Welcome to the Huberman Lab Podcast, where we discuss science and science-based tools for everyday life. I’m Andrew Huberman, a Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine. This podcast is separate from my teaching and research roles at Stanford, but is part of my desire and effort to bring zero cost to consumer information about science and science-related tools to the general public.

In keeping with that theme, I’d like to thank the sponsors of today’s podcast. Our first sponsor is InsideTracker, which analyzes your blood and DNA to give you an accurate assessment of your health and your biological age. There are many things about our health that can only be analyzed from blood and DNA tests, and I’ve been getting my blood assessed for many years now. About a year ago, I switched to InsideTracker.

I like InsideTracker because it provides detailed information about metabolic and endocrine factors, which are important for health. Unlike other blood tests, InsideTracker has a dashboard that takes the information from the blood and DNA tests and suggests behavioral, nutritional, and other protocols to get the desired numbers for health. To try InsideTracker, one can go to insidetracker.com/huberman and get 25% off any program. It also has a feature to measure inner age, which is based on biology, and is different from chronological age. Blood and DNA tests are the best way to analyze health, in my opinion.

InsideTracker is an online platform that helps you optimize your health and performance. To get 25% off any of their products, go to insidetracker.com/huberman and use “Huberman” at checkout.

Our second sponsor of today’s episode is Helix Sleep. They make mattresses and pillows that are tailored to your individual sleep style. By taking a two-minute questionnaire quiz, they can assess your sleep style and provide you with the best night’s sleep possible. I switched to using a Helix mattress and pillow this last year and I’m sleeping better than I ever have before. The questionnaire asks questions such as do you sleep on your back or your side or your stomach, and do you tend to run hot or wake up cold.

I recently tried out Helix Sleep, a company that specializes in customizing mattresses to your sleep needs. I was matched to the Dusk mattress and I love it. I sleep better than ever. If you want to try Helix Sleep for yourself, you can go to helixsleep.com/huberman and get $200 off your order plus two free pillows. They also have a great warranty of 10 years on their mattresses. If you don’t like the mattress for any reason, they will pick it up for free from your home. They make it easy to determine if the mattress is right for you.

Helix Sleep is offering $200 off and two free pillows on your first order. To support the podcast in other ways, we have set up a Patreon account at patreon.com/AndrewHuberman. You can donate at a variety of levels, such as the 5-HTP ($5 per month), the Circadian ($24 per month), or the Costello ($10 per month). The Costello is in honor of Costello, who is 10 years old, eats 10 pounds of food a day, and takes 10 one-hour naps per day on average.

If you’d like to support the podcast, you can do so at patreon.com/AndrewHuberman. Today’s episode is all about the science of emotions. In the first month of the podcast, we discussed sleep and wakefulness, and last month we discussed neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change in response to experience. This month, we will talk about emotions, deciphering what they are, how they work, how to control them, and when we might not want to control them. There will be four episodes on emotions and today we will talk about something often called stress. Although it may not seem like an emotion, stress lies at the heart of whether our internal experience is matched to our external experience. Events that happen to us and around us combine to create what we call emotions.

We are going to talk about the biology of emotions, psychological concepts related to emotion, and tools to control stress. We will also discuss the myths about stress and how it can either impair or enhance the immune system, depending on the context. We will explore the concept of an organizational logic, a framework to think about emotions, and tools grounded in physiology and neuroscience to better navigate this complex space. We will also discuss behavioral tools and valuable supplementation tools.

We will be discussing how these two work together in order to help us manage our emotions, especially in times of stress.

We are going to be talking about depression, PTSD, attention deficit disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder today. These issues have a strong emotional component, and it is not only about compulsive behaviors and intrusive thoughts. It is also about the emotional load of being in that state. We will be providing tools to help with understanding the biology of how the body and brain work together in order to manage emotions, especially in stressful times. Not only do emotions affect the head, but they also affect the body. The nervous system, which includes the brain, eyes, spinal cord, and connections to the organs of the body, works together to help us manage our emotions. We will be discussing how this system works together to help us manage our emotions.

The organs of the body, such as the gut, liver and spleen, are in communication with the brain. Neuroscientists are now beginning to think more broadly, not just about the brain but also the body. The brain controls the body, but the body is also having a profound effect on the brain. Until recently, when people heard about the brain-body connection, they would think of mindfulness. However, mindfulness is a vague concept and it is important to think of the opposite, which is mindlessness.

We’re going to talk about objective tools that match the brain-body experience or separate the brain-body experience in ways that leverage our ability to lean into life better, to feel better, and even to control our emotions when that’s appropriate. This isn’t about becoming robotic or not feeling human, but rather being able to lean into life better as a consequence of being able to control our inner real estate, which includes the brain and body and how it interacts with the outside world. This puts us in a greater position of power.

So, let’s start by deciphering what is stress, what are emotions, and why did I batch stress and emotions into one discussion today? Stress is a physical and mental response to a stimulus. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including physical, mental, or environmental factors. Emotions are a person’s internal response to a stimulus. They are typically expressed through facial expressions, body language, and vocalizations. Stress and emotions are related because they both involve a person’s response to a stimulus.

Stress is an integral part of life, experienced by all species. It is naive to think that in ancient times, humans were not vulnerable to animal and other human attacks. However, with the development of weapons, structures, fire, and other protective measures, humans were able to protect themselves better. Despite the many creature comforts of modern life, stress is still a part of life.

Before the advent of phones, people faced various forms of stress, including psychosocial stress, the stress of losing loved ones, the stress of cold and famine, and the general worry of not knowing what happened to a family member who had gone off on a hunt or to visit a relative and never returned. It is inconsistent to assume that ancient humans 1000 or 100 years ago did not worry about these issues, as the structure of the human brain has remained consistent for this period of time. All the problems we are struggling with today existed forever.

