“The more we think something — be it positive or negative — those are the neural pathways that will strengthen.” with Dr. Nadia Sabri and Marina Kostina

Our perspectives are shaped by thoughts and mindset. I mentioned earlier that our brains have neuroplasticity and the neural pathways in our brains get stronger over time. The more we think something — be it positive or negative — those are the neural pathways that will strengthen. Over time, those thought patterns become our core beliefs. I had the pleasure […]

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Our perspectives are shaped by thoughts and mindset. I mentioned earlier that our brains have neuroplasticity and the neural pathways in our brains get stronger over time. The more we think something — be it positive or negative — those are the neural pathways that will strengthen. Over time, those thought patterns become our core beliefs.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Nadia Sabri, MD FAAP, a board-certified Pediatrician, yogi, and founder of The Mindful MD Mom, an award winning Top Millennial Mom and Mindfulness blog. Dr. Nadia has been featured in The Washington Post, KevinMD, Motherly, MomMD, She Knows, The Baby Spot, MD for Moms, Wholist Heath, We are Pediatricians, Help Mama Meditate — among others. She writes about mindful living, life-work balance, conscious parenting, holistic wellness. Dr. Nadia enjoys advocating for the health and happiness of kids and their caregivers and seeks to empower others, especially parents, to live their best lives. Connect with Dr. Nadia on Instagram, on Twitter, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, on Pinterest and on her blog, The Mindful MD Mom.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

From a young age, I wanted to help others and make a positive difference in the world. Inspired by my parents, who encouraged hard work and a meaningful life, I chose the path of a physician. I specialized in Pediatrics because of the hope, challenge, and inspiration I find in working with children and their families.

When I became a parent, intentional living became even more important to me. As parents, our decisions impact not just ourselves but also our children. Parents face many pressures to be the perfect parent, mom guilt of not being enough, dads being called babysitters, parental burnout, lack of social and workplace support — to name a few. From the countless stories and concerns shared by the families of patients, there was a common theme of lack of parental support and strategies to counter these stresses. These issues were prevalent in doctor mom groups as well. So many people felt isolated and unsupported in their parental choices.

I created The Mindful MD Mom blog at the end of 2017 as a way to discuss topics pertinent to the modern millennial parent, to support and empower others find perspective and balance in this busy world. Instead of work-life balance, I encourage life-work balance. Topics I write about include mindful living, life-work balance, meditative reflections, self-compassion, wellness, conscious parenting. I am grateful for the opportunities to advocate for the health, wellness, and happiness of kids and their caregivers both in the clinical setting as well as through my writing.

What does it mean for you to live “on purpose”? Can you explain? How can one achieve that?

Oscar Wilde said, “[t]o live is the rarest thing of all. Most people exist, that is all”.

Living intentionally can mean different things to different people. To me, living intentionally means recognizing that I am the one in charge of my life and my thoughts and decisions do make a difference in my life and in the world around me.

Often times it can feel as if so much of our life is out of our control or things become so routine that we fall into f comfortable complacency. As a result, the hundreds of decisions that occur in a day are made on autopilot. When we realize that each moment counts and we truly do make all the decisions, it is quite empowering.

Of course, there are things in our lives over which we do not have control and that is fine. However, within our constraints, we are the masters of our destiny and we can start the journey of mindful, conscious living any time. We choose where to go to work. We choose where, when, and what to eat. We choose where and how to spend or save our money, what we listen to, the discussions in which we take part, the people and community in which we interact, how we spend our down time, etc.

So, how to start?

Approach your life with curiosity and wonder. Make things a fun experience. Take the time to figure out who you are, what adds joy and value to your life, and what you want out of your life. Then, make those things a priority for you and your family.

When we take charge of the small moments in our lives, we can consciously curate our life based on our own values, dreams, and aspirations and not according to someone else’s definition.

Do you have an example or story in your own life of how your pain helped to guide you to finding your life’s purpose?

In the past, I didn’t prioritize myself or my wellness. The training to be a physician is rigorous, the hours are intense, the work is very challenging. Even as an attending physician, I was so used to my hectic lifestyle. But the universe has a way of bringing to our attention that which we need most.

Most of us take the thyroid for granted. Responsible for metabolism, energy, dryness of skin, hair quality, weight gain/loss, temperature regulation, sleep quality, fatigue, mood — it is a small but mighty organ. If any of these seem off balance, check your thyroid for any masses and/or thyroid hormone irregularities, sooner rather than later.

