Why are we often resistant to tackling stress and preprogrammed thought patterns? It’s a curious phenomenon that occurs even in those of us who really know the central role these psychological factors play in health, disease, and even aging. That’s why it’s one of the important topics I address with resilience expert Dr. Stephen Sideroff in this episode of New Frontiers. After all, a full 25 percent of the bio-age clock we used in our clinical study is driven by epigenetic patterns on stress-related genes. That means how we handle stress is intricately interwoven into how well we age biologically.
If you’re looking for the right motivation or framework to begin your own journey into true, all-encompassing resilience, or even if you need that next-level exploration of what really makes you tick psychologically and how you can truly optimize your functioning on all levels, you’ll want to hear what Dr. Sideroff has to say. For practitioners, you’ll discover an excellent intervention to add to your functional medicine and healthy aging toolkit. Listen in, and let us know what you think with ratings, reviews, and emails! Thanks so much for your time — and enjoy! – DrKF
Building Resilience for Optimal Functioning with Dr. Stephen Sideroff
It’s almost always the case that psychological factors – such as a heightened sympathetic (fight-or-flight) drive or unhelpful thought patterns – play a role in disease and dysfunction. It’s also true that understanding and strengthening the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous system and exploring past events that shape our current approach to the world are often necessary components of the healing process. However, even as we know this, it is common to resist dealing with stress and programmed thought patterns. In fact, many of us will want to try every other intervention first – diet, supplements, exercise, etc. – before being willing to go there.
In this New Frontiers podcast, Dr. Stephen Sideroff delves into why this is and introduces his “nine pillars” framework for addressing these sometimes-slippery components of who we are and how we engage in this world. His goal – to help us create resilience, which he defines as “optimal functioning.” I am deeply grateful to him for this important work.
In this episode of New Frontiers, learn about:
- Why do we resist dealing with stress and thought patterns?
- The good and bad sides of stress
- How childhood experiences create lasting patterns in our brain that can undermine what we try to do as an adult
- The nine pillars of resilience we need to address
- How to determine your resilience profile based on these pillars
- Where to begin – the two places Dr. Sideroff most often begins are: A person’s relationship with themselves, Beginning a relaxation or meditation practice
- “Stalking” your brain patterns to learn to identify that internal voice of bias
- Developing a healthy internal “parent” voice that comes from a place of love, compassion, acceptance, support, and care
- How to be your own person and find your true self
- Personal energy use and its connection to aging; conversely resiliency as efficient energy use
- Leveraging biofeedback tools
- Sideroff’s research, including: The use of neurofeedback in improving addiction treatment, “chemo brain” and maintaining cognitive performance into old age. The power of drumming in encouraging us to get out of our heads and into our bodies
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Hi, everybody. Welcome to New Frontiers in Functional Medicine, where we are interviewing the best minds in functional medicine. And of course, today is no exception. I am excited to introduce to you, and actually get to know myself, Dr. Stephen Sideroff. His work looks amazingly interesting, and I’m really excited to dive in.
But before we go, let me just tell you about him. He is an internationally recognized psychologist, executive and medical consultant. And an expert in resilience, optimal performance, addiction, neurofeedback, leadership and mental health. He has published pioneering research in these fields for years. He’s a professor at UCLA in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, and Department of Rheumatology. And director of the Wallenberg Institute of Ethics. He was the founder and former clinical director of the Stress Strategies Program of UCLA Santa Monica Hospital, and former clinical director of Moon View Treatment and Optimal Performance Center.
His research explores the impact of his model of resilience on longevity. His recent book, The Path: Mastering the Nine Pillars of Resilience and Success, has been hailed as a true bible for living in balance and spirituality. His new book, The Resilience Response, will be published in 2023. Participants of Dr. Sideroff’s workshops have said: “The experience was life changing.”
