Dr. Harris is joined by Elisabeth Kristof of Brain Based Wellness, an applied neurology practice in Austin, Texas. Her practice is a comprehensive method that puts the brain and nervous system at the center of movement training, behavior change practice, and mindset coaching for improved health, resilience, and athletic performance.
In this episode, we talk about her wellness journey, how she became an applied neurology practitioner, and some simple movements for you to do at home that improves your brain health.
[00:00:00] Dr. Richard Harris: Hello, and welcome to the Strive for Great Health Podcast, with your host, Dr. Richard Harris. And in this episode, we have a special guest Elisabeth Kristof of brain based wellness. And we’re going to be talking about applied neurology. And this is a really cool field because it’s using the brain to heal the brain and the body.
Really cool. It dives in the principles of neuroplasticity, you can teach a old dog new tricks. There’s so much you can do to heal the body by starting with the brain. It’s where it all starts. And in this episode, it’s where it all ends. All right. Are you guys ready to boost your health EQ and IQ? Cue the music! Join me, Dr. Richard Harris, as we strive to unlock the secrets of the human body strive for wellness strive for great health. Follow the show on iTunes, Spotify, Google, and Android.
Real quick before we get started. The Strive for Great Health Podcast is a lifestyle wellness and mindset podcast, but we can’t put everything about health, wellness, and mindset into the podcast. There’s just not enough time, it’s such a complex subject. That’s why we created our lifestyle medicine and health mindset wellness courses.
Now you may be asking, are these courses right for me? If you’re someone who wants to increase their health span, longevity, how long we live without chronic disease. If you’re someone who’s been told you have risk factors. If you’re someone that’s been told, there are some things that you need to watch out for. Some things you need to change otherwise you’re heading down a road that leads to disease, or if you’re someone who has a chronic ailment and you’re wanting a more holistic approach to fix your self, to heal yourself, then the wellness courses are for you. If you’re not willing to invest in your health. If you’re not someone who is willing to do things in a sustainable manner, if you’re someone who’s looking for a quick fix, then the courses are not for you.
The courses are designed to teach you everything that I have learned reading hundreds of studies, hours of clinical practice, years of devotion to this lifestyle medicine and the health mindset, so you can live a life full of joy and purpose. If that sounds good to you, head to theghwellness.com and click courses at the top. Now to this week’s episode.
Welcome to Strive for Great Health Podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Richard Harris, and we have another special guest with me, someone who is in the town that I’m proud of. I’m actually wearing my Austin shirt today, my hook ’em horns shirt. Elisabeth Kristof with me, how are you doing?
[00:03:16] Elisabeth Kristof: I’m doing great. Thank you so much for having me here.
[00:03:19] Dr. Richard Harris: I really appreciate it. And when you reached out to me, I thought what you did was so interesting and we’re going to dive into that, but I always like to start off with people’s own story people’s own journey. How did you get into holistic wellness in general?
[00:03:35] Elisabeth Kristof: I think for me, like a lot of people who ended up in healing, I ended up in holistic wellness because I needed answers in my own life that I wasn’t finding within the traditional paradigm and the traditional system and my own life experience led me to doing a lot of research and seeking that, just opened up a whole new world of understanding about the way that our bodies work and how integrated we are as human beings.
And I learned a lot through my own experience that I then bring to my clients.
[00:04:09] Dr. Richard Harris: That’s amazing. And I think that’s one of the most powerful motivators is I find that people in holistic wellness tend to be very curious and very introspective. And we’re the type of people who won’t depend on someone else to just provide answers for us, if we’re not satisfied with the answer that we’re getting, we go and seek that out on our own.
And that was pretty much what brought me into holistic wellness. But let’s talk about what you do. You’re focused on the brain where everything begins, everything ends. It’s all about the brain. And we know, that we’ve talked about on this podcast, before that as your health mindset goes, your health goes, you have to have brain trained in the right direction and the right mindset to be able to truly be healthy.
So that’s what we’re going to focus on today. We’re going to focus on brain-based wellness. What exactly does that mean?