Earlier this year, I underwent partial thyroidectomy for a concerning thyroid nodule. The post-op period after surgery was tough physically and emotionally. I was forced to slow down, heal from surgery, adjust to half a thyroid. I had to modify my expectations, be gentle to my body as it recovered, and find my new normal. Waiting for the pathology results was agonizing, so many “what if’s”. Meditation helped me a lot during those days.

The pathology results revealed a rare thyroid tumor. Fortunately, it was benign! My family and I were so relieved and I found that something had changed within me. It was an acute awareness that a life can change at any given moment. I felt an urgency to make some changes, snap out of routine, and really live my life.

No matter our profession, don’t many of us live that way? We don’t live for now; we live for the future. We don’t prioritize our health and wellness. Ignoring that we are human adds so much stress to our lives, our kids’ life, our relationships. But what if the future doesn’t arrive or is interrupted by unforeseen circumstances?

Paulo Coelho says, “[w]hen we least expect it, life sends us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change.”

The scar across my neck reminds me that life is precious. I made a promise to myself to prioritize wellness and live mindfully in the present instead of putting things off for the future.

With all of this is in mind, my husband and I began to restructure our lives and start living our bucket lists. We consciously prioritize joy and meaningful activities. No more saying, “I’m too busy” or “there’s no time for that.” We found that there is plenty of time if we make it a priority. There is no better time than the present to live the kind of life of which we dream. We only need to decide what we truly want and begin.

This experience inspired me to advocate further and share the message of wellness and life-work balance through and mindful, conscious living. I am fortunate to be able to do so both as my work as a pediatrician, yogi, and with The Mindful MD Mom blog.

The United States is currently rated at #18 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low?

The United States is an amazing nation, full of resources and opportunities. Despite its abundance, the US has not made the top 10 list of happy places. Reasons that contribute to these findings include: lifestyle, paradigms of success and/or happiness as conditionals, lack of social support for families, expensive and inaccessible healthcare, the rising rates of obesity, chronic medical conditions, mental health issues, and feelings of powerlessness of current affairs.

The nations that made the top of the list — Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands — have a lifestyle and mindset that prioritize social well-being, contentment, social support for all of its citizens including immigrants. These nations “are well known to be stable, safe and socially progressive. There is very little corruption, and the police and politicians are trusted”, according to World Economic Forum.

Concepts such as minimalism, Hygge, Lykke, are present in the top three nations and share the sense that less is more, that what one has is enough, joy and happiness are attainable and already part of life. Contentment is encouraged.

The mindset and lifestyle of the United States is very different than the Nordic nations. A sense of scarcity is promoted instead of an attitude of abundance. Happiness is conditional — “I can only be happy if x or when y — and seems elusive. The pursuit of success is promoted as the answer to everything to the detriment of personal and societal wellbeing. If one isn’t careful, it is very easy to get swept away in these ideas of what success or happiness should look like. It becomes cut-throat and isolating.
 The family unit is not prioritized — at least judging by the inadequate maternity/paternity leave, very expensive childcare, and lack of social and work support for parents. Because maternity/paternity leave is minimal and mostly uncompensated, people have to get back to work as soon as possible. The first year of a child’s life is incredibly important for parent-child bonding and child development. In the US, new parents only have a few weeks up to 3 months of unpaid leave. In other nations, it can be up to a year of paid leave.

In the US, many behavioral, health, and mental health issues start at a very young age — as young as 2 years old, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) reports 18.5% of adults in the US, that is 43.8 million people suffer from mental illness each year. For kids, 13% of 8–15 year olds and 21.4% of kids aged 13–18 year olds experience severe mental illness during their life. The CDC reports that 1 out of 7 US kids 2–8 years old have a diagnosed mental disorder and suicide is “the second leading cause of death among adolescents aged 12–17 years olds”.

Other factors include the inaccessibility and expenses of healthcare. Many chronic conditions are starting at a very young age including childhood obesity and its secondary conditions: diabetes type 2, kidney and heart problems, metabolic syndrome, etc

Current affairs are so turbulent that many in the population feel powerless about the world around them and even in their own lives.

