Dr. Peter Kozlowski: “Don’t hold feelings in”

Don’t hold feelings in. Don’t be afraid to tell someone you are sad, upset, disappointed, happy, etc. A lot of times we assume that people know what’s going on in our heads, but they don’t, so it can be helpful to share. Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical […]

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Don’t hold feelings in. Don’t be afraid to tell someone you are sad, upset, disappointed, happy, etc. A lot of times we assume that people know what’s going on in our heads, but they don’t, so it can be helpful to share.

Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?

As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Peter Kozlowski.

As a Functional Medicine M.D., Dr. Peter Kozlowski uses a broad array of tools to find the source of the body’s dysfunction: he takes the time to listen to his patients and plots their history on a timeline, considering what makes them unique and co-creating with them a truly individualized care plan. Currently, he works with patients online and in-person via his Chicago, Illinois, and Bozeman, Montana-based offices. Dr. Kozlowski did his residency in Family Practice but started training in Functional Medicine as an intern. He trained in the clinics with leaders in his field including Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Deepak Chopra, and Dr. Susan Blum.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

It’s an honor to be here with you! I was born and raised in Chicago as a first-generation American. My parents emigrated from Poland a year before I was born. I learned to speak Polish before I spoke English. One of my parents’ favorite stories was from when they sent me to pre-school. Everything was quiet and after a few months the teacher called my mom and requested a meeting. She said, “We have no idea what is going on with Peter, he was so quiet and behaved, and now he is running around and won’t stop talking.” My mom thought about it and said, “Well, that was because he didn’t speak English and now he does!” Growing up in Chicago in the 1990’s my life goal was to be the next Michael Jordan.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I never imagined I would be a Functional Medicine doctor; I had never even heard of Functional Medicine. My first inspiration came from my parents, who were both doctors in Poland before they emigrated. My grandfather was a doctor, I have aunts and uncles who are doctors as well, so I guess it runs in my veins. As a kid and young adult, I was a partier, so my freshman chemistry class in college that started at 7:40 am on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays was not very conducive to my partying aspirations. The business school was closed on Fridays, so I switched to a business degree after one semester. During my senior year, my best friend Michelle came back from spring break with a rash and not feeling well. She was quickly diagnosed with Lupus and passed away 2 months later — one week after we graduated. During her very quick illness, I felt totally helpless, and this motivated me to study medicine again.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My biggest encouragement and help along the way have been from my parents. Another part of my story is being in recovery from alcohol abuse. Anyone who has experience with addiction knows it can be devastating for the individual and everyone around them. My parents just refused to ever give up on me and were there to help me get back up when I fell. They always let me find my way and never forced anything on me, like when I switched my major to business or when I came home and told them I wanted to be a Functional Medicine doctor.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

People have a hard time pronouncing my name, Kozlowski, so I go by the nickname “Doc Koz.” When I created my first website it was dockoz.com, and the majority of people were reading it as “Dock Oz.” They thought I was Dr. Oz and were quickly disappointed. So I made a new website, doc-koz.com, and no longer have those issues!

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

There have been so many books that have helped me along the way. I would say the most life changing book for me was Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. This book introduced to me the concept of the conscious versus subconscious mind. The subconscious mind is a goal striving mechanism consisting of your brain and CNS, which is used by and directed by the mind. The subconscious mind works automatically and impersonally to achieve goals which you set out for yourself, it can be a “success” or “failure” mechanism, it must have a clear-cut goal or objective, and the key goal is our self-image.

The five rules for the “success” mechanism are:

1. Do your worrying before you place your bet

2. Form the habit of consciously responding to the present moment- “take no anxious thought for tomorrow.”

3. Do one thing at a time.

4. Sleep on it.

5. Relax while you work.

I read this book when I was 18 and I think it helped me optimize my “success” mechanism to achieve my goals.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

This is a quote from the AA Big Book which I have edited a little to make it fit for anyone: “And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my disease, I could not stay healthy; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”

This resonates with me so much because I love to be in control, and I have to constantly remind myself to let go of control. I do my best to work towards a goal and then I have to let it go.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I just published my first book, Unfunc Your Gut. I think it is a great tool for people who want to prevent or treat chronic diseases from a more holistic approach. I also just recorded a webinar on how to take care of your immune system naturally, which will be live in December. I am also in the planning stages of my second book, in which I will address hormone imbalances and toxins like heavy metals and mold. I am hopeful these projects can help people heal.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series, we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives: Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Stay in the present moment. It has been said that anxiety is worrying about the future, depression is worrying about the past. So, what’s the treatment for anxiety or depression? It’s not a pill, it’s the present moment.
  2. Practice gratitude. Every day, write down or say 3 things you are grateful for. It can be as simple as a roof over your head. This can be a good way to get a new perspective on a “bad” day.
  3. There is no such thing as good or bad, things just are. Sometimes what feels like the worst thing in the world in the moment turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to us.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

There are many types of meditation, like concentration meditation, mindfulness meditation, or, my favorite, guided meditation. I really like the Calm app; there is a series on it called “How to Meditate” by Jeff Warren, which I highly recommend for beginners.