[00:05:06] Elisabeth Kristof: I think this is a good place to weave in my own journey to what I do. So what I am, what I practice is applied neurology. I’m a functional neurology practitioner. And what that is, is just basically taking the latest in brain science and breaking it down into really practical exercises that your everyday person can do to train their nervous system, to be more resilient, to process stress, and to heal the unique deficits that they have in their body. And I think what a lot of people have not been taught and don’t understand is that we all have this quite miraculous system inside of us, our operating system, which is our nervous system.
And that that system is always changing in response to the stimulus that we give it. We’re very malleable and as we train that system by providing new stimulus, we can actually make it stronger and make it function better, make it more resilient. And that system really controls all of our life experiences, not only our autonomics, like our heart rate and our digestion, but also our ability to be present, to be connected.
It controls how much strength we’re able to output from our muscles, what our range of motion is. And so functional neurology is just a really intentional training system for your nervous system to help it move forward in a positive direction. That is what we practice on the site in conjunction with somatic practices, which is processing emotions through the body and being curious and learning how to move in a more intuitive way that allows you to move the energy of emotions and stress through your body. And then we also do some subconscious reprogramming. and EFT, but it all really begins with the functional neurology to create safety in the body so that the rest of that work can occur.
And how I came into applied neurology was I started through movement for athletic training. I’ve always been a mover in my whole life. And I had a couple of Pilates studios here in Austin, and we were developing a national teacher training program. And I knew that I wanted brain science to be a part of it.
I knew that, that is the direction movement science was going, that you don’t really have a tight hip flexor. You have a brain that is telling your hip flexor to hold a certain amount of tension. And until you change that at the level of your brain and your nervous system, you can stretch it. You can do whatever, but it’s always going to go back to that same patterning, unless you do something to change it.
I started studying with a functional neurology institute in Arizona called Z-Health and really using applied neurology to help people improve their athletic performance. I worked with a lot of athletes and to help people get out of chronic pain. And then it was really through a long series of events in my life, or my life really fell apart.
And I came face to face with my own dysregulation, my own auto-immune, my own unresolved trauma. I lost my business, my partner at the time, the fiance at the time was diagnosed with a rare cancer around his heart. And we went into a long period of fighting that battle, where there was just not a lot of safety.
There was not a lot of predictability in my life. There was always a lot of stress. And I started to experience really severe outputs of my own nervous system. And I had all this background in applied neurology and I found that curiosity that you were talking about. I started to tap into my own curiosity and watch my behavior as I would almost black out under stress.
Sometimes I would binge eat. I was experiencing a lot of chronic pain and beginning to look at that with curiosity and the information that I understood about the nervous system, I was able to go down a long healing path. Reading books, like waking the tiger and the body keeps the score and understanding how nervous system dysregulation drives not just our performance and our pain, but so much of our behavior, much of our life experience. And then it’s possible to heal that through intentional nervous system training and through moving emotions and stress through the body.
[00:09:09] Dr. Richard Harris: Well, thank you for sharing your story with us. Stories are so powerful and it helps us connect with other people. Because a lot of times I think people don’t look at us like we’re human. That we don’t have our own struggles, things that we go through, but we do. And I’ve talked about on this podcast a lot, how I’ve struggled with chronic pain since I was 13 years old.
I’ve had chronic back pain every day of my life for the last 25 years. And it’s something I’m continuously dealing with and I’ve never been on medication and I will never have back surgery. I’ll never let them touch my back, but that’s because I’m intentional with my mindset. I’m intentional with my nervous system training.
I’m intentional with my movement. And I love how you talked about functional movement. Our bodies are designed to move and what do we do? We sit in place all day and that is not what our bodies were designed to do. We survived as humans because we’re adept at moving. That’s literally one of the reasons why we survived evolutionary because we would hunt animals for miles to bring the camp and we were very good that at that tracking. We’d injure the animal and just track it for miles and bring it back. We are designed to move and going into functional neurology. We talked about this briefly, but what are some of the things that people can use this approach to improve in their life?
What are some of the things that you see routinely in your practice that people come to you for and then how do they improve after you work with them?