Stress at its core is a generalized system. It wasn’t designed for tigers attacking us or people attacking us, but instead is designed to mobilize other systems in the brain and body. This system is generic, meaning it wasn’t designed for one thing, but instead gives us an advantage in controlling it. This is because it is based on hard-wired biological mechanisms, such as cells, chemicals, pathways, and tissues, that exist in us and require no neuroplasticity. These mechanisms allow us to put a brake on stress, and so we can talk about how to control it.

Skip the science part.”

You have the capacity to control your stress. Today, I’m going to talk about ways that you can control your stress, not just by doing some offline practice of meditation or breath work or something like that, but real-time tools. Tools that allow you to push back on stress when stress hits in real time. This is something that my lab works actively on in developing and testing these tools and evolving these tools. There are other laboratories that do this as well.

Let’s talk about the stress response. By understanding the science behind it, you will understand exactly why the tools I’m going to give you work. For those of you that are saying, “Wait, I just want the tools. Skip the science part,” don’t worry! You were born with the capacity to control your stress and you still have it now.

Okay. Just give me a summary. Stress is our psychological and physiological response to stressors, which can be either psychological or physical. Stressors can be things such as being exposed to cold weather without a jacket, or having too many exams to prepare for without enough time for rest, food, sleep, and social connection. It is important to understand the underlying mechanism in order to incorporate tools to manage stress and teach them to others.

Stress, as mentioned before, is generic and does not differentiate between physical and emotional stress. When the stress response is triggered, it is referred to as the acute or short-term stress response. This is caused by a collection of neurons known as the sympathetic chain ganglia, which has nothing to do with sympathy. Sympa means together.

There is a group of neurons that start at the neck and run down to the navel. This group is called the sympathetic chain ganglia. When something stresses us out, either in our mind or in our environment, the chain of neurons become activated like dominoes and release the neuromodulator neurochemical, acetylcholine. This is important because acetylcholine is normally used to move muscles. Every time we move a muscle, pick up a cup of coffee, write with a pen, or walk down the street, it’s spinal neurons connecting to muscle and releasing acetylcholine. In the brain, acetylcholine is involved in focus and in the muscles, it is involved in making muscles twitch.

When we’re stressed, our body responds very quickly. Neurons down the middle of our body release chemicals, such as acetylcholine, which then triggers postganglionic neurons to release epinephrine, which is the equivalent to adrenaline. This adrenaline acts on particular organs in particular ways, allowing us to respond quickly to stressful situations. We don’t want our muscles to contract at once, as this would cause something called tetanus, which is a toxin that leads to rigor of the entire body.

Epinephrine acts in two different ways: it binds to beta receptors on muscles of the legs and heart, resulting in blood vessel dilation, increased heart rate, and other activated responses. It also binds to other receptors on certain tissues, such as digestion and reproduction, that contract the blood vessels in order to focus on more important tasks when we are stressed.

The stress response is generic and two-pronged. It pushes certain systems to be activated and other systems to not be activated. This is why the heart speeds up, blood flow is directed to certain organs and tissues, and the salivary glands are shut down. As a result, the throat goes dry and swallowing increases. Understanding the stress response is key in order to better manage it.

There are a lot of different effects of stress. It is generic and activates certain things while shutting down other features of our body. This creates a sense of agitation that makes us want to move or say something. This can either be in terms of action or words, and often times we are more likely to do or say something we shouldn’t.

If you’re trying to suppress movement, you’ll feel that as a tremor. You’re going to feel agitated and that’s because it was designed to move you. This is important because if you want to control stress, you need to learn how to work with that agitation. I’d like to give you a tool at this point, because I think if we go any further with a lot more science, people are going to begin to wonder if this is just going to be a kind of standard university lecture about the stress response.

I’m going to give you more signs about the stress response, but I want to take what we now already know about the stress response and use that as a framework for thinking about how one might reduce or even eliminate the stress response quickly in real time, should it arise when we don’t want it. As far as I am aware of, the best tools to reduce stress quickly, so-called real-time tools are going to be tools that have a direct line to the so-called autonomic nervous system.

So, we’re taking the podium or we’re sitting down at a Zoom call, and all of a sudden we’re feeling flushed. We’re feeling like our heart is racing. We’re feeling a little too alert. We’re feeling a little worked up and we want to calm down.

The autonomic nervous system is a name given to the kind of general features of alertness or calmness in the body. It typically means automatic, although we do have some control over it at certain what so-called “leavers” or entry points.

Telling yourself or someone else to calm down does not work to control stress. In fact, this tends to just exacerbate stress. If you want to reduce the magnitude of the stress response, the best thing you can do is activate the other system in the body which is designed for calming and relaxation – the parasympathetic nervous system. The neurons that control stress run from about your neck to your navel.

The parasympathetic nervous system consists of neurons located in the brainstem, neck and pelvic area. It is responsible for controlling the face, eyes, tongue, facial muscles, airway and trachea. It also helps control the genitals, bladder and rectum, although not in a direct way.

The parasympathetic nervous system has certain entry points or what I’ll call “levers” that will allow you to push back on the stress response in real time and diminish it, feeling more relaxed quickly. To help with this, I’m going to teach you the first tool, the physiological sigh (S-I-G-H). This tool is the fastest and most thoroughly grounded in physiology and neuroscience for calming down in a self-directed way.

Recent studies in my lab and Jack Feldman’s lab at UCLA have shown that respiration can be used to reduce stress response in real time. This is an extremely powerful set of techniques that can be activated voluntarily. Breath work is important to understand and use for reducing stress.

Breath work typically involves deliberately breathing in a particular way for a series of minutes in order to shift your physiology and access certain states. However, what I’m talking about is the relationship between the brain, body and the breathing apparati (diaphragm, lungs, and heart). For example, the hallmark of the stress response is an increased heart rate, and while it may seem involuntary, it can be sped up by running or slowed down by slowing down your run.

You can control your heart rate directly by breathing. When you inhale, the diaphragm moves down, which causes the lungs to expand. This creates more space for the heart, causing it to get bigger. Exhaling causes the diaphragm to move up, decreasing the space for the heart and thus reducing its size. This interaction between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system directly controls your heart rate.

