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Peter Attia

How to Heal Stress, Trauma & Mental Health Issues

Physical health is essential, but mental health is just as important.

Jim Rohn once said, “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” 

If I could amend that quote, I would add that you should not only take care of your body but also your brain. At the end of the day, your brain and your mental health matter just as much as your physical health — if not more. 

My guest is Dr. Peter Attia, and this conversation will blow you away. Dr. Peter focuses on the applied science of longevity, the extension of human life, and overall wellbeing of your lifespan

We covered so much ground over our conversation that we’re bringing it to you in two parts. If you haven’t had a chance to hear the beginning of our chat, listen to Part One — we talked about how mental health affects longevity, daily practices you can do to live a longer and healthier life, and all the details on Type 2 diabetes. 

In this second part of the interview, we dove deep on the causes of stress and how to become happier, the main cause of mental health issues, and how to heal from trauma. The key is developing our emotional resistance, which is the secret to being happier and living better. We also talked about the importance of therapy and the main things to do to live a healthier life — including the foods Dr. Peter does and doesn’t recommend to improve the quality of your life.

This episode is full of so many essential tips to increase your mental health and emotional resistance, so let’s dive in!

Who Is Dr. Peter Attia?

Dr. Peter Attia is a physician focusing on the applied science of longevity. His practice deals extensively with nutritional interventions, exercise physiology, sleep physiology, emotional and mental health, and pharmacology to increase lifespan (delay the onset of chronic disease) while simultaneously improving healthspan (quality of life).

In addition to training at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Peter also spent two years at the National Institutes of Health as a surgical oncology fellow at the National Cancer Institute, where his research focused on immune-based therapies for melanoma. He has since been mentored by some of the most experienced and innovative lipidologists, endocrinologists, gynecologists, sleep physiologists, and longevity scientists in the United States and Canada.

Dr. Peter earned his M.D. from Stanford University and holds a B.Sc. in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics. He also receives speaking honorariums from organizations, including hospitals and health-related businesses, when he is asked to speak on longevity, metabolic-related topics, athletic performance, and his personal experience working in medicine.

In addition to being an accomplished physician, Dr. Peter is also a successful businessman. He is the Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of the fasting app Zero. Additionally, Dr. Peter is an advisor to and/or investor in the following companies: Virta Health, Hu Kitchen, Oura Health Oy, Magic Spoon Cereal, Inevitable Ventures, Salutoceuticals, Dexcom, and Supercast.

Dr. Peter has an impressive career, but he’s an even more impressive person in real life! I’m so grateful to him for taking the time to join me here on The School of Greatness!

Living Longer and Living Better

Dr. Peter and I covered a lot of ground in our first episode related to longevity — especially related to serious health conditions like diabetes. But, at the root of longevity is inner peace, inner happiness, and peace of mind. These are big components of a healthy life span. And without that emotional peace, there can be, as Dr. Peter says, “No greater torture than living longer.” 

“Once you cease to [relate to others], I think you’re on that path to a very slow death. When you isolate yourself more and you don’t cultivate strong relationships, … you suffer more. What does [trying to live longer] matter [without healthy relationships]? Even if you don’t [die] sooner, you might as well because you’re suffering.” – Dr. Peter Attia

He’s right — you could be the healthiest 100-year old on the planet, but it’s worth nothing if you don’t have joy, great relationships, and inner peace. Taking care of your emotional health is just as important as eating right and getting exercise. And, if you’re not sure where to start, Dr. Peter has some ideas of where to begin. He should know — Dr. Peter took a good hard look at some of his negative patterns and, through therapy, has since learned how to reverse those negative behaviors. 

“The first step is mindfulness. Meditation obviously is a very important exercise that we can do to learn how to stop and identify [our emotions]. If you look at me today, versus me three years ago when I literally was on the verge of killing somebody in a parking lot, a big difference is now if something upsets me, I now have the gap between stimulus and response to examine the emotion and say, ‘Oh, you know, that email really upset me because the person implied something that is threatening to my credibility.’” – Dr. Peter Attia

Meditation and mindfulness exercises can help you tap into your inner calm when something is triggering you. In that moment, you can interrupt any negative patterns you may have developed over time. 

