Dr. Deepika Chopra: “Spend more time outdoors”

Replace the B-word “balance” with a new B word: “boundaries!” I find that we strive for some type of balance that we are so often told to achieve, it can be a frustrating and pressurizing chase… balance sometimes can feel impossible and being able to cultivate boundaries is much more practical and measurable. As a […]

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Replace the B-word “balance” with a new B word: “boundaries!” I find that we strive for some type of balance that we are so often told to achieve, it can be a frustrating and pressurizing chase… balance sometimes can feel impossible and being able to cultivate boundaries is much more practical and measurable.

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Deepika Chopra of The Optimism Doctor.

Dr. Chopra specializes in bridging together holistic practices and evidence-based science to cultivate self-mastery tools that help clients, couples, and corporations (Fortune 500 to small businesses) produce their sense of lasting happiness, resiliency, optimism, and success. The Optimism Doctor® practices from a unique perspective as she talks to today’s robust health and wellness trends and provides real evidence-based science and experience.

Dr. Chopra holds a doctorate in clinical health psychology, with a special interest in the mind-body connection, sensory-based visual imagery, color therapy, innovative cognitive-behavioral strategies and strategies and methods to increase optimism and resilience. Dr. Chopra completed her formal dissertation on optimism, positive sensory visualization, and the connection to optimal well-being. With special training in elevating empathy, reducing anxiety, and creating a balance within the technologically and social-media-focused world today, Dr. Chopra’s work is timely & beneficial to anyone curious about living more fully, a self-mastery point of view, increasing happiness, and optimizing functionality and success.

Dr. Chopra completed a double postdoctoral fellowship at both the University of California at Los Angeles and Cedars Sinai Medical Center and has been an integral part of the wellness community for over a decade. Since becoming a new mom, Dr. Chopra has a special interest in increasing optimism and empathy in children while empowering women and parents. She devotes part of her practice to motherhood coaching and mindful parenting.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I am an Optimism Doctor®, the founder of the Things Are Looking Up Optimism Deck of Cards, and the Host of the LOOKING UP with Dr. Deepika Chopra podcast. I have a doctorate in clinical health psychology, and I have been studying the science behind optimism, resiliency, and joy for the past decade. I specialize in blending holistic and evidence-based practices to help people cultivate tools that increase optimism, resiliency, and happiness in their lives. I maintain a global practice working with clients and companies — from boutique to Fortune 500 — by speaking, leading workshops, and consulting. I work as a media expert and a mental health advocate.

I am also a wife and a mother to the most amazing three-year-old boy and weeks away from welcoming our second baby boy into this world! I did not come into this line of work linearly. I worked at a punk music label, was an funding banking analyst, and worked in business development at a health tech company before deciding to go back to school to pursue a career in Psychology.

While working with patients in graduate school, we used many prominent theoretical perspectives. These outlooks taught to us to find important ways to discuss where certain behaviors stemmed from with patients. However, I found it even more interesting to answer the question, “Now, what?” and I became obsessed with being the “then what” for people… helping them come up with ways to adopt new thoughts and practices rather than spend most of the time on their past and what wasn’t working. Science and the brain have always deeply moved me. Much of what I learned was that the brain is an anticipatory organ, rooted in the future. So, I was curious why so many of the psychological interventions available to us as clinicians were so past-oriented. I became intrigued about the idea of future thinking, anticipatory anxiety, optimism, and pessimism. I ended up writing my dissertation on Utilizing Sensory Based Visualization techniques to Increase Optimistic Thinking.

I fell in love with it all and never looked back! At the time, what I was doing was a bit too “woo woo” for the academic community, and a bit too science-esque for the more “self-help” community. What’s amazing is now so much of that is blended and enmeshed –right time is the opportune time to be talking about both. I have always been a spiritual person and, at the same time, drawn to science, and I get to blend the two every day, which brings me so much joy. One of my clients started calling me the Doctor of Optimism, and so pretty soon after that, OPTIMISM DOCTOR just stuck. It is not something that existed, but it perfectly described what I was doing, so I trademarked it!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

One of the most profound moments in the start of my career was when I was a graduate student. It was my first clinical experience, we’re talking Day 1, and I was working with patients diagnosed with severe OCD at UCLA. One of my patients and I were on a walk in Westwood, I was doing an exposure and response prevention practice with her, and as we were leaving the coffee shop — part of her treatment was to work on being exposed to a public environment while working through the practice of allowing the anxiety and obsessive thoughts to pass through without engaging in any of the rituals or compulsions she had been carrying out — and all of a sudden, there was a man with a pistol nearby. A ton of cops started yelling for everyone around to get down on the floor. We were in the middle of a possible shootout (yes, this is Day 1 of my clinical experience, People! :/). Once we were in the clear and walking back, she looked very anxious (obviously, I was as well), and I asked her if she was okay. She shared that a piece of her hair blew in the wind and touched the side of the coffee shop door while we were leaving. Then it blew in her mouth; she reverberated the scenario in her mind assessing if she had swallowed something obscene.

At that exact moment, I really truly understood how debilitating and pervasive a mental health issue could be. She missed the entire shootout situation and was suffering the entire time, ruminating over her contamination fear. I felt a ton of empathy for her, and so many times in mainstream media, things like OCD had been glamorized or romanticized, and I hadn’t quite appreciated the struggle of it all until I was in that moment. I also took away something so powerful from the early work I was doing and my supervisors at that time. Sometimes what you know in your gut is the right intervention when you are working with a client. However, other times what research says, or adequate supervision helps direct you towards something opposite, what you imagined would be effective.

