how it's impacting my overall life and why I'm having the reaction that I'm having.
Sandi Scheinbaum: Absolutely. Well put. For example, you are feeling angry, someone criticizes you at work, "How dare are you, shouldn't be saying this to me, this is unfair." And what would happen then, first of all, you notice then the language you are using that it's hot language. So it shouldn't be happening, I'm upset, "This isn't right, why is he acting like this? This always happens to me." And you look at those words and those are now being sorted, they've fallen into that dark pile of laundry, they are the negative. And therefore, at some level, you're pushing the home alarm. So therefore, digestion's going to be compromised, your body's going to tighten up. And this also affects your ability to think at reason, but if you recognize it and then you can focus on, "Okay, wait a minute," but you can break it down to, "Okay. Does he do this all of the time with me 100%, no exception?"
Or, "is he human like the rest of us? And what is going on with him that would have resulted in what he said. Could I be misinterpreting this? What are the odds? Is it just me or is this his behavior pattern?" And you relabel your feelings, "I can stand it, it's uncomfortable. I don't like being criticized in this meeting, but is it totally awful, horrible, terrible, the end of the world? How can I let it go? What would happen if I let it go? How would I feel? Is this helping me or is it slowly killing me? Is it worth getting my whole body in flame? Is it worth compromising my digestion? So what if he said this to me? Is my life over. I can stand it." And then you start to experience some coping with it.
How can you problem solve? Maybe there's a way that you can speak with him, but maybe you might also have a thought like, "Oh, well, what about that time he complimented me and our dialogue went well." So we tend to have this all or nothing thinking like, "He's always criticizing me." And I would break that down 100% of the time with absolutely no exception. So that's one of the reasoning errors that we can catch, that all or nothing thinking what's called catastrophizing as if everything is a tragedy, the end of the world, we want to bring it down to an emotion that we can manage. It's not like you're going to turn a negative into an absolute positive, but you shift words instead of, it's awful, it's horrible, that shouldn't be happening, well, it's inconvenient, I'm disappointed. But those are states that you're able to cope with better because you know they're transient, you know that they're not going to last that they're not going to have devastating consequences.
Andrea Wien: And I think too, we get caught up in talking to ourselves this way, "I always do this," or, "I fail at doing this," or, "I'm a terrible acts," whatever you want to include in this conversation. And so really using the language that we speak to ourselves with to shape our experience of the world, I think sometimes it's even more powerful than worrying about the external factors of what another person might be doing and how that's impacting us.
Sandi Scheinbaum: Absolutely. That's a great point because we are our own worst enemies in terms of being very critical. So I train health coaches, and this is what I hear when they graduate, "I don't know enough. I'm not good enough." The impostor syndrome. The sense that everybody else out there is better than I am. And we tend to then develop these labels, "I'm stupid, I'm lazy, I'm shy, I'm a poor public speaker." And what happens is then those start to define us and even just thinking them, we are at some level pressing that home alarm, we're signaling, "Danger, danger, body better get ready, get prepared, there's a threat." And so we may not feel it intensely as that example of there's a snake where in an instant, your heart is absolutely pounding, but at some level, inflammation is occurring, muscles are tightening, blood is flowing away from the fingertips, digestion is being compromised.
And what do we do? Well, that's where I think character strengths come in. Character strengths comes from positive psychology. It's a whole field of focusing on what is right and not what's broken, what's right with you and not what's wrong with you. And we thrive because we all have these character strengths. These are things like the ability to shift to a state of gratitude, use humor, use hope, ability to display courage and kindness, to connect with other people through our leadership skills, our teamwork, use curiosity. So you're interviewing me and maybe you're curious about something I have to say. And so as we use these strengths, we can then get out of that label , "I'm horrible, I'm a screw up, I'm stupid, I'm not worthy," is what it boils down to.
And we can also dispute it. A question I love to ask, which comes from cognitive behavior therapy, you ask yourself, "Where's the evidence? Prove it." So is if you were a witness in the courtroom, so you are being questioned and you say, "Ah, let's just take... I am unprepared. I don't know enough for going out and becoming a coach." And so you would say, "Prove it. Where's the evidence?" Or, "I'm a screw up. Now, I'm always making mistakes." And you would then ask yourself to prove it, "Show me." Because when you say that statement, "I am blah, blah," it's implying, that's who you are, and therefore, 100% of the time, every situation, your entire life, it's always happening. Well, you're going to pull back from that and you're going to say, "Well, no, of course, I succeeded in this. I did this well."
