On last week’s Wellness Wednesday, as we were talking about the power of intermittent fasting, I mentioned that I would be leading into an in-depth study of the power of ketogenesis, which is a powerful, well-researched nutrition plan that is growing daily in popularity, thanks to some well-marketed blogs and videos.
I am absolutely going to do that…starting next week.
This week, I want to share some things with you on a level that I normally am not comfortable sharing, but I believe it’s going to help some people who have been struggling with their health.
NOTE: If you’re one of those people who believes that doctors, professionals, ministers, or even bloggers should always have their lives together before they address the public, then I’m sorry to disappoint you. But I hope we can all grow together.
Getting Real With Emotional Detox
It’s been a really good year.
I’ve met some incredible people – leaders in the Naples community, influencers in the healthcare world, and people who are poised to make a real difference in people’s health and wellness. It’s been a real honor for me, and all the more so because some of them have invited me to speak in front of their audiences. That’s a privilege and I hold it sacred. You can really damage a leader’s credibility in the eyes of her audience if she gives you her platform and you mess it up or don’t esteem the opportunity. So that was a really big deal to me.
But that was a few months ago.
I’ve been busy at the office, doing the things I always do. Meanwhile, I started to notice that the phone has been quiet; speaking opportunities haven’t come in for a while.
It Started Small
This may sound crazy to you — in fact, it feels a little silly writing it — but when things slowed down, I started to wonder if I had done something wrong. I began to have thoughts like, “that was a flash in the pan, but you’re not really that big of a deal.” Then, they upgraded to, “that was really vain and selfish of you to expect people to invite you to speak.” Then it was, “do you really think you’re some kind of a healthcare expert or leader that people want to hear?”
Self-doubt is the most powerful kind of discouragement because it sounds like your own voice talking to you. These thoughts are dangerous because they sound reasonable. You naturally believe the negative thoughts because you have accepted them in the past. After all, it sounds like you, so it must be you talking.
Then Reality Took A Turn
Meanwhile, I recently celebrated my 53rd birthday. I’ll be honest…when I look around at my life, this is not exactly what I thought 53 would look like. I’ve been single for years — that certainly wasn’t on the agenda. My son is graduated and moved on — he’s traveling the country. My baby girl is getting ready to graduate high school and I’m getting ready to be an actual “empty-nester.” My work is all-consuming and I feel about as distant from my God as I have ever felt. Then add the fact that we just rolled past the first anniversary of my dad’s death, and counselors say that the first year is the hardest.
I don’t mean to suggest that I’m going through anything that no-one else has ever been through, because its obviously not true, and I can see where this might start to sound like self-pity. But I want to show you that discouragement starts with small, innocuous things and it becomes huge and overwhelming in the echo-chamber of your mind.
The Enemy Within
If someone were to walk up to you and tell you that you’re a fake, or people don’t really like you, you would put up your dukes and get defensive. But when the accuser is inside you, it’s harder to refuse. So, the voices get louder, little by little.
One of my good friends is a successful businessman — the poster child for having it all. He recently shared with me that 2017 was a rough year for him. He had some minor business disappointments early in the year. They shouldn’t have bothered him, but they did. He let himself dwell on them. They ate up his self-confidence and kicked the legs out from under his decision-making abilities. He went from “that was no big deal” to “God, I have good life insurance for my family, so please just let me die.” I’m still in shock at how matter-of-factly he said it. Disappointment had festered into self-hate, despair, and suicidal thoughts. It wasn’t until he made himself stop and look objectively at what had happened that he realized how badly his mind had distorted reality.
Discouragement is subtle. It starts small, but it grows like cancer. If it partners with self-pity, you’re in real trouble, because self-pity will tell you things like, “you were never good enough anyway,” or “I knew I couldn’t do it.” Then you’re on the short road to giving up hope.
The Part People Overlook
If you’ve ever been to a personal development seminar or read a self-help book (and I’ve done plenty of both) you’ve heard this. You’ve learned techniques for quieting your inner doubt with words of affirmation. But the battle of the mind is not just a mental, emotional, or spiritual matter. It’s all three at once, but there’s another side to it, and that’s the part most self-help people don’t talk about.
You see, there is a physical aspect to depression and self-doubt that is easy to overlook.
When I was getting calls to speak, it felt good. It stimulated the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine into my blood. Dopamine is a “feel-good” chemical in the blood that associates certain activities with pleasure. When you open up Facebook and have a little red number in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen, it means that someone has liked something you posted. That feels good and your brain releases dopamine in the same way it releases adrenaline when you are nervous ad serotonin when you are full after a meal. When it happens over and over, your brain associates entering Facebook with pleasure. You open Facebook several times a day, hoping to see the little red number because it feels good.
We’re All Lab Rats Inside
It’s like the science experiments from the 1960s where lab rats got a food reward every time they pushed a button. Within a few minutes, they were pushing the button constantly because they learned to associate the action of pushing the button with enjoying the food. The reward center of the brain quickly gets addicted to the pleasure of dopamine the same way the rats got addicted to the pleasure of food.
That’s why social media is so potent and so dangerous for kids: it is linked to the most fundamental part of the brain, the reward center.
Are You An Addict? Are You Sure?
Here’s a test: can you go an entire day without checking your smartphone or social media channels? Can you? Have you ever been in a meeting and heard your phone ring out a notification and you start to sweat because you are anxious to see what the notification is? You’re addicted to dopamine in the reward center of your brain. This addiction is just as real as drug addiction, sugar addiction, or any other, and the physical manifestations of withdrawal are just as real. People begin to sweat, shake, get impatient, breathe heavy, and even get dry mouth. They are experiencing withdrawal from their favorite drug — in this case, it’s their smartphone.