Dr. Sideroff, welcome to New Frontiers.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah, likewise. You’ve published quite a bit, and over many years, and in a variety of areas, and I want to drill down into resilience, and longevity and kind of focus there. But give us a tour of your background and what you’ve been doing over the years.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Certainly, happy to do that. Well, it’s interesting. I started out in brain research, and I was really looking for where in the brain learning and memory takes place, and what are the psychophysiological mechanisms of those processes? And very early on I realized, “Well, I can’t ask my subjects…” (because I was working on animals)… “I can’t ask my subjects what they’re experiencing, what they’re feeling.”
So I shifted into more clinical work, but always interested in the same questions. I started a post-doctoral fellowship – this is many years ago, it’s what got me to UCLA back in the ’70s – in addiction research, looking at conditioned aspects of addiction.
And ultimately in my clinical work, I wanted to figure, “What’s most important? What is it that has the greatest impact on people?” And I very quickly realized it was stress. People can be doing really well in their lives until the stress builds up, and then their usual coping abilities start to break down. If they have tendencies toward anxiety, depression, those explode.
And that’s not only true for individuals, but it’s also true for couples. Couples can do well until the stress builds up, and then the relationship deteriorates, because they don’t have their own reserves. They don’t have something within themselves to lean upon.
So I quickly started doing work in stress. And this was very interesting, Kara, because everybody is crying out about stress. And so, I do these workshops and I did executive workshops on stress, and people would come up to me and say, “This is great. The information you’re giving me is just so important right now in my life.”
And then I would follow up a few months later, and almost none of the people that I’ve interviewed were actually following through with what they learned in my programs. And that got me into looking at people’s resistance to dealing with stress.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: That’s an awesome… We see that in clinical practice. I mean, time and again, stress is the final frontier. I practice functional medicine, and people will come to us with whatever chronic ailment that they have, and stress is always a component. But they want to do everything else before the stress piece. And if they’re still not better after we’ve dialed in all of it, they may be willing to turn their attention towards stress.
And I just want to say one other thing and then I completely want to hear what you’re saying. I conducted a study looking at changes to biological age as measured by DNA methylation, using a diet and lifestyle intervention. And the DNA methylation clock that we used, a full 25% of it, looking at specific DNA methylation sites, is glucocorticoid response elements. I mean, 25% of this aging clock is stimulated by stress. I mean, that was mind blowing to me.
So I want to stop and just hear, why are we so resistant? What did you do? And just any thoughts?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Well, that’s beautiful what you came up with. And by the way, I’ve read your book, it’s great.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Oh, thank you.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Yes. Yeah. Okay, so looking at resistance, and there are many, many reasons. One being, that stress is not just bad, stress is very good. It serves us in many different ways. It prepares us for performing, it prepares us to take action.
But here’s an interesting thing Kara, is that, if you look at all of your successes in your life, I guarantee at least 90% of them were done in the midst of stress.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah, right.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: If it’s any kind of performance that you’re doing that that gives you notoriety, et cetera, decisions, all of these are accompanied by stress. And I was fortunate, when I was professor at McGill University in Montreal, to become friends with Donald Hebb, one of the founders of the whole field of neuroscience. And his comment, which rings true today, and which we repeat today is, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
And so, we’ve associated our successes with stress, and this is part of the reason why we have resistance. The other part has to do with our lessons of childhood, which is a whole other story. And I’ve written about this, what I refer to as our primitive gestalt patterns, which really get in our way. We adapt to our childhood environment, and then our adaptation, to a great degree, freezes to that childhood environment, making us less capable of adapting as adults. And this is another piece of it.
And so how I dealt with it was, I shifted to a model of resilience. Because unlike stress, resilience, there’s just one direction. Stress, there’s good and there’s bad. Resilience is all good.
And so, I worked to develop a very comprehensive model of resilience, which is much more comprehensive than any other model of resilience out there, I believe. Because you could be resilient in terms of the common notion of resilience, “I’m able to bounce back.” But if you haven’t addressed the emotional woundings of childhood, you’re going to keep putting yourself into stressful situations unnecessarily. And that, in my model, makes you less resilient.