[00:10:43] Elisabeth Kristof: So, first of all, I think what you said is really important. We are designed to move and there are many neurologists out there that would make the case that the human brain evolved for movement. If you look at organisms that don’t move, they don’t have brains and central nervous systems. A lot of the reason that our nervous system and our brain evolved is for the complexity and the skill of movement. And when we live a sedentary lifestyle, those areas of our brain don’t get a lot of stimulation and it’s very important not only for our cardiovascular health and all those things that you hear about, but for our cognitive health and for our emotional health and also emotions and stress, our energy that is meant to be processed through the body.
And it’s processed through movement that stress is released and not kept internalized when we move it through. Movement is so vital for not just being healthy and the typical way that you think about it, but for mental health and for full self-expression and for being able to be present and awake in your life.
And so I really believe that too. And then functional neurology is, it works like this. If you think of your nervous system as a bucket, all of your life stresses going into that bucket. So your job stress, your relationship, stress, the stress of change, the social pressures that we put on. And in addition to those stress, Is also coming stress from any deficit that you might have in your nervous system.
Our brain is always collecting information from these different systems in our body, primarily our visual system, our eyes, the balance system inside of our inner ear, our vestibular system and our body mapping system, the mechano receptors inside of our joints that tell our brain where a body is in space.
And it’s putting all of that information together, integrating it and making a picture of where you are and the world around you, and it uses all of that information to make predictions and then it generates an output and the most important thing about that output is that it’s intended to keep us alive.
Survival is our brain’s number one goal, and it’s always making the decisions safe or unsafe. And if the information coming in from those systems the it is not quality because of deficits that we’ve developed in our nervous system over time. And that could be an issue with your vestibular system because of some medication that you took our a fall that you had, or it could be an issue in your body mapping system, like an old ankle injury that you never properly rehabbed.
And so your brain’s map of where your foot is in space is a little bit blurry. And then every single step you take is a little bit threatening to your brain. If that information is not clear and high quality, then the stress in that bucket starts to go up and up and up on a second by second basis. Maybe it’s an issue with your respiration or your vagus nerve, which we can talk more about too.
But all those little deficits start to add up and the water level, the stress level in that bucket starts to rise and our brains and our bodies have this intelligence and they understand at a deep level that we are resilient. We’re meant to handle a certain amount of stress, a certain amount of stress is good for adaptation, but too much stress for too long, chronic stress is dangerous. It causes inflammation, causes auto-immune disease. It causes lots of disease is, you know, stress is underlying there. Your brain will start to produce protective outputs to get you to reduce the amount of water in the bucket, the amount of stress coming in, and those protective outputs could look like anything like pain, chronic pain, dizziness, even binge eating or self-regulation behaviors. It could look like migraine because when you experience those things, you’re gonna make your world smaller. You’re going to go lay down in bed, pull the covers over your head, block out the amount of stimulus that’s coming in and so in that moment, your old brain, not your higher order thinking systems, but your old brain feels safer .
It’s reducing the amount of stimulus so that the water level in that bucket goes down. If we can train the input systems, your eyes, the balance system in your inner air, your body mapping system, to give better information to your brain. Then the overall water level in the bucket goes down and then you can start to handle more stress from life, because that’s going to happen, right. There’s going to be job stuff and relationship stuff and financial stuff, and the stress of trying to level up and change your life. You have more bandwidth more room in the bucket to add that stress before moving into those protective outputs of your brain. And instead your brain will start to move into more of a performance mode where you can have more strength in your muscles, greater range of motion.
You have more energy and you can also just be more present, be more connected, being more aware and awake and then you start to function better in your life by training your nervous system. So everybody has those deficits and they are healable because our brain and our nervous system are changing all the time.
[00:15:52] Dr. Richard Harris: That’s amazing and this goes hand in hand with one of our favorite subjects and that’s neuroplasticity, and that is the ability of the brain to change. This was a subject that was unknown to us 30-40 years ago, they just thought your brain’s, your brain. And once you are past the age of 25, which was what we thought was brain development stopped at 25.
