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Tame Your Anxiety And Have A Happy Brain: Lessons From The Mammalian Kingdom We Can All Use

Have you been wondering how to manage anxiety, especially in midlife? Dr. Loretta Breuning is here to provide us with the answers! Join us on the latest episode of The Hormone Prescription Podcast and learn how the lessons from the mammalian kingdom can help us all have a happy brain. Not only will you learn about how hormones work within our bodies, but also gain insight into how simple changes in our environment can drastically change the way we feel.

Dr. Loretta Breuning, PhD, is the Founder of the Inner Mammal Institute and Professor Emerita of Management at California State University, East Bay. She is the author of many personal development books, including Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, and Endorphin Levels and Tame your anxiety-rewire your brain for happiness and others.

As a teacher and a parent, she was not convinced by prevailing theories of human motivation. Then she learned about the brain chemistry we share with earlier mammals and everything made sense. She began creating resources that have helped thousands of people make peace with their inner mammal. Dr. Breuning's work has been translated into twelve languages and is cited in major media. Before teaching, she worked for the United Nations in Africa. Loretta gives zoo tours on animal behavior, after serving as a Docent at the Oakland Zoo.

In this episode, you'll learn:

- How the mammalian brain works

- The hormones that can affect your emotional state

- Simple strategies to rewire your brain for happiness and reduce anxiety

- How our environment plays a role in affecting our moods

Listen now to this powerful episode with Dr. Loretta Breuning and learn how you can have a happy brain!

(00:00): Nature is designed to habituate to the emotions that we already have. Stay tuned to find out why our happy chemicals are not designed to be on all the time.

(00:13): So the big question is, how do women over 40 like us, keep weight off, have great energy, balance our hormones and our moods, feel sexy and confident, and master midlife? If you're like most of us, you are not getting the answers you need and remain confused and pretty hopeless to ever feel like yourself Again. As an ob gyn, I had to discover for myself the truth about what creates a rock solid metabolism, lasting weight loss, and supercharged energy after 40, in order to lose a hundred pounds and fix my fatigue, now I'm on a mission. This podcast is designed to share the natural tools you need for impactful results and to give you clarity on the answers to your midlife metabolism challenges. Join me for tangible, natural strategies to crush the hormone imbalances you are facing and help you get unstuck from the sidelines of life. My name is Dr. Kyrin Dunston. Welcome to the Hormone Prescription Podcast.

(01:07): Hi everybody, and welcome back to another episode of the Hormone Prescription with Dr. Kyrin. Thank you so much for joining me today. Today we're gonna be talking about stress. Again, I know it's such an important topic, but we're gonna be relating it to your happy neurochemicals. We're going to be talking about dopamine and serotonin and oxytocin and endorphins and how you can optimize these neurochemicals for your hormonal and overall health and wellbeing, how you can get out of anxiety and many other things. She has a unique perspective that's comes from the animal kingdom, which we're a part of, but we're a little bit different and we're gonna talk about how we're different and how that affects our health and ways that you can manage your neurochemicals that other animals don't need to worry about. I'll tell you a little bit about her and then we'll get started.

(02:05): Dr. Loretta Bruning is a PhD and she's founder of the Inter Mammal Institute and Professor Erta of Management at California State University East Bay. She's the author of many personal development books, including Habits of a Happy Brain, retrain Your Brain to Boost your Serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and Endorphin levels. And the author of Tame Your Anxiety, rewire Your Brain for Happiness and other books. As a teacher and a parent, she was not convinced by prevailing theories of human motivation. Then she learned about the brain chemistry we share with earlier mammals and everything made sense. She began creating resources that have helped thousands of people make peace with their inner mammal. Dr. Bruni's work has been translated into 12 languages and is cited in major media before teaching. She worked for the United Nations in Africa and Loretta gives zoo tours on animals' behavior after serving as a docent at the Oakland Zoo. Welcome Dr. Loretta Bruning to the podcast.

(03:05): Hi. So nice to be here.