The volume of blood in the heart grows when we inhale, resulting in slower movement of the blood. This change is registered by the sinoatrial node, a group of neurons in the heart, which sends a signal to the brain. The brain then sends a signal back to the heart to speed up the heart rate. To do this, we must inhale longer and more vigorously than we exhale, regardless of whether we do so through our nose or mouth.

If you want to calm down quickly, you need to make your exhales longer and or more vigorous than your inhales. This is because the diaphragm moves up when you exhale, which makes the heart a little bit smaller and the blood flows more quickly through that compact space. The sinoatrial node registers this and sends a signal up to the brain. The parasympathetic nervous system then sends a signal back to the heart to slow the heart down. Even if your inhales are shorter than your exhales, you are speeding up your heart rate. To slow your heart rate down, capitalize on the relationship between the body, meaning the diaphragm and the heart and the brain.

The reason this is so attractive as a tool for controlling stress is that it works in real time. It doesn’t involve a practice that you have to go and sit there and do anything separate from life. Emotions and stress happen in real time, so having tools that you can reach to in real time that require no learning is important. To activate these pathways all you need to do is inhale and lengthen your exhales.

The physiological sigh was discovered in the ’30s and has now been explored at the neuro-biological level and mechanistically in far more detail by Jack Feldman’s lab at UCLA and Mark Krasnow’s lab at Stanford. This provides a unique twist to controlling stress in real time.

The physiological sigh is something that humans and animals do anytime they are about to fall asleep. It is also something they do throughout sleep from time to time when carbon dioxide builds up too much in their system. People also naturally start doing it when they have been crying and trying to recover some air or calm down when they have been sobbing very hard or when they are in claustrophobic environments.

The diaphragm, a skeletal muscle, is an internal organ that you can control voluntarily. This is unlike other organs such as the spleen, heart, or pancreas which cannot be controlled directly. The diaphragm can be moved intentionally and it will also run in the background if you are not thinking about it. This pathway from the brain to the diaphragm is called the phrenic nerve.

The phrenic nerve innervates the diaphragm, allowing us to control our breathing any time we want. We can double or triple our inhales, or exhale more than we inhale. The physiological sigh is something we do spontaneously, but when we’re feeling stressed, we can do a double inhale followed by a long exhale. We should be aware that if we inhale more than we exhale, this will speed up our heart rate, which can lead to increased stress and activation.

Do a double inhale-exhale to calm down. This technique takes advantage of the fact that when we do a double inhale, even if the second inhale is sneaking in just a tiny bit more air, the little sacks in our lungs expand. This expansion is important as stress causes these sacks to collapse, leading to a build-up of carbon dioxide in our bloodstream. This contributes to feelings of agitation and jitteriness. The double inhale-exhale reinflates the little sacks in the lungs, and the long exhale is effective at releasing the carbon dioxide and relaxing the body quickly.

My lab, in collaboration with David Spiegel’s lab at Stanford, is conducting a study exploring how physiological sighs and other patterns of breathing done deliberately can modulate the stress response and other related emotions. These studies are ongoing, but it is clear from our labs, Jack Feldman’s lab, and others, that physiological sighs are the fastest and most effective way to eliminate the stress response in the body.

I am excited to give this tool to people, as many are aware that mindfulness, exercise, and sleep are important for our well-being. However, life happens and when we are in a heightened state of activation, the physiological sigh is a powerful way to reduce our level of alertness. It is especially helpful in situations such as when we are in line at the bank, or when wearing a mask. Doing a double inhale and exhale one to three times will quickly reduce our stress level. This is the fastest way to accomplish this.

An important note about the physiological sigh or exhale-emphasized breathing for lowering the stress response: Many people worry that their heart rate does not come down fast enough. I want to tell you that you do not want your heart rate to reduce very fast. There is something called the vasovagal response, where people will stand up or get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and then all of a sudden they’ll collapse and faint. This is because the heart rate was reduced too much.

When people see something really troubling and stressful, they may pass out. This is an over-activation or acceleration of the calming response. They are not so stressed that they fall off the cliff of stress, but they get so stressed that the rebound mechanism for calming themselves down goes too high, too fast. They calm down too fast and they collapse and faint.

Using the physiological sigh or exhale-emphasized breathing to calm down can take 20 to 30 seconds to bring your heart rate back to baseline. It is also important to note that when you use this type of tool to control your mind, it can become more available to control the stress response and react to it. The sweet spot in life is to be alert and calm, and the physiological sigh can be repeated for 10 to 15 cycles if needed. Some people even find that it helps them to fall asleep.

So, if they lie down and they’re reading and they do too many of these, that actually can put them to sleep. Most breath work protocols, the kind of stuff that’s done away from real life, that you set aside time and decide to do quote unquote, breath work, most of that works such that if you’re doing inhales that are longer and more vigorous than exhales, it tends to be activating and alert you. If you’re doing exhales that are longer and more vigorous than the inhales, it tends to put you to sleep.

And many of the protocols that are out there from laboratories and that populate the internet and wellness sites and whatnot, if it’s exhale-emphasized breathing, oftentimes has been used as a tool for trying to teach people to fall asleep. Physiological sigh is a little different. It’s designed to be used in real time. Just think of it is just kind of in your kit of things that you can do as life happens and as you need to react to life.

A note about nasal versus mouth breathing, there’s a plethora of information out there now because of James Nestor’s book, “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art,” which came out this last year. Excellent book. As well as “Jaws” which is from Sandra Kahn, Paul Ehrlich with a foreword by Jared Diamond and Robert Sapolsky.

So, a collection of people from Stanford, including some heavy hitters on the book about the benefits of nasal breathing. In many cases, nasal breathing is more advantageous than mouth breathing for all sorts of things, such as cosmetic features of the face, especially in kids, and warding off infection, et cetera.

With the physiological sigh, the best way to do it would be double inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. But if you can’t, and you can only do that through your mouth, just do it through your mouth. If want to do all through your nose, do it through your nose. This anchors back to some underlying neurology or neuroscience.

So, for those of you that want to know, you have two breathing centers.