Dr. Peter also spends a lot of time on what he referred to as emotional “homework.” He’ll sit and reflect back on the different emotions that came up during the week. Dr. Peter asks himself, “When this happened, how did you feel? What was that emotion signaling to you?” It’s all part of checking in and being in touch with his feelings, rather than disassociating and suffering. If meditation isn’t something that’s worked for you in the past, I highly recommend this alternative way to practice mindfulness and start to get in touch with your emotional side. 

“The pursuit of joy is a good thing.” @PeterAttiaMD  

Working Through Trauma for Better Health

Part of the importance of checking in regularly with our feelings is that we’re able to start healing the past, whether that be yesterday’s past event, childhood, or a past relationship. There’s research to show that healing from previous trauma can actually extend our lives — and in a way that feels positive emotionally! 

“We have got to figure out a better way to deal with trauma. Trauma is not all ‘big T’ trauma. It’s a lot of ‘little T’ traumas [that] add[s] up. Most of us, I think, have had some sort of adaptations to things in our past that have come at a cost. A lot of those adaptations are positive — they are what got us through those things. That’s why I think many people are reluctant to face [their past] and say, ‘Hey, this thing’s bad.’ I certainly refused to ever acknowledge any of my traumas as problematic. I never had an issue not understanding what [my adaptations] were, but I just thought they were productive.” – Dr. Peter Attia

Healing from the past isn’t just about facing trauma and working through it. It’s also about learning what adaptations you may have developed to cope with those traumas and how they may be negatively impacting you moving forward. 

Here’s a story that Dr. Peter recounted that I think really illustrates this point well. 

“I had a patient who was really on the verge of being diabetic. She was probably 20 pounds overweight and was very frustrated because she was incredibly compliant with everything I asked her to do. I said, ‘We’re going to change your nutrition this way.’ She did it. ‘We’re going to change your exercise this way. I need you to sleep more this way.’ We did everything right. Her numbers got a bit better … She’d been on an antidepressant since college — now, she’s in her mid 40s. … I wondered, ‘Is there sort of a psychological pain that is literally impairing her body’s ability to get better?’” – Dr. Peter Attia  

Dr. Peter asked this patient to go see a psychiatrist. He said within a year, you wouldn’t even recognize this woman. Yes, the psychiatrist made changes to her medication, but he also treated her mental health. This woman was able to get in touch with her trauma and work through it, letting go of the pain and hurt that was holding her back and negatively impacting her long-term health. 

If you take out the genetic contributors to emotional and mental health disease, what you’re left with time and time again is trauma. Trauma is unbelievably damaging to our long-term health in ways that not many of us are aware — because we think of trauma through an extremely narrow-minded lens. 

“I think trauma comes in different flavors. The most obvious form of trauma is abuse, and abuse can be physical, sexual, spiritual. Those are the obvious forms of abuse. Another one would be neglect. Neglect is a form of trauma. That can be a kid who grows up in a house with two parents who never lay a hand on him or her, but [they] completely ignore him. … Abandonment is another form of trauma. … I think another trauma is basically witnessing tragic events. That could be like, in the case of my patient, losing her father suddenly or after 9/11 — many people were obviously traumatized.” – Dr. Peter Attia

Not only does trauma come in many forms, but each person’s response and adaptations to trauma varies wildly. 

“I think we have to be very humble when we think about trauma. And that’s why I get a little annoyed when I hear people say, ‘This person had this happened to them, and look at how great their life turned out.’ They say that as though to minimize what has happened to somebody else.” – Dr. Peter Attia

Judging people’s experiences and how they respond to a scenario is not the best approach. It’s definitely something I’ve been guilty of in the past — falling into that negative football mindset of trying to be tough and not feel emotional when something knocks you down. Let me tell you — it’s not the best approach. 

Our minds are incredibly powerful, and as a result, they need to be treated with the same care and consideration we treat our other muscles. When you work out, you may stretch and do some icing, right? For the brain — which impacts your overall health — eating right, practicing mindfulness, getting enough sleep, and seeking therapy or professional help are the best things you can do for yourself.