So, as I was getting the positive strokes of speaking invitations, my brain was pouring out the dopamine. When the invitations tapered off, the dopamine went down with it and my brain started craving it. I got down. My prayer life was dry, I lost interest in my Bible study, and I even lost my motivation at work. Dopamine withdrawal sometimes feels like sadness, tiredness, lack of energy, and even depression. I was going through major withdrawal and didn’t even know it. I started listening to the negative and self-pitying voices in my head, and I started to question my value as a doctor, my future, all of it.
All because I wasn’t getting invitations to speak at the same level I had been.
Why Is It So Easy To Give Up Over Small Stuff?
It sounds small because it IS small. But that’s the thing I want you to recognize: it’s so easy to go down the rabbit hole of despair over something small because the mind becomes an echo chamber, where little things look gigantic. I had let my own thoughts break me down.
Here’s the kicker: I didn’t even recognize the neurotransmitter aspect of it until a friend — who isn’t a doctor, mind you — pointed it out. I had texted him that I was feeling down and frustrated and he called to see what was going on. He offered an empathetic ear, and then reminded me of the power of dopamine to stir up emotions. I should have recognized it, but I was too close to the pain to be objective about it.
So, what could I have done differently?
How To Detox Your Mind When Problems Look Huge
This is important — what I learned from the short conversation with this good friend could be the difference between life and death for someone who is really, legitimately struggling with an emotional burden.
Say It Out Loud
First, I needed to say it out loud to someone. I am grateful to my friend for calling because it forced me to say out loud what was bothering me.
When you were a child, were you afraid of the dark? Why? Because unfamiliar shapes looked bigger and more menacing in the dark. All your parents had to do was turn on the light so you could see the “monster” for what it really was.
When your thoughts circle around in the echo-chamber of your mind, they get bigger and more terrible. You need to open the door to make the echoing stop. Say it out loud.
How many times have I lost my cool over something small, and when I finally had to explain it out loud to someone, I realized that what I was upset about really sounded pathetic. Talking about your thoughts makes them tangible, just like turning on a light shows you what’s behind the creepy shadows. You find out things are not as bad as you think.
Let It Flow Out
Second, he encouraged me to be honest with myself about my feelings. He suggested that I set aside a couple of hours to uninterrupted time (no phones, TVs, or other distractions) to sit down and write out my feelings.
The problem was that I wasn’t really sure what they all were. He said that, if I would just write down the first thing that came to mind, I would uncork a flood of thoughts. It didn’t matter what I wrote, I just had to write it down. I could move from topic to topic and see what came to mind — my kids, my parents, my career, my business, my relationships, my patients, my church, my relationship with God, people I haven’t seen in 30 years, and so on. There’s no right or wrong answer and there’s no right order. If you will just take the action step of writing down one word, the rest will pour out on its own.
Plus, you need to make a practice of doing this from time to time — maybe once or twice a year. Each time, you will experience healing on a new level of your heart and mind, like peeling back the layers of an onion. As it turns out, this isn’t just a mental exercise, it’s spiritual. If you know Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit, they will work with your spirit to surface long-buried pain that you’ve forgotten about so you can deal with it.
Forgive And Let It Go
That brings me to the third step. Over the last 30 or so years, the medical community has begun to recognize the physical effects of forgiveness and unforgiveness. As I’ve shared here often, unforgiveness is like drinking poison and watching for the other person to die. Unforgiveness triggers a cascade of negative neurotransmitters, which then stimulate a variety of responses from your organs, from your brain to your colon.
It is not an exaggeration to say that unforgiveness causes cancer, arthritis, bowel diseases, heart disease, and more. It’s well-documented in medical literature. You have to deal with negative thoughts and emotions or they will ruin your body, not just your relationships. As you go through the process of writing out your feelings, you will be confronted with past hurts that you must let go of – not for the other person’s sake, but for yours. They might never know or care that you’ve forgiven them, but your heart, mind, and body will finally be able to heal from the unforgiveness you’ve been harboring. You might suddenly experience healing from a physical problem that has dogged you for decades. It’s real.
Forgiveness is simple. Here’s a script I use, “[NAME], I forgive you for [OFFENSE]. I chose to feel [express how you felt], but I let it go. I release you; you owe me nothing. And I bless you in the name of Jesus.”
Blessing the other party is key because it lets you know if you have really forgiven them. Remember, forgiveness is a decision, and it is never based on feelings. Also, make sure you never say, “you made me feel…” You are a free moral agent, and no-one can ever MAKE you feel anything. It’s up to you to choose your own feelings, no matter what anyone else does. You can choose to let things go.
Detox Is The Road To Freedom
I put many of my patients through a 28-day gut detox program that cleanses their body of the effects of unhealthy foods, drugs, and lifestyle choices. In the same way, I would encourage you to go through this simple emotional detox to cleanse your mind, will, and emotions from the effects of emotional trauma, sin, unforgiveness, negative beliefs, and more. I am going through it now, and I fully expect to enjoy better relationships, better sleep, more stamina, more enthusiasm, better prayer, and an all-around improved sense of well-being.
I know this article is a little longer than most of my articles, and it got a little personal, so I appreciate you walking through it with me. I hope it helps you process through some of the pain in your life. You might know someone who is going through some stuff right now and would benefit from the things I’m learning. In fact, I’m willing to bet that you know several people who are silently suffering from a negative echo-chamber inside and aren’t telling anyone. Please take a few seconds to share it on your favorite social media channel. You never know who needs to read this right now. As hard as it was to share it, I believe it’s going to help someone in a powerful way. How do I know that? Because I believe God directed me to share it when I didn’t want to because He knows someone who needs it. He’s very good that way.
Thank you for being a part of the “Wellness Wednesday” family. I’d love to receive and answer your comments on Facebook.
“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas