Each week Dr. Carl Seger listens to your favorite podcasts to summarize the data and give you our precision medicine take.
Who: Andrew Huberman Ph.D., Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine
1. Grief and depression, although they have similar symptoms, are distinctly different processes. Grief is a motivational state, a yearning or desire for something that, no matter how hard you try to reach it, remains just out of reach. It is not only a state of pain, but a state of wanting. Dopamine is not only associated with feeling good, but can put us in a state of desiring and seeking. This puts us into an anticipatory state of wanting or desiring action. We seek to resolve a craving, even if we know logically that it is impossible. The neural activity associated with predicting where a loved one will be leaves us seeking or expecting them to contact us. It can be immensely disorienting to maintain an attachment to someone when you’re not able to predict where they will be in space and time. Attachments to people, animals or things are represented in our brains by three dimensions: space (where the person is physically), time (how long it would take to contact them) and closeness (how attached you are to somebody). After the loss of someone, the process of grief is the uncoupling, unbraiding and unattaching of these memories of where someone is in space, time and, ultimately, our attachment to them.
2. Psychologists and neuroscientists generally agree that the best way to move through grief is to remap these dimensions of space and time while maintaining the close attachment to the person. Anchor yourself to the emotional attachment while using logical thinking to understand the predictions your brain will try to make about where the person is or will be are not going to happen. Set aside a designated time period to feel the intensity of the closeness and attachment you have to that person, but consciously disengage from counterfactual thinking. For example, guilt in the presence of grief explores an infinite landscape of “what-ifs.” This will not allow you to uncouple your intense emotional attachment from the catalog of episodic memories, and will strengthen those bonds to make grief harder to move through.
3. Studies have shown that people who have a lot of circulating catecholamines (epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine), and therefore who are more alert and anxious at baseline, are more likely to experience complicated or prolonged grief syndromes. This suggests that mastering baseline stress and reducing chronic activation of the autonomic nervous system may improve our ability to navigate grief. This means that we can prepare ourselves to be in a better place to access grief as an appropriate response and be able to move through that grief in a way that is most adaptive for us. This has been studied by Mary-Frances O’Connor.
4. Another study has shown that improved vagal tone can be beneficial for moving through grief. Participants with increased vagal tone seemed better able to access feelings of attachment and somatic emotions regarding their grief. Someone having difficulty accessing feelings of attachment may find that exercising vagal tone helps them access feelings of closeness. This can be done by long exhale breathwork exercises that focus on reducing heart rate through respiratory sinus arrhythmia and increasing vagal tone.
5. Some studies show associations between cortisol rhythms and uncomplicated vs. complicated grief. People experiencing complicated or prolonged grief had cortisol levels that are abnormally high at 4pm and 9pm. This is likely bi-directional grief causing the higher cortisol and the elevated cortisol is causing the prolonged grief. One can try to modulate this area by trying to get adequate sleep and establish normal cortisol rhythms. The best way to optimize cortisol rhythms is to see the sunrise in the morning and the sunset in the evening. The goal is to allow 10-30 minutes of morning sun and evening sunset into your eyes each day. This will help regulate cortisol and melatonin levels which will support optimal sleep. Sleep is needed to reorganize the neural circuits in our brains that allow us to move more effectively through grief.
Dedicate 5-45 minutes daily to experience “rational grieving”- thinking about the fact that the person no longer exists in time and space as we know it while anchoring to the strong emotional attachment. Ensure sufficient sleep and cortisol rhythms to allow for neuroplasticity to take place. Prepare physiologically for grief by regulating daily epinephrine and increasing vagal tone by breathwork and learning to control your heart rate. Consider finding a trained therapist and/or bereavement groups for support if you find yourself in difficult times.
Who: Tara Brach
Episode: Self Forgiveness with RAIN
How: Self forgiveness is a step in understanding our true selves. Self forgiveness requires effort and continued practice. It’s advised to use the RAIN process (Recognize-Allow-Investigation-Nurture) at the end of the day for self reflection. Working on self forgiveness is an essential practice in order to openly serve others.
Who: Rhonda Patrick’s Found My Fitness
How can we apply this information:
We can apply this information by fully understanding our current lab levels and where we need balance. Having a normal lipid profile also means your LPS is functioning properly. This goes hand in hand with having a consistent exercise routine to keep brain health which converts tryptophan to serotonin. Lastly, having a well rounded diet with seafood with high omega-3 levels will ensure a proper balance of LPS and promote life longevity..