Rhythmic breathing, involving inhales followed by exhales and vice versa, activates the pre-Botzinger nucleus and the parafacial nucleus. The parafacial nucleus, discovered by Jack Feldman at UCLA, is involved when one doubles up the inhales or exhales. This was designed so one can breathe while speaking without having to inhale and exhale with each word. Furthermore, this parafacial nucleus is located near the neurons that control the face and has the effect of relaxing the jaw. This interplay between the neurons controlling speaking and those controlling the tongue can help us to speak more clearly and control the muscles of the face and jaw. It can also help us to relax and not say certain things when stressed.

The neuroscience of the parasympathetic nervous system brings us back to the calming system that is genetically encoded in us all, regardless of our parents. This system is composed of neurons that control the face, eyes, and other body parts, which is why we tend to jitter and have difficulty speaking when we are stressed. Additionally, the neurons that cause stress in the spinal cord work together to activate our body. Today, we have the physiological sigh as a tool to slow our heart rate with exhale-emphasized breathing and speed it up with inhale-emphasized breathing. Finally, we can think about stress from three different timescales in order to understand its relationship to emotions.

Stress can have a profound impact on our emotional wellbeing. Whether we are functioning well emotionally or not, whether we are coping or not, these are typically psychological terms and discussions. We are entering this discussion through the portal of physiology and medical textbooks and will soon arrive at the psychological aspects. There are three kinds of stress: short-term, medium-term, and long-term. We all know that stress is bad for us, and this is often illustrated with a picture of a healthy brain on the left and a damaged brain on the right. These images can be frightening, but it is important to understand the impact of stress.

However, short-term and medium-term stress can be very beneficial for us.

Stress can have both negative and positive effects on our health. Long-term stress is bad and can be linked to memory problems, a higher incidence of schizophrenia episodes, and addiction relapse. We have all heard this many times before. However, short-term and medium-term stress can be beneficial. It can help us to be more alert and focused, and can even help us to perform better in certain tasks.

Stress can be both positive and negative in the short-term. However, no one ever bothers to tell us what is considered chronic or acute. Is it five minutes, five days, or the duration of final exams or a senior thesis in college? Without clear boundaries or guidelines, it has become difficult to understand the effects of stress.

Acute stress, when the stress response hits, is good for your immune system. In fact, stress often comes in the form of bacterial or viral infection, and the stress response is in part organized to combat bacterial and viral infection. There are pathways from the same brain centers that activate neurons in your spinal cord to make you feel like you want to move, as well as other neurons in your brain that activate things like your spleen, which deploys killer cells to scavenge for incoming bacteria and viruses and try to eat them up and kill them. Short-term stress and the release of adrenaline (or epinephrine) is good for combating infection, and this is something that is not discussed enough.

The use of respiration breathing to activate the stress response can accomplish two things. Short-term stress is good as it brings certain elements of the brain online, allowing us to focus and narrow our vision. This allows us to do duration path outcome types of analysis and evaluate our environment and what we need to do. The effects of short-term stress include the dilation of the pupils, changes in the optics of the eyes, quickening of the heart rate, and sharpening of cognition.

The tool primes the body for better cognition and to combat infection. This makes sense because the body’s stress response is designed to fight off any stressor, be it psychological, physical, bacterial or viral. It does this by releasing adrenaline which liberates killer cells from the immune organs, particularly the spleen, and interacts with the lymphatic system. This has been demonstrated in the real world with Wim Hof breathing, which is named after the Dutch Daredevil, Wim Hof.

Wim Hof is a world-renowned adventurer who holds many Guinness Book of World Records for feats such as swimming under icebergs, going up Kilimanjaro in his shorts, and crossing the desert without water. These are dangerous endeavors if not done properly, however, Wim has managed to survive them. He developed a breathing protocol based on Tummo breathing, which is also known as super oxygenation breathing. This type of breathing involves rapid and deliberate hyperventilation. The purpose of this is to increase oxygen levels in the body.

Deliberate hyperventilation is a breathing technique that involves inhaling and exhaling through the nose and mouth for around 15-25 cycles. This practice can make people feel alert, but can also trigger anxiety attacks in those with anxiety. The reason for this is that the rapid movements of the diaphragm will cause adrenaline to be released from the adrenals.

Wim is commonly referred to as “The Iceman” due to his discovery of a pattern of breathing which maps back to Tummo breathing. When exposed to cold water, the body releases adrenaline in response to the stressor. This adrenaline helps combat incoming infections. Whether it is done through breathing quickly in cycles of 25 breaths or taking a cold shower, the adrenaline is released. Going into an ice bath, whether deliberately or not, will also help release adrenaline and mimic the stress response.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for the US showed that people injected with endotoxin or a bacterial wall that mimics infection experienced unpleasant symptoms such as fever, nausea, and sickness. Half of the participants were instructed to do a particular pattern of breathing, which consisted of 25 deep inhales and exhales followed by an exhale while holding their breath, and then repeating this sequence 25 to 30 times. This pattern of breathing would cause the participants to start feeling heated up.

You’ll start feeling the adrenaline response. You’re liberating adrenaline in your body. Then exhale, hold your breath for 15 seconds and then repeat. Typically, after doing three or four rounds of that, they would inhale very deeply and hold their breath.
I want to emphasize never ever, ever do this anywhere near water. People have passed out due to shallow water blackout and even died. Don’t do it in the bathtub or hot tub.

Please don’t do anything involving breath holds near water unless you have clearance from your doctor. This is because there are some pulmonary effects and potential risks for those with glaucoma. However, a group of people who did this protocol experienced zero symptoms from an E. coli ejection, which is remarkable. They didn’t feel feverish or sick, and there was no vomiting or diarrhea. This makes sense when you consider that the acute stress response is designed to combat all stressors.