So then you start to see, it's not true that I am statement is inaccurate, because it goes back to that form of logic and reasoning. If any of you ever took logic class, you would know, if you're defining, "Okay, this is a table," or, "That's a dog." Well, 100% of the time, that's true. And the only thing that's true is like, "Okay, I have blue eyes." So 100% of the time, yes, that defines you because it doesn't change. But what does change is the day to day experiences that you have and how you act in each situation, it varies. So you may act one way with your family, with your friend, with your colleagues, you may experience different strengths. And so it fluctuates, so sometimes you may do things well, and sometimes you may do things poorly.
So I practice yoga every day and every practice is different. I like to do a lot of inversions. Well, yesterday I could not get up into a shoulder stand, no matter how many times I try, this is not happening. Today, I got up with ease. So I was able to hit that inversion really well. So it fluctuate. So when we say, "I am a bad person," again, it's inaccurate. So by being mindful and shifting into our character strengths, where we realize that, yes, we have these traits that show our goodness, and we can use those to dispute what we are saying about ourselves that is so negative. And I love to switch to, if we're going to use that, I am characterization, use a model that is positive, that nurtures ourselves, that is self-care. And there's a restaurant, it's in San Diego and LA, is called Cafe Gratitude.
And I love it, they have a menu that is, instead of ordering the salad, you'd order, "I am loving. I am grateful. I am kind." Because that is accurate, because what they're describing are essential character strengths. And there's been research on this from positive psychology that shows that around the world, doesn't matter how old you are, gender, culture, we all have these traits; the ability to love, to experience gratitude, to have hope, to experience kindness towards ourselves and others. So that's what we can go to. And the beauty of that is that that has profound impact both physiological and emotional impact of our wellbeing.
Andrea Wien: And to take it into a health standpoint, even saying things like, "I am sick," or, "I am overweight," or talking about digestive issues that we have, again, all of those things can be changed, they're not constant states. And so it's not only about what we're telling ourselves about our abilities, but also about our physical health and our bodies.
Sandi Scheinbaum: Absolutely. You can take that and say, "For now, at this moment... " I used to work with a lot of people with pain and they would say, "I'm a pain patient." And when you do that, then it means that every waking moment, 100% of the time, it was in the past, it is now, and it will be in the future. And that is not very hopeful and it doesn't really give any way that you can get out of it because it's like saying, "I have blue eyes," and it's not a characteristic of you. It's a temporary state. And so when they start to really analyze, instead of saying, "I'm a pain patient," or, "I'm a diabetic," well, it could change. And you can find protocols that you can adapt, and then you will no longer be experiencing that cluster of symptoms that would come to be known as that particular condition.
And so it means that for now, at this moment in time, I'm experiencing pain, but I can focus, I can imagine a time when I don't have pain. So that thinking keeps you stuck with depression as well. And that's one of the biggies, "I'm depressed, I'm anxious," where you define yourself by you, what you think is a mental health disorder and you don't think you'll ever get out of it. And that is the ultimate expression of depression, "There's nothing good ever happened to me in the past," which is irrational, because again, if you analyzed it and you had a recording, a graph of every single moment, well, maybe you did laugh at something, maybe you had a good moment of connection with another person.
So that would negate your false statement that everything bad happened to me, I had a horrible childhood, then you could go into the future and that really dismal way of thinking, it'll never change. And I would say to people, "Well, prove it. Where's the evidence?" You'd be thrown out of court as a witness if you... it's your hypothesis, it comes from your own faulty thinking, there's no proof.
Andrea Wien: Now, I can hear people thinking or saying, "But I am sick." And it doesn't make sense for me to say, "I am healthy, I am well, I am all these things if I don't feel that way." So these positive mantras that we're talking about, do they work if we don't believe them?