(03:07): I'm really glad to have you here. I think people are dealing with so much stress right now. Stress levels are at an all-time high and we can't talk about it enough. How can people get regulated out of the stress site, be happy in their lives, experience joy? I mean, after all, I think that's what we're here to do ultimately, but there are a lot of things that get in the way and I'm curious if you can share with everyone how did you get interested in brain neurochemical chemicals and how to have a happy brain? What was your path?

(03:42): Like many people, I grew up around a lot of unhappiness and I didn't have a good explanation for it. So I think I was always curious like, what is everybody so upset about? So I was always looking for that and nothing ever seemed like a good enough explanation. I studied academic psychology my whole life, so I knew all the theories, but they still didn't really explain it to me and especially becoming a parent and you think, okay, now gonna start over and we're gonna do everything right according to the book, you know? And I was like, no, that doesn't work. Kids are unhappy. My students were unhappy. So then I had to rethink what I had learned and I stumbled on a lot of animal studies monkey studies, and that triggered, you know, cuz when I was like 18 years old and started studying psychology, there were a lot of monkey studies and that's what got me into seeing that the chemicals that make us feel good are the exact same chemicals in animals and they're controlled by brain structures that animals have too. And to me, that explained everything first because a monkey is constantly making decisions. What's gonna make me happy? Oh, if I get that banana, how can I get it? And that's the job our happy chemicals do is reward us for those actions. And then that this whole animal brain is not capable of using language. So it's totally separate track from the stuff we're telling ourselves in words.

(05:20): Yes. You know, I think that we forget that we are animals <laugh> and that we have the same brain structures as other animals and that our brain is really designed to keep us alive, but some of those systems can act negatively in humans and actually make us sick when we don't understand them and use them properly. And I think this is super important for women at midlife because we've kind of, most of us been using our brains and our systems unconsciously, and we don't really start paying attention to how they function until we hit midlife. And the cumulative negative effects start encroaching on our good health. And then we wanna know, oh my gosh, I don't feel well. And we discover that our brain neurochemistry is part of the reason why we don't do well. How can we work with it differently? So can you talk a little bit about the different brain structures and kind of how our neurochemistry works and then we can kind of dive into what people might be encountering in terms of maladaptations of these systems that causing them problems? Sure.

(06:36): So you've raised so many good issues and I'm gonna try to simplify. Sure. Get to the point as much as possible, but there's so much. So I always like to focus on the positive, you know, what can we do instead of just focusing on the problem? So the reality is that our happy brain chemicals are not designed to be on all the time. You hear about dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphin and you think, oh, other people must be just getting this all the time and what's wrong with me? And yet, when you know the job these chemicals do, you know that their job is only to be on for that moment to spark you into action when that action is appropriate. So for example, like a lion is looking around for something it can eat and if it runs after everything, it's not gonna get anything and it's gonna die of starvation.

(07:30): So dopamine turns on when it sees something it can get, and that's what our good feelings are like for that appropriate moment. So when we're not having that spark of joy, it's like no big deal. That's to the self-acceptance of my brain is designed to go up and down to navigate where should I use my energy? What's a good opportunity? And the other part of that is, well, how do I know what's a good opportunity and where should I use my energy? Well the amazing thing is my dopamine pathways are built from my own dopamine experience in my past. And your dopamine pathways are built from your past. So every little toddler is like trying to get that ball and get that cookie. And yet we're all building our pathways from our unique individual experience. And when I know my own pathways, that liberates me from being limited by them because you may think, oh, the only way to feel good is by repeating this behavior that triggered my good feelings in the past. But when you know that it's just a pathway, then you say, oh, there are thousands of other ways to be happy. I'm just doing this one because that's just the accident of my past experience.

(08:50): Yeah, we really are very programmed throughout our lives as to what's gonna make our dopamine reward pathway go up, what's gonna make our serotonin go up. It's gonna differ for every person. But I totally identify, and maybe you listening identify with this too, that I do wanna be happy all the time. Loretta <laugh>. What's wrong with that? And you know, I think we see other people maybe on social media or friends that we have who really do seem like they're happy all the time. Why can't we be happy all the time?