And then that was, that was it. You’re stuck with your lot in life. Same thing we used to think about genetics. Your genes are, your genes, and you’re just stuck with them. And now we know that’s not true at all. We have neuro-plasticity, we have epigenetics and we have the ability to change our own lot in life.
It’s funny because oftentimes when people think about working out and they think about exercise, they think about the benefit to the muscles and of course we know there’s benefit to the muscles, to regular exercise and strength training. But what actually happens first is it trains our nervous system.
The entire nervous system responds very quickly to that stimulus and starts to prepare the muscles for growth. You can’t just grow just out of thin air. That doesn’t happen. The nervous system says, Hey, this is a stressor, we probably going to need to increase our muscle size because we’re constantly being under stress this way.
Let’s prepare for that. Let’s get more nutrients there. Let’s get more immune cells there to help it recover. There’s a whole process that goes into it. And this is something that can be trained and it can be trained at any age. This is not something that you stop when you’re 50, 60, 70, no, keep it going. You can learn new tricks as long as you are applying yourself.
[00:17:30] Elisabeth Kristof: I was just going to agree with you completely. I think that it’s so important that we know now it’s really, we referred to it in the applied neurology community as the science of hope, because it is absolutely true that you are always changing. You’re not done. And you have some agency over the direction in which you change. You just have to be aware that you have an operating system, just like you were saying, that controls all of that. And then it’s possible to change that.
[00:17:54] Dr. Richard Harris: Yeah. We often linked the brain to a computer because it is like a computer and it’s the most advanced neural network that’s ever been created. And we haven’t even gotten close to being able to make a physical system, a mechanical system that matches our brains. It’s just, we’re not even close to being able to do that.
And all the inputs that it processes in milliseconds, it’s quite incredible. And if you put it in the right place, you can succeed. And we’ve seen this over and over again even people in their elderly years can dramatically change their health can change their outputs by their inputs and what they think. As the mind goes, the body goes, Are these principles things that anybody can use?
Because right now a lot of people think this is just for athletes, just for people who want to push the boundaries and not for quote unquote normal people. But, I think you’re bucking that trend that this is for everyone.
[00:18:53] Elisabeth Kristof: Absolutely. It’s for everyone. We all deserve to be able to achieve the change and level up our life and the ways that we want without getting held back by a nervous system that doesn’t feel safe and that’s in a protective mode and the ways in my own life that applied neurology has been most impactful for me is in behavior change and in allowing me to create safety and come back into my own body because I was able to learn new tools for self regulation.
When I was under that period of extreme stress, I’ve struggled with binge eating my whole life as a means of self-regulation. What I know now, that I didn’t know most of my life was that, that was my brain and my body’s best way to keep me alive and keep me regulated. I come from a pretty high level of trauma in my early childhood. I have a pretty high ACE score, adverse childhood experience. My nervous system for a long time was stuck in a state of hypervigilance. And I would kind of cycle through these times of extreme hypervigilance and then going into hypoarousal, freezing, shutting down, brain fog, migraine, extreme fatigue.
And I just kind of lived my life running through those cycles. And again our bodies and our brains are smart at a deep level that we probably have no idea. Like we probably have don’t even know how intelligent our own systems are. Just like you were saying, there’s so much there. It’s the more complex than any computer we could create.
My body and my brain intuitively knew if you eat a bunch of food right now, it will push you into more of a parasympathetic state a rest and digest. You will be able to move out of this state of cortisol pumping through your body, hypervigilance, extreme chronic stress. And it would shut me down and get me to rest.
I could not override that at the level of my prefrontal cortex, because I was in a survival mode. And It wasn’t that long ago, maybe a year or two ago when I really realized like, that behavior saved my life at the time, because I didn’t have other tools for self-regulation and my body needed a way to regulate carrying all of that stress that it had been for so long.