Sandi Scheinbaum: Well, what you can focus on is a way to find accuracy so that you will believe it. And it has to come from you, it's not somebody else telling you that, but it's a self-discovery. So if somebody says, "I'm sick." Well, you would break that down, "What part of you is sick? Your entire being every single cell?" And so where can you localize? Maybe, "My right shoulder hurts." And then, "What about your left shoulder? What about your thumb?" If somebody is in pain and working... I remember working with this one woman, "Oh, I'm in such and such pain, I can't stand it." And we have her focus, "Put all of your attention, your right thumb and imagine feeling it." And if you close your eyes and you focus long enough, you can start to feel some throbbing in your left thumb.
And maybe you didn't notice it before, you weren't aware. So it is where you center your awareness. And so focusing on a part of your body that hurts for example, but you can focus away to another part that doesn't hurt or focusing on changing the language. There's a famous story, Milton Erickson was a very noted hypnotherapist, he really invented the field. And he was working with a woman who was in terrible pain and felt that she could not cope. She was really suffering when he saw her. And he had her reinvent that and start to call it just little discomfort, like something that itches, but not too badly. And she was able to center herself and go into that feeling and that experience that her physiological experience of pain then lessened.
So there's a lot that you can do with imagery and pain to lessen that. The experience of pain we know is subjective and that can be modified. And when someone completely defines themselves as their sickness, we can go to, what is broader? There's some studies of people who have Alzheimer's disease and you would think that someone living with Alzheimer's, this is like a walking death. This is what we're all told, this is a horrible way to live. Yet, when they interviewed people who were living with dementia, they were still describing periods of time when they laughed, when they enjoyed the arts, when they experienced love, being with loved ones. And so they were still able to partake in life and find meaning and purpose and community, despite living with this really dreaded condition.
And I'm not saying that that's positive, but it's also not the absolute end of the world, that life is horrible, miserable, terrible. 100% of your waking time.
Andrea Wien: Yeah. It's interesting. I think my husband's grandmother had dementia and I didn't know her much before she contracted dementia so I can't speak to her as a person before that, but a lot of the family has said that she was so much happier in those later years. And I think there's something to be said for that, of really living in the instead of potentially, constantly remembering the past and all of the things that we are inadequate about.
Sandi Scheinbaum: Absolutely. And so, no matter what we are suffering from, if we relabel it, and this comes from a lot of the work on resiliency and hardiness, and we are living well despite this condition. So we're still able to experience joy in the moment, experience love. And a lot of it comes down to the experience of real true meaning and purpose in your life and being connected to a community that you value. And what that does is very connected to physical wellbeing. And we know then that physical wellbeing is overall, it's at a cellular level and it certainly affects the microbiome. So that ecosystem is related to our broader social ecosystem.
Andrea Wien: The Microbiome Report is brought to you by BIOHM Health. Do you have a passion for gut health and want to change the lives of others? You could become a BIOHM ambassador and start making a difference today. BIOHM ambassadors are smart, health conscious, social entrepreneurs who get to work on their own terms, earn awards, and make real money. To learn more about how to become an ambassador and hear from other ambassadors in the program, head to biohmhealth.com, B-I-O-H-Mhealth.com. Now, back to the show.
Let's switch gears a little bit and talk about placebo effect because I think it gets a bad rap, but people say it's not a real cure, but I'm of the belief that if something helps you to heal, does it really matter how we got there? Can you talk a little bit about how placebo effect can be used when we're talking about positive thinking?
Sandi Scheinbaum: I love the placebo effect and it's very powerful because it really is about everything we've been talking about, it's your belief. And so if you are telling yourself that this is going to help me, then that is so powerful. And the reason it's powerful is because you are not triggering that alarm system, you are not activating that fight or flight. You are in a restorative mode. And usually, what it entails is the use of imagery. If you're imagining yourself, well, if you are swallowing a pill and now you're imagining, or let's say you're taking a probiotic and you're imagining, oh, you're prebiotic, you're imagining all those good bugs are being fed, well, that imagery is positive. And so resulting in that healing response taking place.
And I did a lot of work with patients using biofeedback, and that's where you're using technology, where you can see your physiological responses on a computer screen, for example. And when I had them imagine that something good was going to happen, you can see the responses toward a relaxation response happening, but if they were to start thinking, "Ah, this is not going to help me," then nothing would happen. And there was a book called the Ghost in the Black Box. And many people would look at the technology of using biofeedback where they're looking at training their brainwaves, for example, or raising their fingertip temperature, which would be an indicator of a relaxed response taking place.