So it’s a broad model that takes into account lessons of childhood, et cetera. And then I developed from this, my Nine Pillars of Resilience. And I’m glad you mentioned the connection between say, cortisol and what you’ve been looking at.
I took my own biological age recently, and so I live my life based on my model of resilience, because ultimately, I think resilience is about optimal functioning on many levels. So my chronological age is 75, my biological age came out as 55.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Nice. That’s great. Congratulations.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Thank you. And I attribute it to being resilient, based on that model.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Right. Well, I’ll tell you what, it makes sense to me. I’m a functional medicine doc, naturopathic physician by training. And when we designed our program, it’s very nutrition centric. Obviously lifestyle is a big piece of it, but if you had asked me a little while ago, I would’ve said, nutrition is where it’s at.
And I think all of these things, you can’t tease them apart. But I have an appreciation of stress, and wonder if the toxic stress isn’t a bigger driver than even nutrition, on the aging journey.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Yeah. I think those two are competing for the most important, and it’s an interface between the two of them.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yes. My research has certainly created… I mean, I’ve always had a good appreciation for it, but it’s crystallizing, I think, as I’ve been doing this epigenetic work.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: That’s great. That’s great.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: So what are the Nine Pillars?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: All right. So they are in three different areas. The first area’s relationship. So there’s relationship with yourself, relationship with others, and relationship with something greater, which could be spirituality, purpose, and meaning in life, that connects you to the larger community.
The next three are organismic balance and mastery. And within that, there’s physical balance and mastery, mental cognitive balance and mastery, and emotional balance and mastery.
And then the last three have to do with how we engage with the world. And that’s presence, flexibility, and my ninth Pillar is what I call power, which I define as the ability to get things done.
And this covers everything that is important in terms of overall resilience. From number one, your relationship to yourself… And this is where a lot of people have difficulties, because they are super critical of themselves, they’re hard on themselves. All of this interferes with resilience.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: I have a couple of questions here for that. So just going back to the executives that completely resonated with the stress story, and left it at the door. How did you get them…
So you transformed it into a conversation on resilience. Did you bring it back to these people and find that they were able to use it in a different way, and sort of address stress through the eyes of resilience?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Yeah. As I reframed it this way, they get it better. It doesn’t mean there still isn’t a struggle, but they’re more willing to engage in the struggle. So they realize that they could be super critical on themselves. They realize that a lot of what drives them is the judgements of others. But at least they’re willing to tackle these, as they recognize they are issues that are getting in their way.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: And might some of these individuals, they’re showing up perhaps with health conditions as well, that may be motivating them to take another look here?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: They’re all showing up with one deficit or another that’s motivating them. It could be a relationship that’s not working, a relationship where their partner is always upset with them. It could be that they can’t fall asleep at night. It can be that they’re getting too many tension headaches. Or it could be that they’re just going as fast as they can and they’re still unhappy.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: So how do you use these Nine Pillars? Do you adopt what you’re called to at a time, or is there a structure that you recommend people move through? I mean, certainly taking these all on at once in a day could be overwhelming to the uninitiated. How do use your program?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Yeah. Well those are good questions, Kara. Because actually, one of the things that happens with people is, they feel overwhelmed. They feel like, “There’s so much that I need to deal with, need to do.” And that’s why in my current book, The Path, I define the path as a mechanism for people to not be overwhelmed.
So what happens with most people is, they start doing something that’s helpful to them, but then they look to the left, and they look to the right, and they say, “Oh, but I got to do this. Oh, I got to do that. And there’s so many things that I need to do to be successful here.”
And the notion with being on the path is that, once you take a step, if you’re engaged in taking a step that’s good for you based on my model, that’s as good as it gets. You can’t do anything more. And so you want to feel good about yourself that, “I’m on the path. And after I do what I’m doing now, I’ll get to the next thing.”
And so, it’s learning to be accepting of our limitations as well as anything else.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: That’s amazing. So maybe you start with a little bit of a meditation practice, or going to bed right a little earlier, or something like that. I mean, what would it look like?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Well, I’ve created a 40 item questionnaire, which is an assessment. And they can self-score these 40 items and they get their resilience profile. They see which of these Nine Pillars are their strengths, and which of the nine need further development, further work. And so it tells them where, for them, the beginning needs to be.