Eating for a Longer Healthspan

Emotional resilience is a massive key to living a longer, healthier life. Some of the ways to develop more emotional resilience is to have psychotherapy and behavioral therapy to gain tools, awareness, acceptance, and forgiveness. There are also things like journaling and meditation you can do — Dr. Peter recommended a Buddhist-style or Vipassana-style of meditation that teaches you to examine your mind. Another option is to journal! 

There’s also a third area to consider when seeking to improve the quality of your healthspan, and that’s food. Dr. Peter said that food is one area where there’s a lot of conflicting advice, depending on who you speak to and what resources you read, but that it really comes down to three things. 

“[There are] three variables that you’re constantly able to manipulate with respect to food. One is how much you eat — a little bit or a lot? The second is when you eat — do you go 12 hours not eating and 12 hours eating? [Do you practice] time-restricted feeding? [The third factor is] the quality of what you’re eating. Are you like eating anything you want, or are you limiting certain things …? We call that last one ‘dietary restriction,’ the middle one ‘time restriction,’ the first one ‘caloric restriction.’ The most important piece of advice I would give on nutrition is you should always be incorporating one of those restrictions.” – Dr. Peter Attia

What we eat, how much we eat, and when we eat all matter. At the moment, Dr. Peter said he’s focusing on what he eats. 

“The things that I’m avoiding in spades are any form of refined carbohydrate. I’m not eating any junk food. I have zero added sugar in my diet. The carbohydrates that I’m eating are virtually all vegetables, plus berries, macadamia nuts, and almonds.” –  Dr. Peter Attia

I find it extremely helpful to learn what a medical professional chooses to eat — they’re the experts, right? I asked Dr. Peter a lot about different foods, and if you’re curious at all about nutrition, I recommend listening to our whole conversation with a pen and paper. Dr. Peter got into the nutritional science of fruit, sugar, rice, and so much more. It’s pretty detailed, but great information if you’re curious about the science of our bodies and different chemical structures of foods. 

Why You Should Listen to This Dr. Peter Attia Podcast Episode Right Now…

My conversation with Dr. Peter was highly insightful for me and very powerful. I’m so appreciative of his drive to find the truth and put in the work to help all of us live healthier and longer lifespans. I’m very grateful to Dr. Peter for sharing his gifts and knowledge about longevity and healthspan. And of course, I also had to know Dr. Peter’s definition of greatness! 

“I think [greatness] has two components. … The first is the obvious one, which is domain mastery — a true mastery of whatever the domain is, whether it be intellectual, physical, whatever. The few people that I’ve seen that I think about as great did something beyond [mastery], which is they do it with a level of humanity that elevates everyone around them to a place where those people have also never been before. … So to me, it’s those two things that are almost impossible to find together.” – Dr. Peter Attia

That’s an excellent definition of greatness, and I agree with him wholeheartedly! I hope you loved this episode as much as I did! If you want to hear more from Dr. Peter, check out his podcast, The Drive. And if you learned something today, please share it with us! Post a screenshot of the episode along with your biggest takeaways on Instagram, and make sure to tag Dr. Peter, @peterattiamd, and me, @lewishowes.

Are you curious about how to not only live longer but live better? Join me for Part Two of my conversation with Dr. Peter Attia on Episode 1046 of School of Greatness

To Greatness,

Lewis Howes - Signature

Some Questions I Ask:

  • What are the main causes of stress?
  • What are the main causes of mental health issues & traumas?
  • What is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?
  • What is the difference between glucose and fructose?

In this episode, you will learn:

  • How to develop emotional resistance.
  • Why therapy is so important for Peter.
  • The key components to a healthy life.
  • How sugar affects our body and mental health.
  • The foods Peter does and doesn’t eat.
  • What Peter has learned from being a physician.
  • How to deal with stress and become happier.
  • How to break the cycle of your thoughts.
  • Plus much more…

Show Notes:

Connect with
Peter Attia

Transcript of this Episode

Music Credits:

Music Credit

Kaibu by Killercats

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