And then I was able to come into that mindset of curiosity that you talked about, look at the behavior and then use applied neurology to start to develop new ways of regulating myself, stimulating my vagus nerve, a really important cranial nerve that runs from our brainstem down into our pelvis and it gives our brain, all of the signals from our body up to our brain. And it also plays a huge role in a lot of our autonomic function, our digestion, our respiration, our heart rate. And so when I started to heal my vagus nerve and then started to heal the unique deficits in my nervous system, I was able to start to find drills, neuro exercises that helped me feel regulated. So I didn’t have to turn to the old behavior. It’s applicable for anyone who is facing those outputs, such as stress, eating, emotional, eating, such as migraine and shutdowns, such as chronic pain. All of those are outputs of our brain, either trying to get the stimulus that it needs to self-regulate or to try to get you to reduce the amount of overall stimulus coming in, because it doesn’t feel safe.
Everyone can use these tools to move out of those unwanted outputs of the brain, and also to be able to face the stress of change, growing a business, speaking out in society for important causes that you believe in things that are just kind of inherently threatening to our nervous system. If you can learn those tools for self-regulation, you can do those things that you want to do, use your voice, grow your business, take a stand in the world and not be shut down by protective outputs of your brain.
[00:22:35] Dr. Richard Harris: So true, people often don’t think about why they do things, but there’s a reason behind all of our actions. And if you start to look at it, you can look at it from a mental perspective. You can look at it from a physical perspective. You can look at it from a spiritual perspective. All three of those will be reasons why we move either towards something or move away from something.
And each of us has a default mode. Some people always move towards something as their default mode. Some people move away as their default mode and neither one is right, neither one is wrong. It’s just intuitively how we are. I’m someone who moves towards something. If something is wrong, I instinctively go and say, Hey, what is this?
What’s the problem? What do I need to do? And that’s just my default operating system. Some people are move away. My wife has one of those move away people. And so you have to realize who you are and how you work. Now, what are maybe three things that people can do starting today in their house that can help as far as retraining their nervous systems to deal with some of these things that you mentioned?
[00:23:41] Elisabeth Kristof: The first thing that I think is really important is starting to focus on our respiration. Respiration is very important to your brain. We take about 20,000 breaths per day. And if each of those is not efficient, or if there’s some kind of issue with it, then that is pretty threatening to our brain.
When we are stuck in upper chest breathing or hyperventilation, it’s also giving a signal constantly from your body up to your brain, that there’s something a little bit threatening that there’s something to be concerned about. If we can, just for a moment, make something that’s largely unconscious, are breathing, conscious and start to try to train it and to use it as a tool for regulation, it can have a really big impact.
So one of the simplest things to do is just bring some awareness to your breath and start to take longer exhalations. I have my clients breathe in through their nose, purse, their lips breathe out of their mouth like they’re breathing out of a straw. So it creates a little bit of resistance for your exhalation and try to make your exhalation at least twice as long as your inhalation, so that we are moving out of hyperventilation and we’re starting to, up-regulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which again, is your calm and respond, your rest and digest, so when you’re starting to move into those states of fight and flight. You can calibrate a little bit more, turn down the knob on that and become more present, become more connected.
And there have actually been FMRI’s that show as few as six of those straw breaths, those long exhalation breaths will help people up regulate their parasympathetic system and get out of that sympathetic response. That’s one of the best tools to start to interrupt so that you can do some other things that you like, and you’re not being driven by that survival response.
And then another thing that I think is really important is just starting to cultivate a skill called interception, which is being able to read the internal signals that our body is sending us. Many of us get really disconnected from our body, either from trauma or just, we live in a society that really disconnects us from our body.
And it can feel strange and maybe even a little bit scary at first. So I like for people to only do it for short bits of time at first, but to just start to drop from your head down into your body, maybe spend 30 seconds in the morning and just start to get curious, ask yourself questions. What does it feel like in the bottom of my belly?
Can I feel my heart beating? Can I feel my rib cage expanding and contracting as I breathe in and out. How does it feel in my throat or in the space between my eyes. And just start to know that your entire body is sensory and it’s always sending signals back up to your brain and that you can start to become aware of those.
And as we become more aware of those, not only does that allow us to start to read the signals, our body is sending us when we’re moving into dysregulation, which is really important because we have to know that, so that we can stop and do something about it to stop just constantly moving into that cycle.
