The Smiling Mind Podcast
The Smiling Mind Podcast

Season 1, Episode 2 · 2 years ago

How are you actually going? With A/Prof. Craig Hassed and Jessica Rowe


Coronavirus has presented many challenges to our mental health. It’s not just the isolation that some of us are still facing in quarantine, but the uncertainty and disruption the crisis brings. In this episode, Dr Addie Wootten speaks to TV broadcaster and journalist Jessica Rowe about keeping it real and noticing the silver linings. Plus, A/ Prof Craig Hassed explains the impact of mindfulness on the brain and what we can do to reduce anxiety when it’s not useful to us. For more resources on how to Thrive Inside your mind, head to the Smiling Mind website or download our leading app. This podcast was produced by Elsa Silberstein.

Hi, welcome to the smiling mind podcast. This season's our first and it's called thrive inside. It's dedicated to keeping you inspired, connected and fostering good mental health habits during the coronavirus crisis. My Name is Dr Adde Wotton and I'm the CEO of smiling mind. I'm also a clinical psychologist. I'll be coming into your feed every week bringing you conversations with experts and some Australians you know and love. will be covering things like how you get your sleeping habits into good shape, navigating relationships, work and parenting during this time of disruption. Today I want to talk to you about your mental health. One in five Australians are living with mental illness right now, but everyone has their own mental health to look after. While it's still early days, there's not much diarta yet about what impact coronavirus is having on our mental health. Experts are telling us to look out for the pandemic within the pandemic, and the risk of suicide is even higher than it was before. A study in the UK surveyed over twozero people and identified anxiety as a significant theme, with participants describing a general existential anxiety brought on by overwhelming uncertainty and isolation from loved ones. I'm sure we can all relate to those feelings. There are many challenges facing us and to navigate what this is going to mean for our mental health and how to keep a smile on our minds. I've got some ex s link guests joining me. TV broadcaster and journalist Jessica Rowe will be joining me to talk about her experience with mental illness and how she keeps herself mentally healthy. What I'm really mindful about is, if I do start to feel a bit wobbly or anxious again, talking about it, being open about how I'm feeling and not having that pressure to pretend that everything's all right. But first an expert in the field of mental health and mindfulness. Dr Craig acid is a senior lecturer in the Department of General Practice. He's also a coordinator of mindfulness programs at Monash University and a longtime ambassador for smiling mind. Craig has been instrumental in introducing a variety of innovations with an emphasis on the application of holistic, integrative and mind body medicine. Well, thanks, Craig, for joining us. I wanted to ask you a question about uncertainty, because I think a lot of this virus has thrown up that, that sense of not knowing what the future holds. Can you talk to me about you're thinking around? How does uncertainty impact on our well being, in our mental health or our outlook on life? Yeah, it's an interesting topic. I think if we are anxious to be certain about things and then we discover the reality of life is that nothing is certain, then we really tossed around and by if we remind ourselves, no matter what we think about the future or how we want the future to be, we never really know. We had no idea of what two thousand and twenty is going to be like in our plans and everything else. Well, that was just a bunch of assumptions we had. And if we're not able to just sort of so, well, this is not the two thousand and twenty I expected, but this is what's actually happening. And if we're able to let go of those assumptions and expectations and not to take them to be real when they're not, you it makes it easier for us to sort of flow an adapt to unexpected events. Clinging to desire for things that will be predictable and controllable and so on. It's a very anxiety provoking thing. So I know that's one of the ways I think that mindfulness can really help people is to acknowledge, first of the fact we haven't got a clue not only what this year is going to go like, we don't even know what the rest of the day is going to be like. We don't even know if the technology is going to continue to work for this podcast. And you're right, we don't know. How does mindfulness help us to navigate uncertainty or to be more open to uncertainty without feeling overwhelmed by anxiety?...