Fortunately, many people are starting to make conscious choices to live the life by their own definition. Humans thrive with meaningful connection, social support, and purposeful living. Each person has an important role to increase the happiness quotient. Together we can change our collective mindset to prioritize joy, contentment, meaningful human interactions, personal and societal wellness.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As a pediatrician and part of the American Academy of Pediatrics, I advocate for the health and happiness of kids and their caregivers. One of my areas of interest is awareness and prevention of Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs). Many children experience adverse life events early in their childhood. These ACEs can negatively affect children’s growth, development, and success in life. The more adverse events to which they are exposed, the worse it is for them. The long-term effect of ACEs is that is multigenerational dysfunction, health issues, maladaptive behaviors, violence, truancy, developmental delays, mental health issues. Families are an important part of communities so the cumulative effect of ACEs can be tremendous.

A common ACEs example:
 Many parents do not realize the impact they have on their child’s behaviors and self-esteem. They may have unrealistic expectations of a child and may not know normal kid growth and development. As a result, when a young child throws a tantrum, even well-meaning parents feel at their wits’ end. They may yell, isolate, or spank their kids. Without realizing it, they have modeled negative behaviors and reactions for their young, impressionable children. So, when the child yells, screams, or hits the parents or other kids, the parents wonder why their kid is misbehaving.

Developmentally speaking, the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is the part that regulates emotional processing, does not fully develop until adolescence. As a result, kids depend on the parents to learn how to respond to a situation. However, many parents don’t know how to regulate their own emotions let alone a child with a tantrum. Over time, if ineffective parenting cycles continue — yelling, spanking, physical or emotional abuse, etc — the parent-child relationship will be negatively affected. Eventually, the kids grow up and carry with them the behaviors they learned at home.

With awareness of normal child behavior and development, parents can learn effective parenting strategies instead of yelling and spanking. They can learn to model positive behavior for their child. My focus is on increasing the social and parental support for families. By sharing my knowledge and experience as a doctor, mom, yogi, I provide mindful living tips, conscious parenting strategies, life-work balance ideas. I empower others to take a family centered wellness approach, prioritize joy, and minimize ACEs.

What are your 6 strategies to help you face your day with exuberance, “Joie De Vivre” and a “ravenous thirst for life”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

“Energy flows where attention goes.” This means our thoughts affect our outlook and life energy more than we realize. More often than not, our own self-limiting beliefs and biases cause us to fall into ineffective thought patterns and negative cycles. The brain has neuroplasticity which strengthens the connections based on frequently used thoughts and actions. The brain uses synaptic pruning to discard the pathways we do not use. The more positive thoughts we have, the more positive we feel in our life. The more negative thoughts we have, the more negative our overall outlook.

Fortunately, we can train ourselves to look for the brightness in life, the joie de vivre, and positively change our neural pathways.

1. Breathe. Mindful breathing, deep slow breaths in through nose and out through the mouth, and a few minutes of focused meditation instantly calms me. This type of breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system and makes one feel calm and relaxed. Mindfulness meditation and moving meditations allow space for one to acknowledge and nonjudgmentally accept the various thoughts that are usually swirling through our minds. This really helps me to check in with myself.

2. Stimulate your body and mind as part of your morning routine. I love doing a 10–15 minute yoga flow to energize. For mental focus and clarity, I journal for a few minutes, write or at least think 1–3 things for which I am grateful. It can be simple such as gratitude for health, having the opportunity to wake up in your own bed, being around family or friends, etc. Training oneself to look with an attitude of gratitude opens up awareness of the other blessings in our lives that we may often take for granted.

3. Plan your day with pockets of productivity in mind. Aiming for hours of uninterrupted free time can be difficult because, well, life happens. However, pockets of 30 minutes to an hour a few times a day is manageable. Set mini goals for yourself for that day. Minimize multitasking and instead focus on the task at hand. It is during these pockets of time I squeeze in self-care, plan future goals, etc.

4. Nourish your body and eat mindfully. Nutrition is linked to happiness. Food and water intake affect not just the body but also the mind and our mood. Our brain releases feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin when we eat certain foods. If deprived of essential nutrients like DHA, it can even make one feel sad. Dehydration affects cognitive functioning and is linked to fatigue, lower levels of alertness, low energy, and even confusion. I keep a reusable water bottle nearby to remind myself to stay hydrated and refill as needed.

5. Set an intention and reinforce it with positive affirmations. Our brain believes what we tell it. Instead of ‘ugh, mornings suck!’ which is a negative affirmation, choose positive. ‘Today will be a good day’ or ‘no matter what happens, I got this!’ Over time, these positive affirmations will become core beliefs, improve mood and energy, and increase self-confidence.