If you were to cut yourself deeply while out on a hike in the woods, there would be a rapid inflammation response. We often hear that inflammation is bad and associated with things like Alzheimer’s, however, the swelling and inflammation is actually associated with the recruitment of macrophages or microglia if it’s a neural tissue. These cells act like little ambulances, rushing to the site and cleaning it up. The inflammation response may look and sound horrible, but it is a great thing in the short-term as it marks the tissue in trouble and gets the body and brain to react to it. Stress peaks throughout the day or week can help the body to combat infection and heal physical wounds.

Many great things happen in the stress response. Sometimes it is milder, allowing us to focus on something due to a deadline. This is why people often ask what can be done for procrastination; it is because people are self-imposing stress. Stress acts like a drug, and is the most powerful nootropic or smart drug. It is the concern of failure that makes it so powerful.

It’s the desire to do well combined with the impending deadline of “Oh my gosh, I have to do this thing now or I’m going to fail” that is the best nootropic you will ever find. That, combined with a good night’s sleep, is key to being able to turn the stress response off when you’re done. We spent a whole month on sleep, so I don’t want to backtrack too much. Therefore, it is important to tamp down the relationship between the short-term or acute stress response and infection.

Many of us are familiar with the experience of working hard, taking care of a loved one, or feeling stress, followed by a feeling of relaxation when we go on vacation. However, this can often be followed by getting sick because our adrenaline response and immune system have crashed. The length of time this will take varies from person to person, but a good rule of thumb is that when we are no longer able to achieve good sleep, we are moving from acute stress to chronic stress. For more information about tools for improving sleep, please see the episodes on sleep.

We need to be able to turn the stress response off. If I had one wish, it would be that we learn from a young age, and continue to learn throughout our lives, how to turn off our stress response. Physiological sighing is one way to do this. We can also intentionally activate our stress system by doing things like taking cold showers or Tummo or Wim Hof breathing. But we must also learn how to press the brake and turn off the stress response. I personally do this kind of breathing when I feel like I’m getting run down or a tickle in my throat.

I do a breathing exercise where I take 25-30 breaths, exhale, and hold my breath for 15-30 seconds. Then I take a big inhale and hold my breath until I feel the impulse to breathe. I have run this exercise by my doctor, and it is safe for me, but you should not do this unless it is right for you.

I do this kind of breathing to combat stress. Some people like the ice bath or cold showers, but I prefer hot showers. This kind of breathing has the same effect as the other methods, which is to increase adrenaline and activate the immune response. Now, let’s talk about medium-term stress which lasts from several days to several weeks.

This particular quarter I’m dealing with a lot. I’m directing a course, doing a lab, and enjoying it all immensely, but I’m close to my threshold. Any additional thing can feel overwhelming, like when I couldn’t log onto a website the other day. Fortunately, I caught myself and laughed at the intensity of my response, which wouldn’t normally be the case if I wasn’t pushed to my threshold.

Medium-term stress is our ability to cognitively re-regulate what is going on in our body. This is known as our stress threshold. New agey language often talks of the need to unify mind and body, but this has no specificity. We are always connected to our body, we have never seen our arm or leg across the room. It is important to understand what this medium-term stress is and how to re-regulate it in order to maintain our wellbeing.

There actually is a syndrome where people feel disconnected from their limbs. This is a real clinical condition, where people will seek out amputation and try to convince doctors to amputate certain portions of their body. It is a terrible thing for people to have and it relates to a change in central maps in the brain. Most of us want to keep our limbs and feel one in mind and body, so that when stress hits, we feel it in both. A lot of stress inoculation and managing medium-term stress on the timescale of weeks or a couple of months (not years) has to do with raising our stress threshold and increasing our capacity.

There are very simple tools, excellent tools, that will allow us to modulate our capacity for stress. These tools involve placing oneself deliberately into a situation where our adrenaline is increased somewhat, but not to the extreme. When we feel flooded with adrenaline, instead of panicking, we can cognitively, mentally, and emotionally calm ourselves and be comfortable with that response in our body. This is about dissociating mind and body in a healthy way.

As a practice, we can use physiological sighs in real time, cyclic hyperoxygenation breathing to combat infection, cold showers, or high-intensity exercise to bring our heart rate up very high. We are all familiar with the intense feeling of our muscles burning due to the buildup of hydrogen or whatever it is.

The key in those moments is to learn to relax the mind while the body is very activated. Research has shown that this tends to create a situation where what once felt like a lot feels manageable, raising the stress threshold or capacity. To do this, one can bring the heart rate up through an ice bath, cold shower, cyclic oxygenation breathing, sprinting, or biking, and then try to calm the mind while the body is in this heightened state of activation. The best way to do this is to focus on pupil dilation, as this creates tunnel vision when we are stressed.

By deliberately dilating your gaze, meaning not moving your head and eyes around, but by deliberately going from tunnel vision to broader panoramic vision, literally seeing more of your environment all at once, you can create a calming effect on the mind. This is because it releases a particular circuit in the brainstem that’s associated with alertness, also known as stress. This is very powerful as it narrows our view of the visual world and stops us from seeing in panorama. Additionally, it is connected to the autonomic nervous system through the cranial nerve system. It is important to note that while doing this, you are welcome to blink.

Running at max capacity or close to it and hitting 80-90% of maximum on the bike can be daunting. However, one way to manage this is by dilating your gaze. This technique is not only used in the sports and military communities, but also as a form of stress inoculation. It is about raising the stress threshold so that the body can remain in a high alertness and output mode, while the mind remains calm. This is done by dissociating the mental or emotional response from what is going on in the body. Doing this a couple of times a week will help make the high activation states more manageable and tolerable. This is one way to navigate medium-term stress. There are other tools as well, but this is a good place to start.

I was trying to keep these podcasts to one on trading cycle, so you can derive maximum benefit from them based on all trading and cycle principles of learning. I don’t want to go into every little bit of this, but I want to emphasize that these medium-term stressors, of, “Oh, it’s been a hard month, or hard week,” become more manageable when we train ourselves to be calm of mind when our body is activated. Most of the tools I’m describing today are nothing like the sort of, okay, sit and do meditation. I’m actively avoiding saying the words NSDR, non-sleep deep rest. I talked a lot about those tools during the months on sleep and neuroplasticity, and of course, they are wonderful for replenishing your ability to lean into effort, to learn to focus.