(09:25): Okay, that's a great question. So first let's distinguish happy chemicals from unhappy chemicals. Okay, so I don't want to feel like I'm gonna die in every minute. So that's, yeah, like in in the animal brain, you are trying to escape from predators and starvation and the human brain is capable of imagining predators that are not actually there. That's how we stress ourselves. So we feel like we gotta run from this predator all the time, and that's horrible feelings. So absolutely, we should definitely wanna get away from that because that's the job our brain is designed to do is escape that threat. But if I want to feel joy every minute of every day, that's not realistic and I'm gonna end up disappointing. And if I tell myself that everybody else is feeling joy every minute of every day, then I'm gonna end up, you know, feeling left out. So, you know, there's this current movement of trying to feel the pleasure of small things. I think that's great, but the way the brain works is it habituates to what you already have. So if I think, let's say if I only get a date with this one person, I'll be happy forever. But then once you get the date with that person, you're not happy forever. Right,

(10:53): <Laugh>. So

(10:54): If you think, oh, if I only get this promotion, I'll be happy forever. But you get the promotion and you're not happy forever. So the reason is that our brain is designed to habituate to rewards we already have. So it's like saying that when my ancestors were hungry and they thought, oh, if I only found a tree full of riped fruit, I'd be so happy I'd, you know, I'd never be unhappy again. And they'd find the tree and they'd stuff their face with riped fruit. But if that made them happy forever, then they would not get any protein. They would not search for water and firewood. So our brain is designed to focus on the unmet need and to take for granted what you already have and say, okay, been there, done that. Now what else can I get? So that's the norm <laugh>, which

(11:48): Yeah, I think everyone can relate to that. And I remember when I was younger, I would always think, I will be happy when, fill in the blank, you know, when I graduate high school, when I graduate college, when I graduate med school, you know, when I get married, when I have a baby. And like you would get to that and you do get that initial boost of, oh my gosh, this is so great, I'm so happy. And then it just becomes a factor of your life and it doesn't give you that dopamine kind of hit or serotonin boost. So I know everybody listening can really relate to that. And I love that you explained it, the nature's design to habituate to the emotions that we already have. And it is does confer survivability not only on the animal kingdom, but humans, which we're a part of the animal kingdom, but I think that sometimes we think we're superior <laugh> because we have these huge four brains and that we should be able to surpass that. So how does someone who's maybe feeling dysthymic or even depressed really start to work in their lives to change their neurochemistry to a more positive state where they can get those boosts?

(13:03): Sure. So first is to understand that whatever triggers the happy chemical is based on not what you're telling yourself in words and philosophical abstractions, but it's a real physical pathway built from past experience. So a simple example would be, you know, if you give a child a cookie when they do a certain behavior, they're gonna repeat that behavior. So even if you're sad on some level, you got rewarded for being sad in your past. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> because you felt like, well now I'm doing my share in carrying the load by being sad or something like that. So once you say, my sadness is a real physical pathway in my brain, my feelings about what it takes to turn on a reward chemical, those are real physical pathways in my brain. And I can build new pathways to have new expectations about how to turn on my happy chemicals. But it's hard to build new pathways in adulthood. It's exactly like learning language. When you're a child, you learn language easy. But if you try to study a foreign language in adulthood, it takes a lot of repetition and it feels like real work. And that's what it takes to build a new path to happy chemicals when you're older. Okay. One example.

(14:30): Sure. Yeah, that would be great.

(14:32): So, so the typical example would be negative expectations. Like if you think people don't like me, nothing I do works. Everything I, everything goes wrong in my life, you know, every, everyone can look for that o, that whatever is their own loop. And then look for, well, how did that pathway get built in my past? And then every time I feel it to say, oh, it's a real physical pathway, what other pathway could I have that would feel better? So my personal example was I always felt like people were criticizing me. Like I would jump to that conclusion all the time on no evidence at all. And then I would feel basically the terror of my childhood of being attacked and criticized. So what other pathway would I like to have will to just say other people