But also it’s actually training your vagus nerve because your vagus nerve again, sends those signals up to your brain so that when you bring your awareness there and you try to consciously focus on those signals, you are helping to make your vagus nerve stronger upregulating it making it more resilient, which is really important.
That’s a really easy tool. And then one more thing that I like to have people do is again, a little bit more vagus nerve stimulation. So our vagus nerve intervates the back of our tongue. That’s one of the places where it innervates. If you can just do some tongue movement to give it a little bit of stimulus, that actually will help you up regulate it.
I have my clients just do circles with their tongue running their tongue over their teeth. Keep your mouth closed and your lips closed and try to make every circle a little bit bigger, going a little bit further back in your mouth and just making five circles in one direction, five circles in the other direction can give you some positive stimulus that will help your body relax, and then just make sure you assess and reassess that. So change at the level of the nervous system is instantaneous and you can always assess and reassess if something is positive or negative for your body.
You could just turn your head side to side, see how far you can see out of the corner of your eye, try to feel the amount of tension in your neck. Do those circles do five in one direction, five in the other, and then reassess and notice if you have less tension in your muscles, greater range of motion and then you can know that was something that was positive for your nervous system. if you get a positive response, then you can just put that drill in your back pocket. And any time you start to feel those signals that maybe you’re moving into a little bit of threat response, you can just stop, take six straw breaths, do five tongue direction and see if it makes a difference in your ability to react and respond differently to whatever the situation is.
[00:28:25] Dr. Richard Harris: Thank you for those tips. And these are things that I talk about routinely, breathing. I’m a huge fan of diaphragmatic breathing. I take routine breaks throughout the day to do some diaphragmatic breathing or people call it belly breathing for that vagus nerve stimulation. It enhances neuro-plasticity you kind of feel a little bit high when you do.
Because of the effects that it has on your brain, you feel sharper, more clear there’s data that it helps lower blood pressure as well. It’s something that I routinely recommend for anyone who has high blood pressure. If your blood pressure spikes up, do something like that to help bring it down. And then body scanning is such an old technique.
That is so great because if you listen to your body, it will tell you things and we are so distracted by everything, especially cell phones. We talked about that in the digital media episode about how marketing and devices are literally meant to draw our attention. Everything is meant to draw our attention away from ourselves to something else, and we need to pay attention to ourselves.
What is happening in our own bodies and body scanning is a great way to do that. And I’ll periodically do that where I just go from head to toe. And see what is going on. And it has helped with a lot of the nagging injuries I had from being a routine lifter, the tendonitis elbows, the tendonitis in my shoulders, all of that is gone now because of the mindset training and the functional mobility training that I do.
And then there’s some really interesting techniques, like moving your tongue over your teeth that you can do for certain situations because of how connected our nervous system is. And I often tell people where you experienced pain or feel like there’s dysregulation may not be the exact spot that is dysregulated.
And sometimes you have to go to a professional like yourself, someone who knows all these connections to help diagnose where the problem really is. For instance, when I first started having back pain, like most people, I thought the problem was in my back. It wasn’t in my back. My left leg is about half an inch shorter than my right leg.
That was the root cause of the problem. And now I’m able to address that because I’m aware of what the root causes and that shortness was causing tightness in my left gluteal muscle and addressing the tightness in my left gluteal muscle relieve the issue in my back. So I felt it in my back, but the problem wasn’t actually in my back, it started at my foot and then I adressed it all the way up.
And now those problems are for the most part, very well controlled.
[00:31:10] Elisabeth Kristof: It’s so true. We’re such an integrated system and pain is an output, not an input of the nervous system. So pain is an action signal from our brain telling us that something is wrong, but it may not necessarily just like you said, have anything to do with the area where you’re experiencing the pain.
There may or may not be a biomechanical issue there. It may just be a well-worn path that is most efficient for our brain to send us a signal there that saying, Hey, you’re under too much threat. Something is going on that water level in the bucket has raised too high. And maybe it’s because of an issue in your visual system.