One of the big things that's spoken about in mindfulness is non attachment, so your ability to stand back from the thoughts, the feelings, etc. So when we're not attached to an expectation about how I want my day to be, how I want my year to be, my life to be, and when something else happens, it's easier to let that go and to ink turn towards and engage with the things we need to deal with. So I think that letting go of the non attachment aspect of mindfulness really helps enormously. The thing about being present and if we can get curious about the present moment, like interested, we discover things, we learn things, we adapt more quickly the some there's a possibility of being creative and and so it really helps a person, I think, to turn what would otherwise be post traumatic stress into post traumatic growth. I think people are mindful more able to do that, to actually realize that life is inherently transient and that's not a source of concern. It's just the we don't tend to cling to things in the same kind of way if we're more mindful and it helps us to be curious and to learn to engage with the respond to because if we're still clinging about how we want, wanted things to be, then will never be able to adapt effectively to how things are. Yeah, Yep, I think there are many people that were talk about their most challenging periods in life as as great opportunities for them to grow and develop and change. Want to talk to you about stress, because stress is a word that lots of people use to describe how they're feeling and that feels that it seems as though it's everywhere. This idea of feeling lots of stress. Can you talk to me about how mindfulness helps us manage stress and what happens in the brain and how, like the physiological impact of stress and how mindfulness can can help support or manage that stress? Yes, so, when we talk about the stress response, the other name the fight or flight response. Look, if you like nick fanning in the water and Jay Bay and South Africa, are waiting to choose your first way in a surfing final and a for Middle Shark comes up at you, the fight or flight response is a pretty good response. Like it's a turbo charge of energy and all of the changes that happen in your body in that situation are, if you're lucky like MC fanning, the difference between life and death. So stress is actually meant to be good for a health, not bad for health. And when we're in a situation like that, you know there is really is a shark there, there really is a target there. The brain goes into a very mindful mode, and what I mean by that is it's relatively quiet, there's not a lot of thinking happening up there right now, when it's not like you're thinking about whether or not to top up your superannuation at the end of the financial year? or where am I going to go for dinner tonight? You know. So the brains relatively quiet, but it is a very, very alert and engaged so attention and pre perceptive or sensory or as a brain is switched on and the Amiga that's like a little turbo charge button in the brain is faring off and that's getting all over adrenaline and caught as all these other chemicals going around your system. The unfortunate thing is when we're not mindful, we activate the same response, but when we don't really need it. So you know, I don't know if you have ever been awake at three in the morning and it's as sing them turning and it got so much of a plate and what about this and what about that? There we are present moment. Reality is as comfortable as life can get. Soft Mattress, soft pillow, warm doing a quiet room. Could life possibly get any more comfortable than that? And yet in our mind we're in a world of pain, living a thousand catastrophes that haven't happened or reliving a thousand catastrophes that have come and gone in the past. That have already gone.