Please do try and check out NSDR protocol. See if they’re right for you. The margins for safety are enormous; you’re simply listening to a script. We have links to them in previous captions and I’ve talked about them on various podcasts before. Today, however, I’m really talking about tools so you can learn to dance with stress. In the short-term, this will help reduce the stress response if you feel it’s too uncomfortable. In the medium-term, it will help you be comfortable with heightened levels of activation, as life will continue to come at you.

We can’t pick the stressors, but we need to be able to function at a higher capacity often. Long-term stress is bad. Having adrenaline up in our system for a long time is not ideal. Ideally, our stress should go up throughout the day but should never stay elevated and should never prevent us from getting a good night’s sleep. However, this isn’t realistic. For most of us, three or four nights out of the month, we take on too much or something happens and we don’t get the best night’s sleep. For some of us, it’s 30 nights per month and for others, it’s zero nights per month.

Congratulations to those of you who manage to get zero nights per month of poor sleep! If you are managing your sleep well every night, that is fantastic. To have a healthy relationship to sleep, you want to be able to fall asleep at night and stay asleep for most of the night. If you do wake up, it is important to get back to sleep for as long as you need to in order to feel rested. If you want tools to help you accomplish this, check out the episodes on sleep. Everyone can have a healthy relationship to sleep, and there are zero-cost tools available to help you do so.

Breathing can modulate heart rate through a loop that includes the brain and the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the basis of HRV (heart rate variability), which is important for keeping your heart rate from being chronically elevated or low. For example, if you’re in shape, you can have a low heart rate. Years ago, when I was running regularly, my heart rate was around 50-60. Everyone needs to determine what’s right for them.

Chronic stress and elevated stress, especially in type A personalities, can create heart disease, the leading killer in most countries. This is because adrenaline impacts blood vessels, constricting some and dilating others, leading to hypertension. It is important to note that chronic stress is bad and should be avoided. To modulate long-term stress, people should get regular exercise, get good sleep, and use real-time tools to try and tamp down the stress response.

The data points to the fact that social connection and certain types of social connection in particular are what are going to mitigate or reduce long-term stress. This is particularly important in today’s world, where we use proxies or surrogates for social connection, such as texting and being online. For example, when a plane is about to take off, people may text each other to express their emotions, whether they have a fear of flying or not. Then, when the plane lands, phones are out once again to communicate with others. Let’s hope there are fewer “hate yous” than “love yous”!

Humans are incredibly social creatures and have a need to stay connected to one another. This need can be looked at not only from a wishy-washy new agey perspective, but also from a scientific and neurochemical standpoint. For example, although connection between individuals rarely causes the release of oxytocin, it is released in very particular circumstances such as post-orgasm, baby and mother milk let down, as it is associated with intense pair bonding between mother and child.

Couples who engage in post-sex activities such as patting a dog on the head, giving a hug, or a fist bump are not engaging in an activity that releases oxytocin. Social connection, however, can help to mitigate the long-term effects of stress. This is done through systems of neuromodulation, such as serotonin, and by blocking certain things that are bad for us when we feel socially isolated, such as Taqi Kynan. Serotonin is a neuromodulator, which is like a playlist in the brain. It amplifies or biases the likelihood that certain brain circuits and body circuits will be activated and others will not.

Serotonin generally gives us feelings of wellbeing. At high levels, it can make us feel blissed and can make us feel like we have enough in our immediate environment. This is why some of the side effects of antidepressants, which increase serotonin, can help with depressive symptoms. These side effects tend to be reduced affect and a lower libido, as the body has too much serotonin and people feel like they have enough.

Serotonin is also tied to social connection; when we see somebody that we recognize and trust, serotonin is released in the brain. This has positive effects on the immune system, neural repair, and synaptic connections, which prevent long-term withering of connections. So, serotonin is beneficial for social connection and our overall wellbeing.

Social connection can take many forms. As many of you know, I am very attached to my dog. He’s asleep most of the time, so I don’t know if he is attached to me, but he seems more or less to be. There’s no scientific evidence that it has to be human-human attachment; I do have attachments to humans as well, but you can have attachments to other people.

Attachment can come in many forms. Some of these include romantic attachments, familial attachments (non-romantic), friendships, pets, and even attachments to things that bring us joy. One way to mitigate the long-term negative effects of chronic stress is not just having fun, but also having a sense of delight in witnessing or participating in something. This is associated with the serotonin system, and play is one of those things. Additionally, social connection of various forms is something to invest in. It takes work, investment and time to form relationships with humans, animals, or inanimate objects.

I have a friend who struggles with this and oftentimes the conversations just circle back to the fact that when you want social connection, you often have to be more flexible. You have to eat on other people’s schedules, sometimes eat things you don’t necessarily want to eat the most in that moment, or stay up a little later or wake up a little earlier. Social connection is something that we work for, but it is incredibly powerful.

I want to tip my heart to the great Robert Sapolsky, my colleague at Stanford, who has talked about this quite a lot. You can look up his materials and books online. We are primates, and as Robert has said many times before, never before in any primate history, but in particular in human history, have we interacted with so many strangers at a distance when we are not really connected to them.

Finding just a few people, even one or an animal or something that you delight in, has very positive effects on mitigating long-term stress and improving various aspects of our life. Social isolation that goes on too long is associated with the molecule Taqi Kynan, which makes us more fearful, paranoid, and impairs our immune system. Taqi Kynan is like an internal punishment signal, telling us that we are not spending enough time with people we trust or doing things we enjoy. To help remind myself of this, I have a post-it above my desk that says “Taqi Kynan.”

Long meals with friends or family, where there are no intrusions, can help suppress Taqi Kynan. Taqi Kynan is something to avoid, as chronic isolation and high Taqi Kynan are associated with long-term stress, which can lead to irritability, paranoia, fear, and other negative effects. Oxytocin has been built up a lot in the media, but serotonin works on much faster timescales. You can learn to recognize feelings of comfort, trust, bliss, and delight, which are associated with serotonin production.