But usually the two places where I begin, one is a person’s relationship with themselves, because that is key. Most people are undermining themselves. So, that’s number one. And to begin to recognize their old pattern that’s doing that and how it’s not serving them. And that’s a real key.
And then the other is beginning some kind of relaxation, meditation. One of the things I do a lot of is biofeedback. So, it’s beginning to give them a tool that they can begin practicing. Because what everybody has in common around this issue is that, their sympathetic branch of their nervous system is working over-time. And their parasympathetic, the recovery branch that needs to balance that out, is not being turned on enough. So it’s reversing that imbalance that goes along with looking at one’s relationship with themselves.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: So, everybody’s going to want this questionnaire. Where is it?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Okay. If anybody wants to email me, I’m happy to… They can purchase it on my website. But anybody that’s in your audience that would like a free copy, if they send me an email, I’m happy to send them a free copy of my resilience assessment profile. Which also identifies and explains each of these Nine Pillars, as well as presents the questionnaire.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Well, I really want it. And if it’s okay with you, if it’s okay for us to actually put your email in our show notes, we will do that.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Yes.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Okay. Awesome. And we’ll link to Dr. Sideroff’s website. It’s a beautiful website.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Thank you.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: There’s so much content on it, and your research going back into the early ’80s. Actually, I was really quite riveted by the content on your site.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Oh, thank you. Thank you.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: I have a comment and then a question. So again, just kind of going back to my own research, because we have a little bit of overlapping, our Venn diagrams overlap.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Yes.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: You can measure stress in DNA methylation, like epigenetic changes. You can see the heritability of PTSD, it changes. You could look at trauma. You can look at Holocaust survivors and subsequent generations, and see changes to glucocorticoid associated genes, genes associated with inflammation, et cetera, et cetera. It influences epigenetic expression.
A criticism of this area of research is that we’re not studying resilience. I mean, I would just think of logotherapy. Some of the people that came through a trauma like the Holocaust survived and thrived. I mean, what does that look like on the epigenome?
So I appreciate that you’re looking at resilience and coming from that angle, as opposed to the stress angle or the lack. We get really obsessed with studying the pathology and arguably far more important is studying resilience.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Yes. One of the concepts that I share with people that I work with is this notion that, if you look at all of life’s experience… Right now, I have my hands separated one above the other to indicate sort of like a continuum of all life’s experience. And then midway in between my two hands is baseline. Midway between my two hands is zero point. And what I find is, so many people live below the line.
And when I say live below the line, that means that their focus is looking down, looking below. Their goal each day is, “Did I avoid a problem? Did I avoid disaster? Is everything going to be okay?” They’re just trying to get up to baseline.
And so one of the things I talk about with the people I work with is, “Hey, it’s time to start looking above the line. It’s time to start thinking about positive concepts of enjoyment, enjoying life, not just trying to get by. Not just trying to hang on, but to thrive, not just to survive.”
And the issues with epigenetics is that… And this is where I get into our childhood patterns that sort of brand our brain so to speak, to function the way that we are taught in our childhood. And that’s something that is very difficult to do, but must happen, which is to break away from that by establishing a new grounding and a new baseline for yourself.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Well, so how do you do that?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Well, in my work, it’s working through these Nine Pillars of Resilience. In my work, I refer to it as paying attention to identifying one’s pattern. So a lot of people have the pattern in which they are looking to see what they did wrong, rather than what they did right. They are expecting negative instead of expecting positive. They don’t trust people, instead of starting out with, at the very least, a neutral perspective. People don’t give themselves enough psychological space in which to allow things to emerge, they come in with their bias too quickly.