And so there we are now. There is no shark there, the shark is in here. And if we're not mindful we take the mental projection to be real, the imaginary conversation or argument we're going to have with somebody, you know, the reliving of some event from the past, and so the body faithfully translates that into the FI to fly response. That's not a turbo charge of energy. We've got other names for it, like anxiety. It's an inappropriate activation of a fantastic system. It's a little bit like getting a car and flogging it and hammering a card, driving it hard and parts we're out faster. You know, the brain age is faster, the Amidala the stress, and it gets bigger and more reactive. We literally damn it's really important areas of our brain, whereas what we know is if we practice mindfulness consistently, then the brain ages more slowly, emit the law the stress into quimes. Down we stimulate new growth new cells in all of these important areas of our brain, for that managing emotions, for memory, for learning, for processing information. So the brain works a whole lot better. One study looking at fifty year olds and looking at those who did or didn't practice these skills. Those who practice them regularly, your brains were on average, about seven and a half years younger, and people who didn't practice these skills they couldn't explain for all the other factors are looking at. Wow, practicing meditation and mindfulness can actually slow down that wear and tear on the body, which is pretty remarkable. Yeah, so if we do it once, wander at a rumination and worry and you just come back to the present moment and realize you're just standing at your kitchen bench with a tea bag and just you going a tea bag in a teaker and just come back to that. I con remember one time, is the night before the first big presentation I've given, you know, keynote address at a conference, and in the night before I'm getting all nervous and my heart's going in a little bit queasy in the stomach and I was just kind of washing the dishes on automatic pilot wis. I was thinking about tomorrow and how's it going to go. I can remember this thought coming into my mind. I hope I'm in the present moment tomorrow. It's so easy, though, isn't it to not be well? Doesn't at a moment of awareness, how ridiculous hoping I'm going to be in the present moment tomorrow? I'm not going to find out till tomorrow. Yeah, it's really interesting, isn't it? I think there's that sense. We know we all get lost in thought and we think about the future and, you know, daydream about things and it's catching ourselves and trying to bring us back to the present moment. They can can be hard. One interesting area, Craig, I'm wondering about his arm at the moment. If, if people are living in the present moment with multiple pressure points or significant challenges, whether they're they might may have lost their job, how would you explain using that present moment focus to support good mental health? For that for people who are actually experiencing real difficulty in the present moment? Yeah, been mindful doesn't mean the challenges are just going to go away and it's not looking at life through some kind of rose colored glassesses it's not about creating a pleasant distortion instead of an unpleasant one. It means that things are what they are on their merits. But when we are experiencing uncomfortable emotions or anything uncomfortable, even on a physical level. For that matter, there's a couple of things that mindfulness can help us to do. Firstly, when we noticed that we're wandering into rumination, living a future that hasn't even happened, you know, projecting a life you know and taking it to be real, mindfulness can help us to firstly see that and to switch out of that default mode of thinking and to reengage our attention with where we are, what we're doing, who's in front of us, if that's driving the car. Means attention back on the road, so we can give our attention to the life in front of us and then we can start to respond to it, and whether that's anything from driving more safely... addressing our attention back to planning and preparing rather than worry pretending to be planning in preparation right, so we can get our attention back to what we're doing. That's useful in itself. But the attitude bit of mind from this really matters, and people often forget this. I mean the attention bit present moment yet, but the attitude bit really really matters, and that means we might be experiencing an uncomfortable emotion, you know, so depressive feeling and feeling of anxiety, and will tend to notice that the attitude we bring to that when we experience it, most people, much of the time, is really reactive and judge mental. I hated I wish I wasn't experiencing that. What's wrong with me? I can't stand myself. I wish that would go away. And of course what happens? The harder we try to get rid of the thoughts and feelings were hating having them, all the attention fixates on them. So we actually become hyper vigilant, but the very things were trying to get rid of and they actually come more and mortal life. They actually accentuate because they're getting more and more attention. And of course what gets less attention is our life. Hmm, what's actually going on in this moment, the opportunities that might be there that we're not seeing, and so on. So when we're cultivating mindfulness, the first thing is to practice being present about, to practice cultivating that gentler attitude, a kind of a selfcompassionate attitude, a kind of a more accepting, less reactive attitude. We don't need to elaborate on you know what's wrong with me? Why? It's just like that's just another train of thought to get on. So when we cultivate that kind of gentle Selfcompassion, like we cut ourselves a bit as like it's all right to be a human being having a human moment. Yeah, then all of a sudden the attention doesn't fixate on on that so much. The intrusiveness of it in our life is less and less as time goes on and we find it more and more able to engage with the things the people that we do want to engage with. MMM. So, even for people that are really going through difficult points in their lives, there's opportunities to learn those skills, to to not necessarily avoid all of the bad feelings they having, but to to be open to those feelings and to be compassionate to yourself and to focus on the things you do have some control over or at least awareness of. So, even if it's focusing on making a a warm cup of tea, that that process is actually a good process to help our mental health. Yeah, it's so, even if it's a very mundane moment in our lives, because you could be walking down the street and we're walking on automatic pilot while we spend ten minutes ruminating, and I think I should get some physical exercise, but the body's moving but the mind is just ruminating the whole time. So to walk mindfully and then you start to feel the temperature of the breeze, that changing the seasons, and you use your sense of size and you're noticed the way that the leaves are changing on many trees at the moment and you just notice you all the different colors. And then you hear the sounds of the birds and there's one burden, what it sect? You hear some others and all of a sudden the words the world's got all this bird song going on in it and the smells in the Aramic and all the sudden you're in a very rich environment that all this stuff taken for granted, that you know and just so simple pleasures in life. But we at the end of the walk, we get back and there's a calmer, more attentive state of mind MMM that we can take into whatever it is that we want to take our attention to. I think one of the other really crucial things about mindfulness. It's been noticed from the research but people say it all the time and they learning mindfulness is it helps. It helps, paradoxically, to be interested in the wellbeing of others, because when we are kind of caught in our own world and Riman nation and so we get, for in returning, kind of cut off. There's a kind of a solitary confinement within our own mind that...

