make your mind your strongest muscle with dr. gregory scott brown
When it comes to an individual's mental health, no two journeys are alike. From experiencing the highest of highs and lowest of lows to feeling lost, defeated, and hopeless, to a negative internal dialogue, feeling alone, unworthy, and stuck. Mental health, just like physical, is not a linear journey. And while sometimes, one’s mental health experience can feel overwhelming or tumultuous, psychiatrist Dr. Gregory Scott Brown’s new book, The Self-Healing Mind, offers us a new framework when considering mental health that puts the power into your hands. While external therapies and medications can be an important component when it comes to treating mental illness and maintaining mental health, Dr. Brown's work and new book shows us how much influence we can have over our mental health through simple and backed self-care tactics and strategies.
Dr. Brown seen wearing the (Men)tal Healthy Everyday Tee. Shop Here.
So, what is the self-healing mind? Dr. Brown defines it as “a holistic approach to emotional and psychological healing that focuses on how evidence-based self-care strategies can be used to improve and sustain mental health.” There are five different components that make up the self-care strategies Dr. Brown discusses:
What does he have to say about each component?
Throughout my own life, as well as the thousands of conversations I’ve had with patients, I’ve found that some of the most important self-care strategies include what I refer to as the five pillars of self-care: sleep, spirituality, nutrition, breathwork, and movement. These aren’t intended to replace professional mental healthcare (like talk therapy or psych meds), but evidence suggests that each of these pillars can actually help improve symptoms of common mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, or ADHD. What’s important is that you’re not trying to revamp your life all at once by focusing on all five pillars when you’re just getting started. Pick one area for potential improvement, whether that means focusing on your sleep quality for a month or examining if you’re moving your body mindfully for a week or two. In time, you may notice that during times when you’re feeling out of balance, tapping into one or more of the self-care pillars may quickly help restore a state of calm and clarity.
Throughout life, we all go through waves of joy and sadness, ups and downs–our personal journeys really are a rollercoaster. Unfortunately, far too often, whether it’s physical or mental, we wait until a problem arises before trying to fix it. But what if we had practices in place that helped prevent us from even getting to the point of needing a solution to a problem or injury? That’s exactly what Dr. Brown has set out to do. It’s his hope for us all to understand that there are strategies to implement before there’s any sort of degradation in one’s mental health. “It’s important to understand that we don’t have to wait to feel anxious or depressed to begin paying attention to our mental health,” says Dr. Brown. “That’s because mental health affects every aspect of our lives from our productivity at work, our ability to communicate with our family and friends, and extends even to our romantic relationships. That said, if someone notices that their productivity is slipping, they are feeling more down or irritable, spending more time alone than they usually do, or just don’t feel plugged into life as they once did, those may be early signs to pay closer attention to your mental health so that you can prevent severe depression or crippling anxiety from settling in.”
Dr. Brown also notes, “It takes courage to admit that we need to pay attention to our mind. Especially among men, mental health is still perceived as a sign of weakness when that’s the farthest thing from the truth. 40 million people in the United States alone struggle with anxiety and depression is not far behind. Most people do get better. But because of the shame involved, by the time someone comes to see me, they are often apologizing for “taking up my time” or suggesting to me that they don’t have “real problems.” This is where it’s important to validate experiences, realize that no problem is too small, and that mental health professionals, like me, are here to help.”
Just like anything, it can be hard to be convinced something truly works without any “real life data” to back it up. If you’re searching for a new workout plan, you’re likely researching the trainer, their background, their certifications, etc. Looking for a new nutrition plan? Same thing applies–research and testimonials come into play. The Self-Healing Mind and Dr. Gregory Scott Brown offers just that.
