Do you recall the feeling of fear, dread, or uneasiness, often accompanied by sweating, restlessness, and a rapid heartbeat? If your brain said, “yes” to that, then you, my friend, have been a victim of anxiety.
Now, don’t worry! To put your mind at ease, anxiety is relatively common. With the ever-increasing emphasis on consumerism, the lasting impact of technology and social media, and the rise of the coronavirus, stress and anxiety are prevalent like never before.
The unfortunate thing is that stress and anxiety do take a toll on our physical and mental well-being, and the sooner we learn to overcome them, the better for our mental peace and happiness. The good news is that there are proven ways and methods to tackle this growing problem in today’s world and generation.
I personally know quite a few people, many of them have been guests here, who have experienced anxiety in various forms but have still overcome that to reach newer heights in their personal and professional lives. Just know that you are not alone!
I couldn’t be more pumped about our guest today — Dr. Wendy Suzuki. An expert in the field, Dr. Wendy has literally written a book called Good Anxiety where she talks about harnessing the power of this emotion for long-term success. This episode of The School of Greatness might be a great starting point for you or someone you know who is dealing with the perils of anxiety and stress.
Before we begin this exciting session, let’s get to know a little more about Dr. Wendy Suzuki.
Dr. Wendy Suzuki is an award-winning professor of neuroscience and psychology at New York University where she studies the effects of physical activity and meditation on the brain. She is a passionate thought leader spreading the understanding of how we can use the principles of brain plasticity to maximize our brain’s performance and transform our lives for the better.
Besides being a TED speaker, Dr. Wendy is also a best-selling author for her book, Healthy Brain, Happy Life. It is like a personal program to activate your brain and do everything better, which has also been made into a PBS special. Her latest book, Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion, is now out in the stands for you guys to check out.
“Having some anxiety is a good thing. The key is learning to use your brain to transform the way you think about anxiety so you can tap into its secret powers. That’s why I love Good Anxiety so much — it offers a handy toolbox to transform your anxiety from a downer to a superpower.” – Dr. Wendy Suzuki
Dr. Wendy is renowned for her extensive work on studying areas in the brain that are critical for our ability to form and retain new long-term memories. Her most recent work focused on understanding aerobic exercise’s impact on improving learning, memory, and higher cognitive abilities in humans.
If you are reading this, then pat yourself on the back for taking your mental health seriously. It is not only about managing problems better but also about rising from those muddy waters and blossoming like a lotus. Let’s find out the most effective ways to manage stress and anxiety with Dr. Wendy Suzuki.
Studies show that 90% of the population suffers from anxiety in one form or another, which establishes its prevalence. This makes it really important for us to first try and understand what anxiety is before exploring the idea of seeing anxiety differently.
“Anxiety and our stress response to it, which causes all those feelings evolutionarily, is a protective mechanism that is necessary for our survival. It evolved in a way that if there is a lion or any other dangerous situation coming at us, you automatically have that increased heart rate, with all the blood flowing through your muscles so you can run away.” – Dr. Wendy Suzuki
In this day and age, our likelihood of facing off with a lion is remote, yet we are exposed to one or the otherworldly worries through different forms of media. Looking at some distressing news on the TV or Instagram activates the same stress and anxiety systems as when faced with a lion. But is there a way to harness that anxiety and bring it back into submission so that it can help us? Dr. Wendy says there is.
“Anxiety always hits me right before I’m going to go to sleep. … So the action in my mind is, ‘Okay … this is going to be my to-do list tomorrow.’ … Coming from this practice of healing from your own shame, you can also start thinking about something you’re going to do for somebody else tomorrow. One of the superpowers in good anxiety is that it comes from your own anxiety.” – Dr. Wendy Suzuki
It was extremely difficult for me to sleep at night until I hit about 30 or 31. I would sit in bed probably for an hour or so almost every night, anxious and judging myself and beating myself up emotionally.
But through this, I learned three things: One was going through a transition of fully sharing and starting the process of healing my shame from the past. Two was that I began to focus on a few key things at night. I ask myself, “What was I grateful for today?” because being grateful brings me to another level of peace. Three was asking myself, “What am I going to do tomorrow to help people? How am I going to serve?” I heal from shame by focusing on gratitude.