And so I encourage people, I teach people, to stalk their pattern. To identify on a daily basis, when… And the thing is, the spokesperson for that pattern is the voice we listen to 24/7, and that’s why it’s so powerful. We don’t-
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: How do you stalk it? I mean, do you journal? Do you give guide points in your book on how to pay attention to that voice that’s talking all the time?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Well, it’s funny, because for many people I’ll say, “Listen, you know that that voice is constantly in your ear, so it’s easy to stalk it, because at any moment it’s happening.”
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Right. Right.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: But yeah, it’s a serious thing, because the old pattern… You know, one of my trainings is in gestalt therapy. Gestalt meaning whole, complete. And one of the founders, Fritz Perls, said, “When you’re a child, you swallow everything whole. You swallow it whole.”
Now as an adult, the goal is to bring it up and chew on it. And if it tastes good, “Okay, now you swallow it.” But if it doesn’t taste good, meaning an idea, a way of living that doesn’t really work, you spit it out. And that’s the process people need to engage in, is to recognize when they’re being hard on themselves. Recognize when they are retreating from the contact boundary, because they’re afraid of what might happen.
Now, if I can add one other piece here. And that’s that, it’s only half the job to say what not to do and the way you shouldn’t be doing it. You have to have the alternative. You have to have a place to move to, a new place to ground yourself.
And so for me in my work, and this is a key part of the work I do is, I encourage the development of a healthy internal voice, a healthy internal parent. And that’s a parent that comes from a place of love, compassion, acceptance, support, and care.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah, that’s very nice. Can I just ask you something, or did you have a thought?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: No, no, no.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Okay. So initially, as you were talking about this exploration of the always talking voice that tends to have come from this place of judgment, et cetera, but it’s born out of our childhood experiences. It sounds like you are addressing it in its present phenomena, like how it shows up in our day-to-day life. But you’re also now suggesting that there’s a place… Or, are you suggesting that there’s a place for going back in time and looking at childhood experiences?
So do we want to address it in the patterns that it’s presenting in the here and now? Or, do we need to link it back to childhood experience?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Well, I always start with the present. “What’s going on in the present?” And the thing is, if you haven’t fully addressed your childhood wounding, it will show up in the present. So it does require kind of making the connection, and it does require sort of finishing unfinished emotional business, so to speak. Which may mean bringing up feelings toward a parent that could be dead at this point.
But those feelings are still inside. The feelings don’t go away on their own, they have to be addressed. So that is part of the process. It begins in the present moment with how it’s impacting a person now, because that’s the reason why you need to deal with it. But it originates because we’re still carrying those wounds. We haven’t resolved them, we haven’t worked through them.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: The individual who follows your Nine Pillars, such as… I think you described yourself as doing that. Going back to these executives not wanting to release stress because of the positives. I mean, what does this balanced, resilient individual do? They’re still out in the world doing big things, I would imagine.
I don’t know. Speak to what this looks like to the stressed out executive who’s afraid to let go of stress.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Yeah. Sure, sure. So one of the things that I’m doing right now is, I have a very creative, intensive program for executives. I call it The Path. And executives come to me here, from all over the world, and they will do a four day program, a five day program, or even a longer program. And in that program I bring together… I have a team of about 20, 30 professionals who are the tops in their field. And I bring together, usually about 10 to 12 of them to work with the individual.
And so, that’s the struggle that they go through, is to find their true self, and to have the courage to come from that true self, even though some people may make judgements about them. And so, part of the work is helping them get to a place where they can handle the judgements, and they’re okay with those judgements. “I’m coming from my truth, I can handle that.”
And it’s work. It involves healing. It involves developing the courage to do that. It involves the willingness to figure out how to be your own person, separate from all of your training.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Have some lives been radically transformed in this journey? And by the way, in show notes, we’ll link to… Any information in this arena or other programs that you’re offering, I’d love to link to. I know people are interested.
But do you see some pretty extraordinary transformations? Do people leave careers, or maybe they do better in their careers? I’m just curious.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: We’ve had amazing success. We’ve had executives that go out and take a three month sabbatical.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Good. Yeah, good for them-
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: But, but, but, but, they come back more committed to their larger goals. And the interesting thing Kara, is that all of them realize that part of their larger goals is giving back.