And if they are thinking, "Well, I can do this. This is really working. This feels good," you'd see those changes. There'd be an immediate reaction where you would see like the temperature in their fingertips increasing, which means you're getting more blood supply to your fingertips, that's indicative of a relaxation response. But if they would start to think, "Oh, how can this work?" Or, "Particularly I'm not doing well," then it would go the opposite direction and you'd see the temperature in their fingers starting to cool. And so it's an immediate reaction that is really showing that. So what the placebo is, it's hope. And hope is one of the most powerful character strengths we have that's strongly tied to physical wellbeing, because the opposite, which I think is very destructive and I've seen so frequently is a nocebo effect.
It's where your doctor says, "Ah, they're supplements, those aren't going to work. Take them if you want, that's not going to do anything." Or I worked a lot with people with panic and anxiety and they would be taking medications and they would be told by their doctor, "Okay, now I'm going to describe to you the side effects." And they'd have this whole list of side effects, and of course, people would start experiencing them or they would tell them, "Oh, you could go for that biofeedback, but this not going to work." And so now that's their mindset. It's very, very powerful.
Andrea Wien: This might be a little bit off kind of a crazy question, but have you noticed through your work or do we know from the research if there are common symptoms that people experience when their mindset isn't aligned properly? For example, if someone's walking around in a state of inadequacy, are they more likely to have IBS or some type of digestive symptom? Or is it really that this negative thinking can impact any body's system?
Sandi Scheinbaum: Yeah. I think it's strongly tied to the gut because that's where we make neurotransmitters. And so there's this two-way communication between the mind and the digestive track. And so I feel immediately, like if I'm about to give a speech, I feel that like where they say, you have butterflies in your stomach. We have a lot of words or phrases that have come into the vernacular associated, "I have butterflies in my stomach." We tend to go there. And so I think it's one of the ways that we express that. I used to work with many people with IBS, and often just starting with simple things like some slow breathing techniques, paired with this relaxing of your thoughts and combining the two, and then adding in a little imagery of imagining your digestion settling down and going to work again. And it was very powerful, so a strong connection.
So yes, the gut is often where people experience it first. And how you react is personalized. Some people react with diarrhea, other reacts with constipation, others react with a stomach ache, but it's closely tied in. My daughter used to every time the school would be starting, "Oh, I have a stomach ache." And it was real because she was scared going to school.
Andrea Wien: So if someone is having some of these issues, you've mentioned a few things throughout the show to help with this, but is the best way to really sit down and do this imagery, maybe some deep breathing, how can someone get started switching their mental state from, "I don't feel good, my stomach's upset," whatever might be going on in the gut to a more healthy state of mind?
Sandi Scheinbaum: Yeah. So the first thing is accepting, "I don't feel good." When you accept what is, that's when you start to change, because if you don't, "Oh, I don't feel good. Why? Oh, I'm so disappointed, I'm sick again. I've been working so hard." Or, "I spent all this money on these supplements, these doctors, and no one's helping me, and I shouldn't be feeling this way and it's not fair. Others aren't feeling as sick as I am." So that's number one, you accept what is, "This is what is." But number two is, "I'm not feeling good right now." Because when you have that, I'm not feeling good, you're implying like, "Oh, it'll always be this way, maybe I won't get better, but for now, this is my state."
So accepting, "This is the moment, I'm not feeling good." And then you may break down, "Where?" So you start to expand your awareness to, in what ways are you not feeling good? And maybe you can isolate it, "Well. Okay. My stomach hurts." So you may center your attention, "What would feel good right now? Well, maybe I've been tightening up my stomach." And so you start to loosen it up and start to expand. And one of the best ways to do that is through some belly breathing and slowing it down for [inaudible] because often we are rushing around. We're not aware, we're on our phones all day, we're in front of our computers, we're rushing from one event to the next. So it's taking a moment to just start to slow down your breathing.
And what slowing down your breathing does, and the ideal, the sweet spot is about four to six breaths a minute. That's going to change your heart rate variability, which is tied into a relaxed response. And as you are slowing down your breathing, that may facilitate the slowing down of your thoughts because now you're able to catch the thoughts, you've paused a long enough as you're slowing down your breathing so now you can have that momentary awareness of perhaps the thought, "So I'm sick," but maybe what triggered that stomach pain is an issue that you had with child, with your spouse, with a friend, with a colleague or a demand on yourself. Maybe you were rushing to get something done.
