Knowledge = Your Health
Knowledge is power. And I want you to have as much knowledge-as much power-as possible when it comes to shaping and optimizing your own health. This collection of books is responsible for much (if not most) of the science and theory that allows me to be effective with my clients.
Imagine what they could do for you.
Author Robert Sapolsky is a legend in the field of behavior and neuroscience and Behave, his newer book, has been hailed as a massive contribution to the understanding of behavior through the lens of brain function, society, and well being. While I think this book is fascinating, fantastic, and also a bit funny, it is definitely going to appeal more to those folks who are interested in a higher-level understanding of the nuances in behavior from a scientific, epigenetic, and neuroendocrine perspective. In therapy with me, these concepts show up in modified ways--exploring how behavior is meant to adapt to the context that we find ourselves in and how an individual's ability to observe their own behavior is what enables them to shift it. Behavior is the only way we, as humans, are able to change who we are and how we show up in the world. For those in search of improved mental and physical health, examining behavior is the door to walk through.
This book is similar to Go Wild (on the Habits list) in that it provides a breadth of information on patterns of modern living that aren't compatible with mental health. It takes a look at connection, social media, and overuse of technology, as well as the standards of exercise, nutrition, sleep, etc. and how all of those patterns--and the science behind them--can make or break mental health. This book is a great introductory overview for folks who are newer to the functional understanding of all things brain health, but it may be a review for people who are already well versed in aspects of lifestyle medicine and meaning-directed living. Alternatively, it's a great place to start if you're not sure which of your lifestyle domains requires a deeper dive in order to propel your own personal growth.
I hate to break it to you, but you're most likely breathing wrong. You're wondering, how could that be possible? Isn't breathing...breathing? Don't our bodies do it automatically? Isn't it the very essence of being alive? How could our bodies do this "wrong"? It turns out that those questions are complicated. Rest assured, James Nestor does a fantastic job of illustrating how our fundamental relationship with oxygen and carbon dioxide dictates our functioning as a living organism. Personally, I can tell you that understanding the science on breathing has shifted the way I view problems related to mood, sleep, and performance, as well as why and how I train clients to regulate their nervous systems and regain health. Breath is THE most direct, effective, and immediate pathway to shifting what our heart, lungs, brain, and nervous system are doing on a biological level...and it's completely within our control.
From Fatigued to Fantastic
I believe that health is extremely nuanced and complex. That both Western and functional medicine have an important role to play in bringing someone into their optimal health. I also have to admit that I've seen a greater frequency of improvements when my clients are engaged with a functional medicine treatment plan as part of their efforts. That's because functional medicine integrates the role that psychology, life experiences, and nervous system programming have on chronic and complex illness. This book is a "Fantastic" guide that helps folks learn about common environmental and systemic causes for major symptoms (including brain fog, fatigue, gut dysfunction, etc.) and how they can often be reduced or eliminated holistically. There are MANY presenting problems that are treatable through research-based, natural interventions with no side effects--this book knows and teaches those interventions. I truly love this guide because of its awareness of what life is like with a chronic illness. Each chapter has a "brain fog friendly" summary so readers can still make changes when brain functioning is an obstacle. Give it a try if this functional approach has been missing from your health journey. You might be surprised.
It's very likely you've already heard of this book and may have opinions about what you've heard. There's often a high level of controversy between functional and Western medicine on the topic of whole grains, wheat, and gluten and how they affect our health. But here's the thing we ALL can agree on: when it comes to feeling better, we should to WHAT WORKS. As "distasteful" as the idea of cutting out gluten and/or grains might be (trust me--I know from personal experience), I owe you the truth...in my work with chronic and complex illnesses, it's often the clients who are open to this information that experience the biggest changes. There is, after all, a lot of science behind it. But don't take my word for it--check the book out for yourself!
How Emotions Are Made
Your emotions are not what you think they are. In fact, as a society we have been taught that waves of emotion "happen" to us, when the reality is far different. The author of this book is a world-renowned researcher on emotions and her work shows us how even our emotions and reactions are a product of the experiences we've had in our lives. But because our nervous systems "learned" patterns of emotion through associations and experiences, that means we can also "unlearn" many of those patterns by adopting new ones that serve us better. There is great freedom in understanding how we are not victims of random waves of emotions; when we know the science behind what is happening inside of us, we can be empowered to take a new approach that creates space to be who we want to be even in the most difficult of moments.