I wanted to help calm her anxiety, and my gut told me to take her out of the situation, distract, rationalize. Though I learned quickly, there was a plethora of evidence that showed she needed exposure therapy (which is, in many ways, the opposite). I think that was a very humbling experience and helped shape the kind of work I would subsequently do.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ve made many mistakes. Interestingly the brain learns information better from mistakes vs. no errors being at all. I am still very hard on myself during and after mistakes, but I have made progress in bouncing back and finding the gift in them a lot quicker.

I get to teach people about the phenomena of making mistakes: specifically, how memory, learning work, resiliency is formed, and how that all amplify optimism and self-competence. Early on, I allowed for much self-inflicted confusion on what I wanted to pursue. I hadn’t quite teased out if I was seeking certain things because I was personally called to them or thought I should follow specific things for other motivations. I learned quickly that mistake or not, I have a pretty robust drive and barometer about what feels right and what I need to achieve. So although I made “mistakes,” I don’t quite see them as such, the trials, tribulations and non-linear path are how I developed my gauge and how I got to where I am now, doing what I’m good at and what I’m authentically passionate about today.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I would say I am beyond fortunate to have had the most loving, supportive, encouraging, and generous parents who have always been my core source of guidance. I still run everything by them. My husband has been incredibly helpful and supportive over the past couple of years as my career grew. Positive and effective mentorship is essential. I’ve also been fortunate to have had the most supportive supervisors during my graduate career, who allowed me to grow my innovative approach within the field. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

Okay perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

I am passionate about accessibility, inclusivity, and helping people develop practical, useful, and self-mastery tools while using the resources we all already possess.

Currently, I’m partnering with Colgate to launch the Colgate Optimism Project — an equity-driven campaign focusing on championing the Gen Z generation who are putting optimism in action and igniting positive change in the world. I’m working with Colgate to help them understand the power of optimism and put optimism into action in a practical way that empowers today’s young people to make positive changes in the world. Gen Z makes up nearly half of the U.S. population — they are the future — and through this partnership, I will lend my expertise to teach them how to strengthen their optimism muscle and build resiliency.

I believe in working with the natural human resources we already possess, like perspective, breath, movement, visualization, and other tools that only require one’s mind and body! It is much more important and empowering to help people help themselves and help people understand that they may be the solution they have been searching for all along.

As an Optimism Doctor and someone who specializes in increasing hope and positive future thinking, people are surprised by how much education around dispelling perfection and breaking down the notion of toxic positivity. Yes, as an Optimism Doctor, I am saying that positivity can sometimes be toxic when insincere and serve to vilify the normal range of human emotion. I define what Optimism is (hint: it has a lot more to do with resiliency and duality of the emotion than slapping a positive spin on all situations) and why it is essential, how it can change the trajectory of your life, for the better, and why working through struggle is the most potent way to increase optimism.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

  1. Spend more time outdoors. Research shows that spending on average, just 2 hours a week outside, decreases stress and anxiety, and boosts positive mood.
  2. Develop a positive morning ritual. Research shows your mood at the start of your day impacts your mood for the rest of the day. Ideally, this will be something that takes a short amount of time, is meaningful, and can be done anywhere. I do something called “wake up and dance” I turn on music, and the first thing I do when getting out of bed is dance! Sometimes I only have 15 seconds or just a few songs. I also always pick a Things Are Looking Up Optimism Card from my deck (thingsarelookingup.co)!
  3. Spend more time being in a state of awe. Research shows that being in a state of awe can have a powerful impact on reducing anxiety. Being in a state of awe is about being transcended by something bigger than you and being inspired; for me, I find awe in nature, pictures I find on the internet, listening to a beautiful piece of music, and more.
  4. Pay attention to what you consume. Our energy is our most valuable currency. What we consume is not just about what we eat; it’s what products we buy and who and what we spend our time on, in person and virtually. Use the unfollow and mute buttons on social media platforms mindfully and as often as needed!
  5. Replace the B-word “balance” with a new B word: “boundaries!” I find that we strive for some type of balance that we are so often told to achieve, it can be a frustrating and pressurizing chase… balance sometimes can feel impossible and being able to cultivate boundaries is much more practical and measurable.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

A Self Compassion Movement for sure! Much of the compounded struggles we go through are by shame, guilt, and self-destruction. The first practical and potent step to take is working our way through our emotions (the positive, negative, and the neutral), lean into head-on with self-compassion, and a level of curiosity. We’re able to ask ourselves, “I wonder what will I learn from this?” or “I wonder how I will grow from this?” while at the same time holding space for the fear, disappointment, anger, joy, excitement, or grief.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Change is hard for everyone. Although a new beginning is on the horizon, some form of loss also occurs. Normal and a natural part of the process.
  2. Ask for help! Something that I am working on, too.
  3. No amount of time is too little for practicing a form of self-preservation or self-care; if you have 15 seconds, that is good enough.
  4. Nothing is permanent; whatever is happening right now will not last forever. So, if you are going through a tough time, know that something better will come. On the flip side, if you are in a period where things are wonderful, truly mindfully savor in the moment.
  5. Saying NO is not selfish: it’s emotionally proactive and highly productive.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

To a degree, all of them but most dear to me is destigmatizing mental health and promoting proactive mental health care and well-being. Today’s society struggles with mental health: doctors can help these issues, and there are valuable tools and significant support. However, the number one reason people don’t seek out help is the stigma associated with and around mental health, which needs to change.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

@drdeepikachopra and my Optimism Deck of Cards: @allthingsarelookingup and the LOOKING UP with Dr. Deepika Chopra podcast available everywhere (Spotify, Apple, and more) where you can subscribe to podcasts.

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