And maybe you can go back to what we talked about earlier that, I'm perfectionistic, that need to do it perfectly. And so maybe what brought this on, all that rushing and that demand to get it done perfectly, worried, "What if I don't get it right? What if I let my colleagues down or my boss, or what if I fail?" And so you can start to then pick up on where that's coming from. Then you can go to the process of, "So what? What's the worst thing that can happen if I don't get it in on time? If it's not 100% perfect, will my life be over?" There are many ways you can start to sort out those thoughts so that you are now having thoughts that you can cope with.
And as a result, you may find that your pain is lessening or you have a plan for how you're going to perhaps go back to your work, but with a different attitude. And the beauty of this process is that not only are you inducing this powerful healing response for your digestive system, but you are also sending more blood supply to the centers of your brain that have to do with planning and reasoning and critical thinking, because when you're in that alarm response, you don't have to be thinking and analyzing because fighting or running away, that's no-brainers. You don't need to be in that higher level thinking mode, but you will find though, then you can go back to your work and do whatever, let's say, it's a project and, "Oh, it's clear how I'm going to write this out or how I'm going to solve this," because you have more blood supply to that critical thinking you already have.
Andrea Wien: And I think people can also think about this as something that doesn't need to take a lot of time. And we can do this process and we can become better and do it more quickly the more that we practice it. And I think that this is really where the whole mindfulness movement is coming from. And we did a whole episode on meditation and the way that meditation can really help to decrease some of the stress and release stress from the body. So I think even just taking five minutes a day to focus on this process can be really transformative.
Sandi Scheinbaum: Absolutely. And as you keep practicing, it will be shorter and shorter periods of time, but you will find that it feels good. And so you want to take that moment or so to just pause and do a reset. And that's really what we're talking about. It's like, you're on your computer and you have to reset so that your mind clears, your body relaxes and you get rid of, what do you call that? That naughty, irrational thinking that you're disturbing yourself with.
Andrea Wien: You've mentioned a few people and different resources, if people want to learn more about this, if they want to read deeper into the science or how to do some of these techniques for themselves, do you have any good books, people that they can check out, speakers that they might want to research?
Sandi Scheinbaum: Sure. Well, the research, most of it does comes from the cognitive therapy literature, Albert Ellis, Rational Emotive Therapy, it's at this old book, it's a classic, How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable about Anything. And then I actually lay out this whole process, it relates to panic attacks, but can be useful for many other conditions as well. It's the, Don't Forget to Breathe, Stop Panic in 10 Easy Steps. And so it just lays out a lot of what we've been talking about. And then for positive psychology, there are a lot of good books by Barbara Fredrickson, Happiness 2.0 is one that I really like and anything really from the positive psychology literature would be great. And the research really looks at... What I did is blend all of it together.
So I'm finding that rather than looking at one particular technique, the power comes from integrating all of them. So it's not just slow breathing or it's not just changing your thoughts, it's not just applying character strengths or eating a certain way or moving throughout the day. It's really the whole package put together that creates change. And it really all boils down to... The whole point though, is accepting what is right now, because often people will go to these self-help books and they think, "I have to improve. There's something wrong with me and I have to get better." Whereas if you focus on right now, "Okay, I'm accepting what is," and I may choose to develop some goals to create some change that you might be visualizing would be a good thing for the future. But it's also implying that, at this moment you are human, you are existing, and how do you want to at this moment, experience joy, happiness, love, contentment.
Andrea Wien: That's great. Sandi, thank you so much, this has been really helpful. I'm sure everyone listening has some new tools that they can take away with them. So I appreciate the time today. Thank you so much for coming on the show. As always, thanks so much for listening and thanks to biohmhealth.com for powering this podcast. As a special gift for our podcast listeners, Sandi is offering her Positive Psychology Short Course for free. Just go to functionalmedicinecoaching.org/program/microbiome. Click on the Positive Psychology Short Course and enter the code FMCAGIFT at checkout. The code is good through September 30th and we will certainly link to that in our show notes. Until next time, I'm Andrea Wien.
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