Emotions are just as physiological as the movement of muscles or the secretion of adrenaline. Therefore, many people now focus on gratitude as a way to improve wellbeing. Gratitude is subjective, but it has a positive effect on the serotonin system. Other things that can help are finding the right diet, exercise schedule, and sleep schedule. Additionally, do not underestimate the importance of social connection. Lastly, there are compounds that are not antidepressants, but a clinician will prescribe them if needed.

It tells you all that.

There are compounds that are not prescription compounds that can modulate the stress system. Sometimes, due to the nature of life, we just don’t have the opportunity to control our response to stress. From my own experience, I found it useful in times of chronic stress to start modulating some of the neurochemistry related to the stress response in order to help.

Now, if a doctor prescribes something, that is important, but I am talking about non-prescription things. One website to check out is examine.com, a free website that allows you to put in any supplement and evaluate it with the human effect matrix to PubMed. It tells you the exact subjects the studies were done on, such as post-menopausal women, kids, or normal adults.

People with autism, et cetera, should check out the site for any and all supplements they are considering or taking. I highly recommend it and have no relationship to them; I just think it’s a wonderful site that has curated all this important information. Some of these compounds are effective enough to take the edge off and I will use them periodically myself.

I wanted to focus on three compounds in particular, which are ashwagandha (funny name!), L-theanine or theanine, and melatonin. I also want to caution people to be careful with one of the compounds I have mentioned before.

Melatonin is a hormone secreted from the pineal gland in direct relationship to how much darkness you are in. Light suppresses melatonin, and it helps you fall asleep, but not stay asleep. I personally do not recommend supplementing melatonin because it is typically supplemented at very high levels, such as one to three milligrams or even more. This is an outrageously high dose, and is super physiological compared to what you would normally make.

Melatonin has a number of potentially negative effects on the reproductive access and hormones. Some people can take it without problems; however, it is important to be aware of the potential issues. It is recommended to check examine.com and talk to a doctor, especially for kids, as melatonin suppresses the puberty response in a number of species. Additionally, people who take too much melatonin chronically can reduce the output of the adrenals, leading to potential problems. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as adrenal burnout under normal conditions, as the adrenals have enough adrenaline to support 200 years of stress.

The concept of adrenal burnout has its origins in the work of Nobel Prize winner, Hans Selye. Selye discovered the general adaptation syndrome and uncovered many truths about stress. He proposed the idea of eustress, which is positive stress, but it never caught on in the general discussion. Selye also theorized that if stress continued for too long, a phase called exhaustion would be reached. However, this theory has since been disproven, as although individuals may feel exhausted after chronic stress, there is not a physiological exhaustion that occurs.

There is no such thing as adrenal burnout; however, there is something called adrenal insufficiency syndrome which is a real physiological problem. People with very impaired adrenals cannot produce adrenaline. Melatonin taken at very high levels for too long can suppress the cortisol and epinephrine released from the adrenals and create a pseudo adrenal insufficiency syndrome. Therefore, people should be aware of melatonin for this reason. Unfortunately, I alone cannot get rid of the phrase “adrenal burnout” which has been picked up and spread by the general public.

I’m not trying to give a hard time to anyone who feels burnt out or exhausted. It is for other reasons, not because of the adrenals being burnt out (unless you happen to have adrenal insufficiency syndrome). I’m not a fan of melatonin for a lot of reasons, and have mentioned several. An alternative is L-theanine, which, provided it’s safe for you, can be taken 100-200 milligrams about 30-60 minutes before sleep. It can enhance the transition to sleep and depth of sleep for many people, as it increases GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It tends to turn off our forebrain a little bit, or reduce the activity of our kind of thinking systems and ruminating systems, which can help people fall asleep.

Theanine has been shown to be beneficial. It has been shown to significantly increase relaxation and reduce task completion anxiety. It has also been linked to minor effects on anxiety, with eight studies having shown this. The studies can be found on examine.com, with four of them having PubMed links. This is a large set of studies, some of them being published in great journals, making it a beneficial supplement for those of you who are chronically stressed.

Theanine can increase attention a little bit, reduce blood pressure, improve sleep quality, and notably reduce the effects of stress. Two studies have shown this in particular. It also has effects on insomnia and some blood lipid profiles. For this reason, I supplement theanine for sleep. If I’m feeling like I’m under a lot of stress and not managing it well with short-term and medium-term tools, I might take a little bit of theanine in the late afternoon. Companies are now putting theanine into energy drinks, though I’m not a big fan of most energy drinks as they contain taurine, which can have negative effects on the microvasculature.

I’m not a fan of taurine as it can cause bursting of microvasculature in my sclera, or eyes. This is why I personally avoid energy drinks that contain it. Everyone has to decide for themselves, and I’m sure there will be some people in the comment section who love taurine and want to keep the taurine companies in business. But it’s not for me, and I want people to be aware that it might not be suitable for them either.

Another supplement that can be beneficial is ashwagandha, which is known to reduce anxiety and cortisol levels. There are six studies that show reductions in cortisol, which is typically associated with waking up in the morning. This is a good thing.

Cortisol levels naturally increase in the morning and evening, however, it is important to ensure that cortisol levels do not become chronically elevated as this is associated with negative effects of stress. A supplement called ashwagandha has been found to reduce cortisol levels in stressed individuals, with reductions of 14.5 to 27.9 reported across six studies. It is important to note that these studies are conducted on adults, so caution should be taken when considering the supplement for children.

This is great opportunity for me to take something that can help me reduce my cortisol so that I don’t get some of the long-term effects of stress. I’m not going to take ashwagandha year round, but only when I’m feeling like I’m not managing my short and medium-term stress well. Five other studies have shown reduced stress, although not cortisol measurements, such as fatigue, cognitive impairment, et cetera. It also lowers total cholesterol up to 10%, although some people may not want their cholesterol lowered.