...we get caught up in and then we get more and more preoccupied and I guess in a lot of supermarkets around Australia we are seeing that for a while panic buying and people fighting our God toilet rolls and things that when more mindful, the attention opens our people tend to become more compassionate to others as well. And you really know people are growing in mindfulness when people show consideration for other people. HMM. And that connection piece is so important at the moment, isn't it, that people are looking for ways to connect with other people. And we've all been dealt a blow, I suppose, through this coronavirus pandemic. Every single person in the world is experiencing some impact from the pandemic. It is the way that we respond to it and the way we approach this experience that will help shape how we feel. We're going to have to to wrap it up, I'm asking all of our guests three questions. What are you reading, what do you watching and what are you cooking at the moment? If I've got any words rattling around in my head, I'd rather are words and wisdom. I'm diving into some of the old platonic dialogs at the moment, which I just love. GOING TO BE COOKING A Moroccan dish tonight. It's stree. I'm a wife from self. Lovely congratulations on your own versary. Will be giving some full and undervited attention to some French own pain as a part of that. So we're very month. Are you watching anything? Any TV documentaries or or is love a good documentary? Whenever one's on, I'll like I'll tend to watch that well. Thank you, Craig, for your time. I think I've certainly learned a lot and I think the people listening to this podcast will be able to take away the fact that mindfulness is actually grounded in in science. It will actually have a physiological impact on our body, but also a really powerful tool in helping us navigate uncertainty and stress and anxiety, though it's been a real pleasure ready. Did you know you could be the expert on this podcast to it's not just me talking about all of this stuff? We want to hear from you. We've got a pod phone. You can call and leave us a message. Tell us your name and share your experience about how you're dealing with this crisis. Anything you want to share, we would love to hear from you. Call us on one eight hundred, nine, five, five, seven hundred and leave your top tips on working from home, parenting and how you're keeping on top of your well being during this time. My next guest is Jessica row, television presenter, journalist, author and mum of to. She's also a passionate advocate for mental health and an ambassador for beyond blue. Welcome, JESSIC car. I thought I start with asking you how. How's life going for you in this pandemic world? I find I'm going a little bit stir crazy. I do love conversation and I am missing just seeing people and chatting and having that connection, that actual seeing people facetoface. I'm craving that. Yeah, it's that human connection, isn't it? It's such a core part of how we make sense of the world and how we look after ourselves. Isn't it that that conversation and it's those incidental conversations that I'm sure lots of people are missing? That's it and you don't I know it's the Cliche, but you don't realize what you've got really until it's gone. You don't realize how those conversations, those bumping into people, having a laugh, having a bit of a sort of escape from being at home, how those those small things actually add up to being very significant to how you feel, how your moodies and how you're able to perceive and be in the world and relate in the world. And I think for many of us this time is a moment for reflection because we have been forced to stop, to physically stop. A lot of... do exist in this sort of run or racing and things become a blur. You move from the next to the next, to the next to the next thing, and I know for me physically having to stop it has made me really reflect on things that have been wonderful in my life, things that still are pretty wonderful, and the people that matter, and I have really reveled in spending time with my daughters especially. It sounds like you're actually getting some real benefits out of this time. I don't think that that necessarily comes naturally to everybody. Thinking about you, know that that sense that you're paying attention to the small things, you're actually reminiscing and thinking about the things that you're grateful for that you have experienced in your life, and you're finding joy in those small things that you're doing with your family. What advice would you give to other people who might be going through a really difficult time now? What could they learn, do you think, from your experiences and the approach that you're taking? I think first and foremost, it's important to realize it's not as if for me, every day's fantastic and every day go oh wow, is in this amazing, because, you know, yesterday was the day that I struggled. I was feeling lonely, I was feeling frustrated and irritable, but but my silver lining was very much when I think about sitting on the couch with my older daughter, who's thirteen, and I made her a hot chocolate and we sat on the couch and we chatted for ten minutes and that was a silver lining for me because in the past she'd be in a bedroom or would be doing other things and not wanting to actually talk to me. So that was my silver lining for yesterday. So I think for all of us it's not about thinking, oh, there's a there's a an easy fix all thing that will make this time either better or pass faster for you. It's in realizing that, you know what a lot of this is is a grind. A lot of this is boring, it is Groundhog Day, it is frustrating, it is irritating, it is lonely, but there are also times that are special and it's about being able to mark out those little times or think, you know what, that was a really good thing. There have been times when it's made me think about how I felt when my daughters were tiny, when I felt trapped at home, when I was sort of missing interaction with people. So I do think perhaps as well we need to be gentle on ourselves and not think, Oh my God, I'm going to use this to learn a language or to study a degree or write a novel. I mean, that's that's not going to happen. It's not happening for me. I don't feel terribly creative and I don't feel like I have the emotional time or capacity to embark on those sorts of projects. Yeah, I think that's really important. You've been really open and honest about your own experiences with mental illness. What practical things do you do to keep mentally healthier? I think what I've learned and I'm still learning, because we're all still works in progress. What I'm really mindful about is, if I do start to feel a bit wobbly or anxious again, talking about it, being open about how I'm feeling and not having that pressure to pretend that everything's all right. I have been very open about the time when I had post natal depression after the birth of both of my daughters, and what I struggled with most of all during that time was asking for help because I felt so ashamed. I felt like a failure, and what I've worked very hard on over the years since then, sort of thirteen years ago, is is realizing the strength... asking for help and also the strength and being vulnerable, because it gives other people permission also to be vulnerable around you. And what I'm doing around my mental health during this time is obviously being aware of what my possible triggers would be and for me, sleep is very important, so I need to be making sure I'm getting sleep and also, for me, doing exercise. I've never been a ridiculous person about exercise, but at least doing something once a week. But first and foremost, if you are struggling, I urge you to ask for help, to reach out to someone close to you, talk to you GP talk to beyond blue. There is incredible resources available and there's amazing telly health that is now available so even more widespread with the pandemic in the sense of people being able to reach psychologists and psychiatrists. That it's really important to do that, because if I hadn't have done that all those years ago, I wouldn't be here today. And you need to ask for professional help when you are struggling, because that is the way you are going to get through it. Yeah, I think that's very wise. I think you know, we do have a tendency of trying to soldier on and to not want to talk about things, but you're very right. But sometimes when we when we need it the most, we really do need to feel empowered to seek that help out. Can I ask a question about mindfulness. Given smiling mind is focused on supporting people to learn about mindfulness, I'm curious to understand whether you've explored mindfulness practice or meditation and what whether you integrate that into your strategies in terms of looking after yourself. It's funny, initially I was a bit, I don't know why, a bit we're about it or thinking I'll come on as if this is going to work. But when I was seeing a psychologist and she spoke to me about it and how it worked and just simple ways that I could incorporate it into my life, that was almost when the penny dropped. So for me, how I really try and practice my style of mindfulness and recentering myself is just being present. And how I will do that is saying the mornings when when I'm getting ready, I've got out of the shower, I've got I'm getting dressed and then I'll go and I'll clean my teeth and I'll think about cleaning my teeth. I'LL TRY and empty my mind of everything else. I Love Lipstick. I find wearing bright lippy lifts my mood and while I'm putting on my lipstick I'm only thinking about putting on my lipstick, those sort of tasks to bring me back. For me, it's about an actual task that I find will sent to me and then I'll be aware of times when I'm not present, like, for example, those times when you might drive somewhere and you'll go, how did I actually get here, like you're not aware that how you drove there, which I mean apart from the safety aspect, isn't great. But there to me the sorts of cues that you know what, you're not present enough. You need to be bring yourself back to your body. Yeah, yeah, I week call that everyday mindfulness. So that idea of trying to bring that attitude of awareness, curiosity openness to everything that you do, so that you're fully present in all of those interactions and the things that you're doing, which is so important. I think you've you you've explained that perfectly, like even the simple things like brushing your teeth or putting your lippy on or driving the car, they're perfect times to practice being mindful. I think what we're coming to...