6. Elevate your mood. Even if no one is around, smile. Listen to music you enjoy while getting ready. Invite wonder and curiosity into your day by noticing things around your house and on your drive to work. Talk to someone who haven’t spoken to before. Ponder the meaning of an inspiring quote. The more we practice something, the more natural it becomes. So why not give yourself permission to add a little lightness to your day? One doesn’t need to be serious all the time.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that most inspired you to live with a thirst for life?

There are so many great books and resources. My favorites are The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The One Thing by Gary Keller, The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat Zinn, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and The Essential Rumi.

Headspace is a great mediation app.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that relates to having a Joie De Vivre? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Two of my favorite quotes are “[l]ive life as if everything is rigged in your favor” by Rumi and “[b]e fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire” by Jennifer Lee.

These quotes inspire me to dream big and live fearlessly. We truly are our own limiting factor. Some of my most interesting life experiences have occurred when I leave fear behind and step out of my comfort zone. When we start thinking, ‘what if I can’t do it? What if I fail?”, we tend to hold back and not give our full effort to that opportunity.

Our perspectives are shaped by thoughts and mindset. I mentioned earlier that our brains have neuroplasticity and the neural pathways in our brains get stronger over time. The more we think something — be it positive or negative — those are the neural pathways that will strengthen. Over time, those thought patterns become our core beliefs.

I start out the day by thinking, “today is a new day and a good day.” Even if mishaps and missteps occur, they become learning experiences. And even if nothing good came of the day, I can be grateful that today is over and tomorrow will be a new day.

This outlook has helped me stay positive even in the most difficult and challenging situations of my life. Through mindfulness, I have learned to acknowledge and accept my thoughts without judgment, improve self-compassion, and boost happiness.

By using our knowledge of neuroplasticity and mindfulness techniques, anyone and everyone can find happiness even with the challenges of life. Rewiring brain for happiness is easier than we realize. In the words of Henry Ford, “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.”

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am excited to participate with the Texas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to advocate the effects and impact of Adverse Childhood Events or ACEs on children and communities. Toxic stress and adverse childhood events — separation from families, exposure to violence, hunger, neglect, any form of abuse — are becoming recognized as major public health issues. Children with history of ACEs tend to have higher rates of medical and mental health issues, developmental delays, truancy, misbehaviors, violence, toxic stress, and other health issues. As part of this collaborative, I hope to bring awareness of these topics as well as strategies and resources for clinicians and parents.

Other exciting things on the horizon include completion of yoga teacher training this month. My plan is to integrate principles of mindfulness and yoga to the current model of health/wellness, and make it accessible outside the studio. Other projects include a compilation of meditative reflections and a book on mindful living. I write with the goal of meaningful human connection and strategies for each person to live their best lives on their terms.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Health and wellness are so much more than just absence of illness. Many conditions are multifactorial and lifestyle-dependent. Because many of our habits and thought patterns emerge from childhood, health and wellness starts at home. These include the relationship with food, exercise, body image, self-esteem, sleep, coping skills and stress management. For better or worse, children absorb the words and actions of the parents and caregivers. Children look to their parents and caregivers to figure out what is “normal” responses. Modeling positive behavior and a wellness-prioritized lifestyle is key. Teaching families how to promote wellness in their own families would be a great start.

Additionally, taking a holistic approach of the whole person — mind, body, soul approach — to health and wellness would be great. Of note, holistic does not mean shunning medical advice, being anti-vaccine, pro-GOOP, or pro-pseudoscience. Movements to integrate lifestyle modifications as well as Eastern medicine may have a role in the evolving health care landscape.

I’d love to see more research on efficacy of alternative medicine treatments and if they would be good supplements to traditional Western medicine. Often times, people come to doctors demanding and expecting medication as a cure-all. However, there is no ‘magic pill’ that solves all problems. Not all conditions need to be treated with medication or antibiotics. For example, viral illnesses. It would be helpful to have evidence based alternative therapies to offer patients.

At this time, however, there just isn’t enough evidence-based research by reputable medical entities to know if the ‘natural’ and/or alternative medicine are helpful or harmful. Western medicine tends not to recommend treatments unless they have been studied thoroughly, side effects are known, etc. However, people use alternate therapies which may not be standardized in terms of dosing, inactive ingredients, and could be potentially harmful if taken with certain conditions or medication. For example, taking ginseng — a mood and energy booster — can cause bleeding or bruising if taken with ibuprofen, a common medication for fever and pain. Raising awareness of interactions and educating the public would be helpful.

Thank you so much for joining us.

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