Recalling a patient's success story by implementing the five pillar strategy, Dr. Brown notes, “several years ago, I worked with a guy who was actually in the field – he was a mental health professional. He had fallen into a deep depression, knew psychotherapy strategies as well as anyone, and was on three or four different medications for depression, anxiety, and insomnia when I first began treating him. He went on to say that “the medications were doing what they were supposed to do, but the missing piece was self-care. It felt self-indulgent for him and he didn’t consider it a part of his treatment. He needed to be convinced that self-care wasn’t woo-woo stuff, but was actually evidence-based medicine. When he began paying attention to nutrition by incorporating more of an anti-inflammatory diet (which has evidence for improving depression), moving his body more, and developing a meditative practice, within a few months he wasn’t only feeling better; he was living better. He was ultimately able to transition off medications.”
Let’s relate this back to physical health. Having the knowledge of how to properly squat or perform a deadlift helps to ensure you will be able to incorporate those movements into your workouts injury free. If you’re given the same type of knowledge to prevent injuries to (or at the very least, in support of) your mind, wouldn’t you leap at the opportunity to learn? We would. “We all need to pay attention to our mental health regardless of whether or not we’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness,” notes Dr. Brown. “Embarking on a wellness journey that includes valuing both physical and mental health may ultimately improve your life.”
Now, it would be neglectful not to offer you some takeaways that can be implemented into your routine to ensure you’re equipped with the tools to make your mind your strongest muscle. Straight from The Self-Healing Mind and Dr. Gregory Scott Brown himself:
It's not about religion; religion is only one manifestation of spirituality. Focus on connection – with our environment, your inner self, or the people around you. Meditation is a great way to do this, or altruism (selfless service). Spirituality can help give a sense of purpose and hope.
4-7-8 is a method I love. Inhale for 4, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. A longer exhale can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system which helps our body enter a state of rest and relaxation.
Movement enhances a protein called BDNF that acts like "fertilizer for the brain." It helps brain cells communicate with each other more efficiently. The European Psychiatric Association recommends 150 min exercise/week, but recent studies indicate that any amount of movement is beneficial. That could mean more walks to the mailbox or stretches in your chair. If you're into working out, going to the gym has equal benefits for physical and mental health – especially depression prevention.
Sleep hygiene is key. Try to keep the bedroom for sleep and sex only. Cold temperatures are better for optimal sleep (65-67 degrees), and developing a sleep ritual (which may include a hot bath, or 10 minutes of yoga right before bed) can help. Sleep and mental health have a bi-directional relationship. If sleep quality is poor, mental health can suffer and if you are depressed or anxious, it can negatively impact sleep.
There’s no need to revamp the entire diet. Focus on improving your Mediterranean food score by incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods. Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna a few times/week), nuts, seeds, and leafy green vegetables are a great way to do this.
As we continue to bring light to the conversation of men and mental health, it’s our hope that men everywhere recognize they can and should be a part of the conversation. Whether or not you’ve struggled with your mental health, you’re in the midst of a struggle, or you hope to ensure you have the tools to best support you mental health, we encourage you to not only feel confident and willing to talk about mental health, but to consider what The Self-Healing Mind can do for you.
A Note from Dr. Gregory Scott Brown
My hope is that as many people as possible will know about the book, will read it, and then pass it along to a friend or family member. This includes men, women, young and old, and people from all walks of life. I get that so many people who would benefit from a positive message about mental health never set foot in a psychiatrist’s or therapist’s office. This book is a way to bring that message outside a clinical setting so that we can all begin building better skills to improve our mental health.
Learn more about the five pillars and the evidence-based self-care strategies to support your mental health.
Dr. Gregory Scott Brown
Psychiatrist, Mental Health Writer, Author
Dr. Brown seen wearing the (Men)tal Healthy Everyday Tee. Shop Here.
Dr. Gregory Scott Brown, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist, mental health writer, and author. He is an affiliate faculty member at the University of Texas Dell Medical School. A diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, he completed a fellowship in integrative medicine at the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine, specialty training in general psychiatry at the University of Texas Dell Medical School, and received an M.D. from the McGovern Medical School in Houston. Dr. Brown is an alumnus of Rice University, where he received a bachelor's degree in anthropology, and Johns Hopkins University, where he completed a post-baccalaureate premedical program. Prior to his transition to medicine, Dr. Brown studied music at The Juilliard School in New York.