Madefor Co-Founder and former Navy SEAL, Pat Dossett, sat down with neuroscientist and Madefor’s Lead Advisor, Dr. Andrew Huberman to talk about mental health. Dr. Huberman talked about gauging your individual risk for mental illness, how mental health affects us all every day, the eight critical habits for mental wellness, and how to reset when you’re feeling a little low, stressed, or anxious. The best news is the 8 habits are all free and easy to do, however, consistency is key! Dr. Huberman also talked about reaching that higher level of living with purpose, mattering, and coherence.
Mental Health vs. Mental Illness
The term ‘mental health’ is often wrapped up in ‘mental illness’; however, the two terms are not interchangeable and do differ. Mental health refers to anyone's state of mental, emotional well-being, while mental illnesses are diagnosed conditions that affect thoughts and behaviors. One in four people will have to deal with mental illness at some point in their life, whether situational or chronic. Conversely, every person has to deal with their mental health. Some people overlook their mental health because they believe if they don’t have a mental illness, they don’t need to put a lot of focus there. However, it could not be further from the truth. Preserving your mental health is one of the very best things you can do for yourself and a way to decrease your chance of mental illness in the future.
There are a lot of factors that contribute to mental illness risk factors. Things like your age, genetics, social status, past trauma, biology, lifestyle, habits, etc. all influence how likely you are to struggle with your mental health. Some of these things are out of our control and some are not. For instance, your lifestyle and habits are determined by you, while you can thank your parents for your biological and genetic makeup.
So now that we’ve talked about the difference between mental health and mental illness and identified some common risk factors, let’s talk about what we can do to preserve and/or restore mental health. There are eight daily habits that contribute to optimal mental and physical wellness, but the caveat is they need to be enacted daily with consistency to be effective.
“Mental health takes work. That work does not take that much time, but it does take regularity.”
~ Dr. Andrew Huberman
Eight Fundamental Habits for Better Living
There are eight fundamental habits that should be part of every day to optimize your health and wellness, both physically and emotionally/mentally. These are sleep, sunlight, movement, nutrition, hydration, social connection, deliberate decompression, and gratitude. Getting in a consistent place with these foundational habits will allow you access to higher-level concepts and goals like your purpose/meaning, mattering, and coherence. If you try to pursue your purpose when you aren’t attending to these eight basics, you’re putting yourself at a higher risk of mental unwellness.
How can you gauge your mental health? Ask yourself:
- Am I getting quality sleep 80-85% of the time?
- Am I getting sunlight every day (preferably first thing in the morning) 80-85% of the time?
- Am I getting some form of movement in, even if it’s just a walk, 80-85% of the time?
- Am I putting quality nutrition into my body 80-85% of the time?
- Am I getting adequate hydration 80-85% of the time?
- Am I getting quality social connections 80-85% of the time?
While simple and not available in a powder, pill, or new tech gadget, these eight fundamentals are critical. They often are overlooked because these practices are very circular. You get good, quality sleep one night, but you have to keep doing it every night. It’s the same with the other seven habits. It’s the regular consistent practices that make it work.
You may be killing it right now with social connection and movement, but may need to give greater focus to sleep, sunlight, nutrition, and hydration. Start small! Go back to the Challenges and strategies to help reintroduce these habits into your day. The more habits you have hitting the 80%+ mark, the better for your mental health and wellbeing.
"We come back to the foundational practices as a route to mental health and also a meter to mental health."
~ Dr. Andrew Huberman
The reality of things is while you may have the best intentions and behave consistently with your eight habits most of the time, there will be a day, a week, or maybe longer here and there where they slip or something outside of your control happens. Your mind may get fuzzy or your mood may change. As Pat likes to say, “Life gets a vote.” It’s gonna happen, so prepare for it. The goal is to practice positive buoyancy, the ability to recover from and return to engagement of healthy/positive practices.
Dr. Huberman suggested two behavioral tools to have in the wings so you can reset your mind and mood quickly that will help you achieve positive buoyancy.
- The first is to enact deliberate decompression which twists the valve and lets the stress blow off in a non-destructive way. Choose something you like and can commit to doing at least three times per week (as means of practice and then perfecting the tool). Dr. Huberman gave a few recommendations like NSDR (Non Sleep Deep Rest), breathing practices such as the Physiological Sigh, or yoga.
- The second is to have a gratitude practice. While a gratitude practice is beneficial to have in its own right, it can help you reframe your life at times it may not be following your lead. You can journal if you want, but you can also just say aloud what you are grateful for until you feel the not-so-warm-and-fuzzy feelings melt away.
Here’s the thing -- the best time to learn a tool is when you don’t need it. Make time daily or at least three times per week to cultivate these tools, so they’ll be effective when you need to call on them. The more consistent you are with your eight fundamental habits, the better the odds of restoring and preserving your mental health.
The Higher Ground: Purpose, Mattering, Coherence
Once you’ve tended to your eight basic habits for mental health, you can now access those higher-level things – purpose, matter, coherence. These are foundational to mental health. These are the things that are not circular and never-ending, but instead things of real permanence. This higher level allows you to transform in a way that makes you better equipped to help you become a reparative mechanism in the world. However, if you don’t first have your eight foundational habits in place while pursuing your purpose, you can harm your mental health.
This higher-level is composed of three elements that are the ways in which you have meaning in your life. Purpose is your meaning, aim, and goals in life. Mattering is quite simply knowing your life is worth living and having significance in the world. Coherence is a sense of comprehensibility and one’s life making sense.
When accessing this higher-level, it will help you adjust mental health state changes very quickly and reduce your risk of mental unwellness. One quick note on meaning. Meaning doesn’t imply ‘happy’. Things are going to happen, but if we are finding meaning in the highs and the lows, then overall and in general, our outlook on life is going to be more positive. We’ll have more certainty, agency, and confidence, contributing to robust mental health.
Access the recording of the conversation here.