The End of Alzheimer's
Traditional medicine would have you believe that Alzheimer's is just an inevitable end for those of us who lose the health lottery. This couldn't be further from the truth. The TRUTH is that Alzheimer's is so tightly linked with lifestyle behaviors, metabolic health, and inflammation, that many specialists in the field refer to it as "Type III Diabetes." By the year 2050 (in about 30 years when most of us reading this will be at risk), it is expected to be a global epidemic. Thank goodness for this book and Dale Bredesen's work--he wrote this text to help everyone understand why, scientifically, lifestyle is the only prevention, and he developed the reCODE protocol, which has been shown to reverse cognitive decline. This is one book I wish everyone would read. We deserve the truth and the tools to take care of ourselves and protect our brains as we age.
The Mind-Gut Connection
Please read this book! To put it starkly, the science in this book could be the key differentiator between learning to "cope" with issues and actually HEALING them. The more mental health research that's conducted, the more it's clear: psychological health = gut health. For example, changes in our emotions are noticeable in our microbiome. There are more immune cells (also think: stress, inflammation, reactivity) in the lining of our gut than anywhere else in our bodies. Someone can do therapy until the end of time, but without taking steps to restore or enhance gut health they will likely experience ongoing health difficulties. I would daringly venture to say that individuals and clinicians who either don't know or use this information are missing perhaps the biggest piece to the "mental health" puzzle as we know it.
The Molecule of More
Think about the power and energy that accompanies your urges, obsessions, drives, and desires. Phew, even those words are STRONG aren't they!? Whether these instincts lead you to amazing or devastating outcomes, they all have one thing in common: dopamine. As a molecule, dopamine is responsible for much more of our behavior than we give it credit for...and, at the same time, we are capable of shifting waves of dopamine in our brain just as we are capable of shifting many other aspects of mental health. I love this book because in dealing with dopamine, it teaches us about the brain-behavior patterns that are often the hardest to "control" (i.e., the ones that folks most often want to change in therapy), and why they create such big waves of emotion. Overall, this book is honestly fascinating and, yes, a bit mind-blowing. It's scientific backing and applicable concepts make it one of my most recommended books for developing personal insight.
The Upside of Stress
Stress has become the bane of our existence. We hear about its negative effects in the news, through pop culture, social media, and yes--even from our therapists. It seems like we're constantly plagued with having too much on our plates; too many things to do and not enough time. But the whole story is not that simple. Not all stress is created equal and the truth is, not all stress is "bad" for you. That's because, as Kelly McGonigal illustrates in this book, the way stress affects us actually has a lot to do with how we look at it. Study after study has shown--in many domains across psychology and medicine--that our PERCEPTION of something is a very powerful predictor for how our biology responds to it. Stress is no different. Because stress is simply part of life and there is no avoiding it, maybe one of the best things we can do for ourselves is to shift our relationship to it. Fortunately, this book is a remarkable resource for learning how to do just that.
The Way Out
Chronic pain is a worldwide epidemic that affects millions of people. Most of these people are passed from doctor to doctor, undergo numerous imaging studies, are prescribed pills to "manage" their pain, or are offered surgeries in attempt to fix it. Unfortunately, these treatments (that often make things worse) are typically sold as the only options, but that is far from the truth. The TRUTH is that most often, chronic pain is a type of pain that's categorized as "neuroplastic," which essentially means that it CAN be changed. I include this book on my list of recommended readings because it offers a new understanding of chronic pain, called Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT). Unlike medical interventions, PRT actually addresses the root cause of neuroplastic pain, in which adaptations of the nervous system cause pain signals to fire in the brain in the absence of any physical injury. SO many of my clients experience neuroplastic pain, which is deeply connected to the way their nervous system has been tuned and the way their brain and body communicate with each other. Part of my work is to start looking at the ways we can shift the pain signals their brain is experiencing by using tenets of PRT to achieve healthy pain signaling. It's possible!
Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers
Hint: they aren't capable of stressing themselves out with their own thoughts...like humans do on a daily basis! In terms of applicability to health psychology and treatment, I would argue that the concepts in this book provide THE ultimate foundation for understanding the intersection between mental and physical health. Robert Sapolsky, one of the most brilliant and entertaining scientists of our time, gives a comprehensive, funny, and approachable summary of what stress is, how the human brain complicates it, and how it makes us physically ill. This is Health Psychology 101--the lessons I find myself teaching clients most often. If you aren't sure where to start on your reading and learning journey, I would heartily recommend that you start here.