Some people might consider cholesterol a negative molecule, but it is actually the molecule from which testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol are synthesized. Therefore, it is important to maintain a healthy balance of cholesterol, as having too little or too much can have negative effects. Ashwagandha and L-theanine are two supplements that can help reduce depression and stress. For more information, Examine.com is a great website to visit.

I recently had an exchange with a group that put together a terrific online resource for researching topics related to stress. It was a great help, as we would have otherwise been stuck mining PubMed for the relevant papers. The resource collates the papers from PubMed with links to PubMed, making it a very useful tool. Additionally, there are social connections and some supplementation available. To manage stress in the long-term, diet, exercise, and sleep are key. Now, we are finally in a position to focus on what we set out to do from the beginning: spend the month on emotions. We discussed stress in the context of short, medium, and long-term, as well as tools for short, medium, and long-term control.

Our ability to modulate and control stress in real time is achievable using tools such as respiration, dilation of gaze, social connection, supplements, taking care of sleep and nutrition, and exercise. There is tons of resources and information available on these topics, and in subsequent episodes, we will be discussing OCD, depression, mania, dopamine, and more. But at the core of emotions is the question: what is an emotion? It is complex, and there isn’t a single brain area for any of these emotions.

My framework and the modern science of psychology and neuroscience are well-aligned with the teachings of Lisa Feldman Barrett, a world expert in emotion and professor at Northeastern University who has written two books: “How Emotions Are Made” and “Seven and a Half Facts About the Brain”. I had the pleasure of hosting Lisa on an Instagram live, and I hope to have her as a guest on the podcast in the future.

We don’t agree on everything about the neuroscience of emotions, but I subscribe to most everything that I’ve heard Lisa say, particularly the fact that emotions are context-dependent with a cultural dependence, et cetera. I look at things mainly through the lens of physiology and neuroscience and kind of low-level circuitry. One way to think about emotions that I think is consistent and I hope Lisa would generally approve of is that when our internal state of stress or calm matches or is mismatched from the demands on us, we tend to interpret those as good or bad. For example, if I am feeling very anxious and stressed inside and I have a lot to do, that doesn’t feel good but it’s really no different than if I’m very tired and I have a lot to do because there’s a mismatch. My internal state is incorrect to meet the demands that are being placed upon me, so in both cases the valence, or the value that I assigned to that, is I don’t feel good. It’s not a good situation and I don’t feel good.

It can be difficult to identify emotions and understand how they relate to our internal state. However, one way to think about our relationship to emotions is whether our internal state is matching the demands upon us. For example, if we are tired and need to fall asleep, then that is a good thing. Conversely, if we are wide awake and need to fall asleep, then that is not good. In this way, we don’t place value on whether we are feeling alert or sleepy, but rather, whether our alertness or sleepiness matches the conditions we face. This is a useful framework to have, and is the reason why I have spent the last hour and a half talking about stress and how to control it.

We did this because it is a valuable opportunity to learn tools and understand stress and take control of it. This is important regardless of age. We understand that our bodies have an autonomic nervous system which can take us from alert and calm to stressed to full-blown panic. This see-saw system positions us to be in better reaction to the demands we face, whether it is a need to fall asleep or to listen quietly and not react. We can learn to reduce the stress response so that we can focus on the information better and not be reactive. This is a key concept in pop psychology: be responsive, not reactive.

One can modulate their short-term stress response in real time by being mindful. Being mindful means monitoring what one is doing and taking a third-person perspective. This can help to take one out of the effectiveness and experience of what they are doing, but it is not always helpful.

It actually hinders me when I cannot work and focus, and then be able to disengage and rest. I need to be able to control my stress response in order to do this. To do this, we cannot use the mind alone; we need tools. A lot of people being grumpy, anxious, or depressed can be attributed to being overworked and feeling like the world is bearing down on them. To combat this, I take an objective view of physiology. We can use the neuronal systems in our bodies, brains, eyes, and diaphragms as tools to help us gain control of our internal landscape, and in turn, feel like we have some agency and control.

Today we discussed the autonomic nervous system and the role it plays in emotions like happiness, awe, and joy. We learned that the state of being activated or calm is dependent on the situation. For example, being activated is great when you have work to do, but not when you want to fall asleep. Lastly, we hope that this has provided a different view of stress, as something powerful and useful in certain contexts, rather than just evil.

It is great for us in certain contexts and problematic in other contexts. To help us manage better through life, I have presented various tools that can allow us to adjust and modulate our internal levels of alertness or calmness, so that we can lean more effectively into life. This includes sleep, social connection, and the work that we have to do. It is important to acknowledge that the events in the world are beyond our control, but what is in our control is how we react to them. Although there are many self-help and psychology tools out there, they often don’t provide concrete strategies that we can trust in real time. My goal is to bring you tools and information so that you can manage better through life. Thanks so much.

Thank you all for your support for the podcast. It’s been wonderful. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the podcast on YouTube, Apple, or Spotify – or maybe even all three. On Apple, you can leave a five-star review and comment if you think we deserve it. If you have suggestions or questions regarding the content of the podcast, please put those in the comment section on YouTube. Additionally, if you could recommend the podcast to friends, family members, or coworkers who you think would benefit from the information, that would be tremendously helpful.

Today, I touched on some things as they relate to supplementation. I covered some zero-cost tools, such as behavioral tools, as well as some supplements I find particularly useful.

We’ve partnered with Thorne to provide the highest levels of stringency and quality standards. Thorne is used by the Mayo Clinic and major sports organizations. If you’d like to try any supplements and see the ones I take, you can go to Thorne.com/u/huberman and get 20% off anything that’s listed there. You can also follow us on Twitter @hubermanlab or Instagram @hubermanlab for neuroscience posts and clips from the podcast.

We have some great content on our podcast, Huberman Lab, that you won’t find anywhere else. Be sure to follow us on Twitter at @hubermanlab and check out our Patreon page at patreon.com/AndrewHuberman. We truly appreciate your time and attention today.

We encourage you to try out the tools we discuss if they’re right for you, and to think deeply about stress and how you can manage it. Most importantly, thank you for your interest in science. [upbeat music]