Maybe it’s something that’s going on in your balance system, in your inner ear. Maybe it’s your job and the amount of stress that you carry. Maybe it’s suppressed trauma, maybe it’s that you don’t express your emotions and you’re carrying all of this energy bottled up inside of your body. Okay. All kinds of reasons that could be pushing your stress level too high.
And so being able to process through that will then resolve the pain because there’s no particular pain area of the brain. It’s just those signals coming up from our nociceptors that they do signal threat, but they don’t necessarily relay pain. They just say, Hey, this is sharp or this is hot or there’s, a biomechanical issue here or a tissue tear.
And then your brain takes all of that information, integrates it and makes the decision safe or unsafe. And if you’re under not a lot of stress and you’re generally doing pretty well in your life, your brain may take that same information coming from an injury in your body and decided it’s not really that important.
I still feel pretty safe and you won’t experience the pain or you may have a very small injury or even no injury at all, just an old well-worn pathway, but the threat level, the stress level that your nervous system is under is too high. And then your brain is going to send that signal out and it’ll speak quietly to you at first, but it’ll get louder and louder until you do something to lower the water level in the bucket so that your’re safer.
[00:33:12] Dr. Richard Harris: Awesome. Thank you so much. The final topic I want to dive into is something that you alluded to earlier with the ACE, the ACE, and that is childhood trauma and a lot of people, and this is something that I neglected well into my thirties. Was the trauma that I identified as a child and how that impacted my life and where I am today and how I reacted to certain circumstances.
So why don’t we dive into that a little bit to talk about how we carry our childhood trauma with us, and then what we can do to help heal that.
[00:33:49] Elisabeth Kristof: I think it’s such an important topic because there is so much correlation between ACE scores and the level of disease and addiction and mental health issues that people face and I think it’s important to understand that trauma is not a particular event. Trauma is the physiological response inside of the body we carry around inside of us.
The event might be the splinter, but trauma is our body’s reaction to the splinter. It’s the energy, it’s the stuff that needs to be released through. It’s the racing and the heart or the issues in our gut. And so have these things that happen to us in a very early age that impact our attachment styles, how we co-regulate with other people and the general state that our nervous system is in and feels comfortable in.
And until we heal that until we go back and process the energy of that trauma that has been stored in our body and the emotional response and give ourselves new tools to attach differently, to regulate differently, it will drive our behavior and it will keep us moving into constant states of dysregulation that I believe ultimately lead to disease.
And I very much believe as I was going back through that period of extreme stress., I like yourself. I was in my thirties and I really hadn’t looked at my childhood trauma. I was a pretty high functioning person, but I had all these behaviors that I couldn’t seem to get rid of. The binge-eating, the workaholism, the exertion exhaustion, like driving myself into the ground and then just getting shut down with a migraine.
And I got sober when I was 24. I had a spiritual practice. I meditated every single morning. I read all the spiritual books. I cognitively understood all of these tools, but I couldn’t resolve it in my body and I could not get out of the behavior. And so it wasn’t until I went down a long path of really understanding that that stuff has to be processed through my body and that my nervous system has to heal it.
I have to have a new physiological experience of that stuff in order to really be able to change. And that was only when I was able to find true freedom and resolve the damage that that was causing. And I have auto-immune and I know deeply inside of myself, that, that all roots back to my childhood trauma and I’m on the path of healing it by resolving that trauma.
[00:36:21] Dr. Richard Harris: Thank you again for sharing your story. And we talked about neuroplasticity and when we’re kids, especially before about the age of 12 or so, we are literal sponges for taking in, integrating our environment and trying to figure out is the environment safe? What do I do about this? Is this how life is going to be?
When we were first coming along as humans, the world was pretty much more so constant. What you saw when you were 12, it’s probably the same thing you saw when you were 30, right before you died because most people didn’t live past their mid thirties. But the world wasn’t changing rapidly.
Now the world changes so rapidly but if we look at when our brain systems are developing the most, we still have the same pathways and the same coping mechanisms and the same memories from when we were kids. When we experience things, we’ll run it through that same filter of this is similar to an event I saw when I was 12.