...the end of our conversation and I really like to get a sense of how everyone's going at the moment by asking three simple questions. What are you reading, what are you watching and what are you cooking right now? Well, I'm a craphousewife. I'm a proud craphousewife. I'm very open and homous about my lack of domestic skills. So I'm my cooking is. It's pretty grappy. However, what I have been doing is I made some really yummy cookies yesterday, but I didn't actually make the dough. I got delivered the dough and made the biscuits and that was fantastic. So I've been cooking these Yummy Bekis. In terms of what I'm reading, I find at the moment my head isn't great for concentrating on big, complex themes and novels. So I'm reading a series of thrillers by woman called Susan Hill. What was that? What was the other question? What am I watching? What do you watch? Oh, I'm watching the real housewives of Beverly Hills. Just in time, a new series has dropped and I'm now up to, I think, episode for as. I love it because it is it is not mindful, it is mindless and it is just what I make at the most. We all need that balance, don't we? We need the stimulation and the fun and it's said. So said, Jessica, thank you so much for your time. I think our listeners will have learned a lot from your experience, that sense of, you know, taking everything head on, being honest, really being open about how you're feeling, making sure you're compassionate and kind to yourself and practicing gratitude and being grateful for the small things that we have in life. They're such important messages right now and I think everyone will agree that there's something to take away there from all of those points that you've made. So thank you for your time. Oh my pleasure. Thank you for the chat. I've really enjoyed it. Thanks for listening. To thrive inside this series of the smiling mind podcast to accompany you through covid nineteen. You can find hundreds of guided meditations in the smiling mind APP and there are more resources to thrive inside on our website and smiling mindcom. Don't AU.

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