So it’s been amazingly successful with tremendous results. And people have been impacted, and then have gone out and impacted the world from that. At least partly, I think, from the work they’ve done with me.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: It’s just really extraordinary. Gosh.
So this makes me think about a couple things. Do you incorporate wearables? I mean, I know you have a background in biofeedback, and I’m just wondering, do you… Like, I have an Oura Ring on, and I see my heart rate variability in the gutter sometimes when I’m burning the candle at both ends. It seems like it’s becoming more reliable, or I don’t have any deep sleep.
I’m curious about wearables. I’m also curious if you’ve thought about using any hallucinogens in this work, or what your thoughts are on it?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Well, that’s a whole other topic.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: I know, I know. It popped into my head and I thought, “You know? I’m just going to ask.” It’s a total-
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Yeah. It’s a whole other topic. I’ve consulted with people in the field, and I think it’s a very useful approach that has its place, definitely. It has its place, definitely. What was the other part of your question?
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah, that was a definite hard right turn for a moment. We’ll steer back. Wearables. Wearables. Do you use them, recommend them? What are your thoughts?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: I’ve used them, I recommend them. My good friend is the CEO of a biofeedback company called Thought Technology, so I’ve partnered with them in some things. I’m in the process of creating a resilience app.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Oh, nice.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: And when that comes out, I will have options for wearables, or at least biofeedback that people can do in conjunction with the app.
And I think that one of the keys in all of this is awareness, right? And what’s the most important aspect of wearables? Is raising your awareness of what’s going on in your body. And so anytime you do that, it’s helpful.
Most of the time people are cut off at the neck and do not connect with what’s going on in their body. Anything we can do to help people connect with their body and pay attention to the messages that the body is giving us, that’s a win. That’s a huge win.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: When do you expect your app to be available?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: I’m hoping that there’ll be a beta version in the next few months.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Oh, okay. Fabulous. Yeah.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Yeah.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Tools to really put intention around resilience, it’s just so important. And I love the fact that you’ll marry it to biofeedback. It just seems really cool. Well, definitely let me know when it’s out, I would love to see it.
I just want to circle back… I mean, I think we’re addressing this answer, but I want to hear what you have to say. Ultimately, why do we need to care about being resilient?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Well, I define resilient as, the optimal way to be in the world. And what that means is, for example, we all are consumers of energy. And I mean the personal energy that we produce in our bodies and then use to do whatever it is we’re doing. There is a most efficient way of using your energy. And I will suggest, that when you use your personal energy in the most efficient way, that’s one of the keys to slowing the aging process.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: For example, people will get overstressed in situations, will mobilize more than they really have to, using more energy than they really have to. People, when they’re anticipating danger, your body doesn’t say, “Well, there isn’t any real danger.” If you’re anticipating, your body mobilizes, that uses your energy. And it’s wasted energy.
And I will suggest that that wasted energy… And this research goes back 60, 70 years. That wasted energy creates excess wear and tear on your body. And this leads to what I’ve referred to as autonomic dysregulation syndrome. Which is basically, you’re wasting energy, but it’s causing an impact on the organs of your body. It has an impact on inflammation. It has an impact on all the keys that speed up the aging process. So it all ties together. And this is why one of the reasons I’m interested in resilience is because, I think it has a huge impact on longevity. And I put it to the test with looking at my own biological age.
But my next step is, I’m already in conversations with a couple of the companies that look at your biological age through methylation and things like that. So that we can get a larger sample that are all going to get my resilience questionnaire, and we will also have their biological age. And we’ll look to see if there’s a correlation between people who score high on my resilience questionnaire, actually have the slowest aging. And I think we’ll get a positive result, but we want to do the research on that.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: That’s so cool. Oh my goodness. Yes, I would love to be in the loop on that. That’s just really, really cool.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Okay. You’re in it.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: That would just be awesome.