I often talk about the importance of experiencing some type of structured pain daily, and for me, that’s just a workout. It’s something that makes you uncomfortable when you don’t want to push yourself, but the moment you do that, you start feeling better and more accomplished. Let’s see what Dr. Wendy has to add to this:
“Every single time you move your body, you are giving your brain a bubble bath of neurochemicals. The neurochemicals include dopamine and serotonin, [the hormones] that make you feel good. That’s why, … when things are not going your way, and you can’t handle the stress anymore, you go out for a walk, and things immediately start getting better.” – Dr. Wendy Suzuki
Dr. Wendy stresses that the growth factors released in your body after every workout don’t necessarily do something immediately. But these growth factors help new brain cells form in your hippocampus, a part of your brain which plays a significant role in learning and memory. Which brings us to the critical question — how much should one workout to enable this growth?
“For low-fit people who haven’t started their regular workout, [you will start seeing] significant improvements in mood, and your prefrontal and hippocampus function with just two or three aerobic workouts a week. … If you are somebody … who works out regularly, these workouts have already improved your brain [function]. … You are stimulating the growth of new blood vessels in your brain because your brain is the number one user of oxygen in the body. … Working out will stimulate new blood vessels to bring more oxygenated blood to the brain.” – Dr. Wendy Suzuki
That’s what you don’t get when you don’t work out. You miss out on the natural boost of dopamine and serotonin, which further stimulates the growth of your brain. As we age in life, a well-functioning and sound brain might be our only escape. If you too want to experience the goodness of working out, then just start with two-three times a week and be mindful of how each session makes you feel once it’s over. Experience the feeling of accomplishment and of falling in love with pain.
I’ve often wondered whether that beautiful feeling called love also has a role in relaxing and soothing our minds. Dr. Wendy indeed feels that love has the power to diminish stress and anxiety in our lives.
“One way of [countering] anxiety is … [by identifying and] working on those events that cause us stress, which is a great thing to do, and the other way is to build up positive emotions to counter anxiety. … Start bringing more love into your life through social interactions because the number one predictor of a long life is the number of positive social connections you have. … Love is a natural counteraction to the stress.” – Dr. Wendy Suzuki
Dr. Wendy also says that the part of the nervous system that is controlling all of our stress responses like blood going into the muscles, the high heart rate, and the increased respiration is called the sympathetic nervous system. Luckily, we have an equal and opposite part of our nervous system called the parasympathetic nervous system which doesn’t stimulate love specifically, but it helps calm everything down. It decreases the heart rate, reduces respiration, and brings blood back into our digestive and reproductive systems. It’s called the “rest and digest” nervous system.
“The best way to lean into parasympathetic, when you start to feel that really bad anxiety come on, is through deep breathing because that is the only thing … that we have conscious control over. I can’t make my heart rate go down. I can’t bring blood into my digestive tract, but I could breathe deep and long.” – Dr. Wendy Suzuki
People usually overlook the importance of something as natural as exuding love and breathing, but they each play their own role in bringing you back to the ground and help relieve you from some of the stress and anxiety in your life. I was interviewing another doctor some time back who had mentioned a couple of moments in his life where he was going through a depressed state. What helped him get out of that situation was, indeed, love. He met someone, and it created this journey for him of feeling better because of love healing. Love was the anchor that supported the healing, the growth, and the peace of mind. So my message for you folks is this: never stop believing in the power of love.
I hope you guys are feeling more confident about handling stress and anxiety in your life than before you started reading this post! I would highly recommend you check out the complete episode here — it just wasn’t quite possible for me to fit the entire conversation between Dr. Wendy and me in this post.
Before I head out, I wanted to share what Dr. Wendy Suzuki feels about greatness —
“My definition of greatness is [being able to] use your unique brain to its full potential, whatever that means. That is just great and it means so many different things to different people, and everybody has a beautiful and different brain.” – Dr. Wendy Suzuki
If you were amazed by Dr. Wendy’s approach to stress in everyday life, then I suggest checking out her website here,to gain more knowledge on the topic. You can also follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
It would also really make my day if you could tag Dr. Wendy @wendy.suzuki, and me, @lewishowes, on Instagram, with a screenshot of your greatest takeaways from this episode. If you are feeling even more generous, then I would be grateful if you could give a five-star review to The School of Greatness on Apple Podcasts.
I’m so thankful for your time, your attention, and for showing up for yourself to make your life better. Since you can make the people around you better as well, you’re a symbol of inspiration by all the little actions you do on a daily basis. I know you can make a big difference to the people in your life.
Collaborating online hasn't been this easy since...ever! Go to Fiverr.com/business to get 1 free year and 10% off on your purchase of Fiverr Business when you use promo code GREATNESS!