And this is how I’m going to react to it. This is how I’m going to cope with that. And that’s why you’ll see people go back to childish behaviors and you’re like this person’s 35. Why are they acting like a kid? Because they’ve kicked in the same circuit that developed when they were a kid and they never adapted or adjusted to it.
And then after about the age of 12, our neuroplasticity changes from being more sensory to more skill-based because that’s when we’re supposed to learn skills that prepare us for adulthood. And I mean like physical skills. Things like when we had to build our own house or construct tools and things like that, that’s when we would learn to do so.
And so going back and being aware of these circuits, being aware of your processing systems, being introspective is so key to I didn’t really spend that much time inside my own head until I decided that enough was enough and I was going to change the trajectory of my life. And now I spend a lot of time in my own head, making sure things are running correctly.
It’s like a virus checking software in a computer. It runs periodically. We all know we need it, especially now because everybody’s trying to steal everybody’s information and all kinds of crazy viruses out there. We all have that. We all have something that runs in the background that looks for problems, but we need to do the same thing with our own body, our own systems.
[00:38:42] Elisabeth Kristof: Yeah, absolutely. You know, as these little beings, we’re entirely dependent upon adults on our caregivers for our survival. There will be a time, and again, trauma doesn’t have to be like this big incident. It can be a series of smaller incidences where you feel that you’re not getting your needs met or that you’re not being seen or being heard, or you’re not getting nourishment that you need.
A lot of times it’s at a pre-verbal time and there will, of course be some times where you don’t get the care that you need in order to feel safe. And in that moment, as these small, entirely dependent beings, we have a choice. We can decide that the world is predictable and there’s something wrong with us.
And if we change that, then we can ensure survival, or we can decide that the world is unpredictable and dangerous and we are inherently like perfect. And you know, as we should be, and it’s actually more adaptive to decide that there’s something wrong with us, that the world is stable and predictable, and that if we change ourselves that we can ensure survival.
And so we develop these deep beliefs, these deep core wounds that maybe we’re not worthy or maybe our desires are too much, or maybe we should be seen and not heard, or maybe all of these things that then push us into different behaviors and different ways of being that are constantly dysregulating our nervous system, codependent relationships.
Until we can go back and resolve that, and really, I believe create a new sensation, a new physiological response to that time in our body, through regulating the nervous system as we’re processing it, it’s very difficult to make those changes in those deep beliefs because they don’t live in our prefrontal cortex.
They live in our subconscious mind. And just like you said, they’re running the show in the background. It just drives us without any decision on our own part now. And it’s really key to come into alignment and learning to regulate is to going back and processing some of that stuff.
[00:40:46] Dr. Richard Harris: Well, thank you so much, Elisabeth, for coming on the show for sharing with us and giving people some practical tips to enhance their nervous system, enhance their inputs, to determine their outputs. Now, if people want to follow you or learn more about your programs or what you do, where can they go to do so.
[00:41:03] Elisabeth Kristof: The best place to find me is on my website. brainbased-wellness.com. And I actually have a free applied neurology video series there where you can learn how to assess and reassess your own nervous system, how to create positive change in your nervous system. And five of the most beneficial drills that I’ve found for a large number of my clients.
So you can just have a daily practice of starting to regulate your own nervous system training in a positive direction. And that’s a free video series and it’s brainbased-wellness.com.
[00:41:35] Dr. Richard Harris: Awesome. And that will be in the show notes. Thank you guys for listening to this show. I hope you take something away from it. I hope you begin to apply it. We dive into science, but we also are a podcast of action. We want you to take these things and begin to apply them in your life. And if you need guidance, well that’s why we bring on professionals on the show so that you can dive into this deeper with the professionals. Thank you, Elisabeth. Is there anything you want to say before we close out?
[00:42:02] Elisabeth Kristof: Just thank you so much for having me and it was an honor to be here.
[00:42:07] Dr. Richard Harris: Awesome. It was my honor to have you. So listeners, thank you again for listening to Strive for Great Health Podcast. Have a blessed day.
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