Meditation is to the mind what exercise is to the body. So, when you start, do not expect to be good at it, like I did when I first tried to play golf. I did not walk onto the course and hit a hole in one; I hit the ball straight into the water. The same thing happened to me when I sat down to meditate . . . my mind went all over the place. The best thing I ever learned about meditation is from Dr. Deepak Chopra: there is no such thing as “being good at” meditation. Whether your mind is still or dodging thoughts about work, kids, or your love life during meditation, you are still getting health benefits.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Find a workout routine that works for you. I like to play basketball twice a week, lift weights 3 days a week, and do a workout class with my wife once a week. Find what works for you.

2. Incorporate an off day, which can include something like yoga or rest. The body needs time to heal.

3. A poor diet will get in the way of a healthy workout routine. Growing up, my friends and I would go to a fast-food restaurant after the gym. Focus on meals that will nourish and support your body.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

Unfortunately, I don’t know if there is anything more confusing than trying to figure out which is the right diet for you. Everyone has a different opinion and there seems to be a new trend every month: Keto, Paleo, Vegan, Vegetarian, Mediterranean, Low-Glycemic, Nutritarian, Low-Carb, Low-Fat, Pescatarian, Blood Type, and Carnivore, to name a few, and you can also pick from a long list of weight loss diets. Deciding on an approach is not easy and I think this is the biggest thing that prevents us from integrating the right diet. You probably know people who are committed to each one of them, and each person swears that theirs is the best. You can block the benefits of a good diet if it stresses you out too much. (This is because of the gut brain connection. Check out my book to learn more.)

If I could give just two dietary tips, they would be to eat 9–12 servings of vegetables and fruit per day and do an elimination diet to identify if you have any food sensitivities. When you eat that many servings of vegetables and fruit per day, you don’t have room for the bad stuff.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Feelings pass. That was a concept that I had to spend a lot of time on. If I’m upset, that is not going to last forever, just like I won’t stay happy indefinitely.
  2. Get a therapist. I have recommended every patient I’ve ever worked with to work with a therapist as well. They help us uncover what is underneath our feelings.
  3. Don’t hold feelings in. Don’t be afraid to tell someone you are sad, upset, disappointed, happy, etc. A lot of times we assume that people know what’s going on in our heads, but they don’t, so it can be helpful to share.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

Yes! Smiling is great! Smiling regularly can be very helpful to reduce stress and improve emotional wellness. This is because of the neurotransmitters that the body releases when you smile. The body often releases endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine, which improve the mood and help to release negative emotions.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

My favorite definition of spirituality comes from Brené Brown;

“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.”

Most people think of spirituality as religion. To me, the two are different, and I think that is important because a lot of people have trauma from religion from their childhoods. You can be spiritual even if you are not religious. Like everything else, I like to keep it simple. To me, spirituality is my connection to the present moment. If I am connected to the present moment, I am connected to myself, to others, to God, to nature, and my meaning and purpose in life. The way I gauge the true status of my health is by how strong my spiritual connection is.

The most important thing I have learned about spirituality is that it is not something I can cross off a checklist. I have always been a checklist person since it has helped me be successful, but spirituality is not something I can cross off. It is something that I have to wake up and make a commitment to every day, and I have to remind myself throughout the day to get back in the present moment.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

Yes! Being in nature has become my most powerful tool in dealing with the consequences of the pandemic. I spent most of my adult life in downtown Chicago and moved to Bozeman, Montana in 2020. For me, the most important reason for this was to be able to take care of my mental, emotional, and spiritual health. My wife and I are constantly in nature — hiking, biking, exploring, skiing, and running around with our bulldogs. The benefits of nature are proven. One study found improved natural killer cell activity — these are one of the most important cells of your innate immune system to protect you from invaders — from being in the forest. There have also been multiple studies that looked at children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and found their cognitive function improves upon exposure to nature. Get outside! It is a great part of a healthy regimen.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

To get off the internet and start meditating. We are overwhelmed with so much information online and people who are not balanced in their mental, emotional, and spiritual health often cannot handle it. I went through an experiment when writing my book of searching the internet for the cause of my abdominal pain. It is unbelievable what you can convince yourself of from just one or two clicks. The best piece of health advice I can give to someone in 2021 is to try meditating instead every time they want to get on the internet to search for what might be wrong with them.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

It is so difficult to pick one person, but I think right now I would pick Kyrie Irving. I respect his courage to stand up for what he believes despite the consequences. He is a voice for those who do not have one.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The best way to get a hold of me is through my website, www.doc-koz.com. I believe that our greatest job as physicians is as educators. I put my knowledge around preventing and healing from chronic disease in my book, Unfunc Your Gut. I am also on Instagram @Doc_Koz or Peter Kozlowski M.D. on Facebook. Thank you!!

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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