What if caring for your brain health leads to better mental health? Dr. Daniel Amen, a long-time psychiatrist and brain disorder specialist and his wife Tana Amen raised this question as they joined Jay Shetty in this episode of ON Purpose. Their goal? To help remove the stigma surrounding mental health and to redefine mental health as brain health, because brain health affects mental health.

“I've always hated the term mental illness because it shames people,” Dr. Amen explained to Jay Shetty. “When you call someone mental, that's not a good thing. It's stigmatizing. About thirty years ago, I started looking at the brain. I realized most psychiatric problems are not mental health issues at all. Rather, they are brain health issues.”

This revelation changes everything. When you get your brain right, said Dr. Amen, your mind will follow. Eating right, exercising and taking supplements aid in keeping the brain healthy. If your body’s hardware – your brain – is not right, other systems won’t run well either.

Taking Responsibility

Tana Amen grew up in a household full of chaos, trauma, addiction and a lot of mental illness. She explained to Jay Shetty that to survive, she learned to build walls, isolate and disconnect from people.

Her husband, Dr. Daniel Amen, encouraged her to reconnect with her family and “be curious instead of furious.” When she began to look at her family through that lens, it was uncomfortable.

“Maybe it's not all just about willpower,” Dr. Amen explained to Jay Shetty. “We look at mental health through four circles:  biological, how is your body functioning; psychological is your mind; spiritual, what is your meaning and purpose? and social, who are you connected to?”

Tana Amen explained to Jay Shetty that she wanted to stay disconnected and distant from the chaos but began to feel a level of responsibility.

“I love the word ‘responsibility’ because it means the ability to respond,” Tana Amen told Jay Shetty. “It doesn't mean taking the blame. It means the ability to respond. Writing my story was one of the most powerful things I could do. It was uncomfortable, but it allowed me to see some of the chaos and trauma through an adult lens. It allowed me to heal and see that many of the people were doing the best they could with what they had.”

The redefinition of the word ‘responsibility’ is something that Jay Shetty loves. The ability to sort things out and respond without taking on the blame or feeling guilt is incredible.

One of the overarching themes in Tana Amen’s book, The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child, is that sometimes you are called to do something you don’t want to do. Although what you’re called to do may be for someone else, the healing is for you. She urged readers not to rob themselves of the opportunity to heal, even when it is uncomfortable. Take the responsibility to, as the popular saying goes, “be curious instead of furious.”

Mental Hygiene

Mental health challenges, hopelessness and suicide are at an all-time high. The need for mental hygiene is soaring to new levels. Dr. Daniel Amen believes that the end of mental illness will begin with a revolution in brain health. We need to start a revolution to love, honor and take care of the brain. 

Dr. Daniel Amen shared three strategies he employs when discussing mental hygiene with Jay Shetty:

  1. Brain Envy. You need to care about your brain. 
  2. Avoidance. You need to avoid things that hurt your brain and know the list of things that are dangerous to your brain health. 
  3. Habits. Do things that are helpful for your braing. Ask yourself if what you are doing is suitable for your brain health. If you can answer that question with a love of yourself, your family and your mission, you will begin to feel better from a mental health perspective. Your brain creates your mental health.

Tana Amen shared with Jay Shetty that mental illness is a personal journey for her. Her heart goes out to people who struggle with mental illness and she encourages everyone to reach out for help if they need it.

There was a season in life where Tana was living each day just hoping to die. She felt as if she was wasting oxygen on the planet. After meeting her husband, however, she began to look at her mental health journey through the four circles.

‘When I understood those four circles – the biology, the psychology, the social circle, the spiritual circle – I realized how bankrupt I'd become in all of them,” Tana Amen explained to Jay Shetty. “It's like four tires on a car. If one goes flat, the car will drive for a while. Not well, but it'll drive. If two go flat, you're probably going to crash. I had crashed, and I had four tires that went flat, so the car kind of flipped. When I started to understand this, it was so freeing for me. It released the shame.”

Through her work and studies with her husband, Tana Amen’s personal experience with mental illness helped shape her purpose in life.

Disciplining your Mind

The discipline of the mind is essential for every aspect of life. When you feel sad, mad, nervous or out of your control, write down what you are thinking, then ask yourself if it is true.

“It's not the thoughts you have that cause suffering,” Dr. Amen explained to Jay Shetty. “It's the thoughts you attach to. It's the ones you let stick around. So get your brain right, but you have to program properly. Where you focus your attention always determines how you feel. Learn how to focus your mind on what's helpful rather than what's hurtful.”

As Tana Amen began to heal from her childhood trauma, the façade she built of a perfect life was far from what she was feeling inside. Feeling broken on the inside, she was still disconnected from her past and wanted to remain that way. Even though she had healed some of the brokenness, she did not realize how judgmental she was.

She shared an experience with Jay Shetty that opened her eyes and helped break through the façade she was living. She was working at the Salvation Army, where some of the people had addictions. When she was asked to help with the food, she assumed she’d be dealing with the menu, and she was okay with that.

When they explained they wanted her to work with the people, however, she was struck with fear. The truth was, she doubted her ability to work among the people. When she mulled over the decision with Dr. Amen, he told her that God called the perfect person for the job.

“I was stunned,” Tana Amen told Jay Shetty. “I started to cry, and I realized at that moment how judgmental I was. Suddenly, it struck me that I was judging them, that I was looking down from a stage at these people, and they were seeing exactly what I wanted them to see, this perfect façade. They weren't seeing me. They didn’t see the truth, and it was a moment that that mask was stripped away. I felt this epiphany that if I could help one person in that room, that would be one less scared child in the world. It was the most powerful work I ever did.”

The encounter was a lesson in being authentic and telling your story even if it is not perfect. A less than ideal story can connect you to those who need it the most. Sharing pain with others allows you to release the shame attached to that pain, and the burden becomes bearable.

Managing Stress

Stress and anxiety are rampant in this unprecedented time in our world. Learning to adapt and pivot allows us to thrive. Find opportunities to move forward, take the time to love and take care of your brain. Dr. Amen explained to Jay Shetty that it comes back to one question: Is what you’re doing today good or bad for your brain?

“So doing things that help you feel better fast, like alcohol, marijuana, bad food, being sedentary, being addicted to the news, all of those things are going to hurt your brain,” Dr. Amen said to Jay Shetty. “But taking a multivitamin, omega three fatty acids, optimizing your vitamin D level, getting out in the sun, if you can, exercising, learning how not to believe everything you think, those things are great for your brain.”

The thirty thousand foot perspective is what Tana Amen uses to manage stress. She takes a step back, removes herself from the picture, and looks at things from afar. She evaluates the situation and asks herself several questions.

What part of this is essential and what part is not?

Who has our best interest and who does not?

What can I control, and how can I focus on that instead of the things I can’t?

“We can't control what people are saying on the news and the negativity,” Tana Amen explained to Jay Shetty. “We can control our thinking, and I noticed that when I go in the backyard in the morning, walk through my grass with bare feet and watch the hummingbirds with green tea in my hand, nothing is wrong in the world. It's not until I come back to the house and start watching the news and listening to what's happening in the world that it all sounds like doom and gloom. So I focus on what I can control. And I always go back to those four circles: nutrition, diet, meditation, and prayer.”

When your mental hygiene becomes as important as washing your hands, the ability to change your mind will follow. By implementing Dr. Amen’s three strategies, you can begin a revolution in your life. If you can change your brain, you can change your life.

More From Jay Shetty

Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode with “Dr. Daniel Amen & Tana Amen ON Redefining Mental Health Challenges as Brain Health Challenges” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty. me.

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