And again, the solution is… So I love the idea of resiliency as being about using our energy efficiently. I mean, that’s appealing to anyone. And it makes so much sense, how we can burn through just stacks of energy being anxious about, really nothing. It’s a habit. And I guess this is a habit that comes from childhood, or some childhood phenomenon. Interesting.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Yes. Yes.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: So autonomic dysregulation syndrome and burning through our energy, the solution here, again, is using your Nine Pillars, using the questionnaire, finding the program that’s right for you and embarking on that? Would you say that’s true?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Yes, it is true. It is true. And what I find is true for most people is that, they go into the stress mode, the fight or flight mode, too frequently, too intensely and for too long a duration. And we engage in stressful behavior, and we forget, or don’t even realize, we have to turn off that stress response. We just keep it going.
So all of these lead to this imbalance between the branches of our nervous system. So all of my Nine Pillars funnel into restoring that balance.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: You’ve looked at dementia through this lens. Can you talk about that? And actually, you published recently on chemo brain.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Right.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Can you speak about dementia, and then just cognitive functioning in general? And if you want to mention your study on chemo?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Yes. Sure, sure. So one of the things that I’ve helped to pioneer is neurofeedback. Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback in which brainwave patterns are monitored. And the information is fed back to an individual on a computer display, showing moment-by-moment when they’re moving into an optimal pattern, or when they’re moving out of the optimal pattern. And the brain literally uses this information to self-correct. Neurofeedback is very powerful, and it’s been shown to be effective in a lot of different ways.
About 15 years ago, we published a controlled study in which we went into a drug treatment center and used a neurofeedback protocol with the addicts in the treatment center, with tremendous results. Significantly greater abstinence rates one and two years later, and other improved cognitive functioning.
And as a result of that, and what a lot of other people are doing in this field. More recently, we looked at chemo brain, which are cognitive deficits as well as other symptoms, that follow heavy doses of chemotherapy. And so, we worked with a group of breast cancer survivors who had chemo brain. And we did an 18-session neurofeedback training with them, and got significant improvements in performance, behavior, sleep. And the normalization…
We found that, people that had chemotherapy had huge deficits in brainwave activity. They had the slowest brainwaves, which are referred to as Delta, one to four cycles per second. These are the brainwaves that are predominant during sleep. And we found that many of these subjects had more than two standard deviations, elevated Delta frequencies, across the brain. So their brains were operating tremendously slowly, and that explained a lot of the cognitive deficits. So, we used the neurofeedback to improve that.
And there are people right now, and I’ve used it with individual clients. A lot of people doing research now on using neurofeedback to maintain cognitive performance into old age.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Do they know the mechanism? Did you guys figure out the mechanism that causes the Delta phenomena in chemo brain?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: It’s damage.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: It is, yeah.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: It’s brain damage.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: It’s just response.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Just like closed head injuries, you see excess slow wave, and other injury damage and conditions. You see that.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Okay. Okay. So there’s probably profound inflammation happening, and… Yeah.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Things like that, yeah.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Huh. How many sessions did you need to do with the addicts to achieve those impressive outcomes?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: So over five days, we did… Let’s see. We did 20 sessions over two weeks, so they got two sessions a day. And that was one type of neurofeedback that was designed to improve cognitive functioning, improve presence, improve attention.
And then once we achieved that, we did an additional 10 sessions of what’s called Alpha/Theta neurofeedback. And this has a very different function. This takes people into a very, very, deep, deep state in which memories can come up. But they come up while the person is very, very calm, giving the possibility of taking… One of the ways we’ve described this is that, you’re taking memories… So, trauma memories we can say, are memories that are sitting on the desktop. They’ve not been fully integrated into the brain, and that’s why they’re so readily available and get triggered.
And so, the Alpha/Theta neurofeedback seems to take those memories and stores them more into long-term memories, so it helps reduce the level of trauma. So we did what we called a Theta/Beta protocol to start off with, for attention, presence, focus. And then we followed with the Alpha/Theta, which helps people bring up and begin to address trauma experience.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: This is just so interesting. It seems like neurofeedback could be a smart part of the Pillars, or at least to jumpstart the Pillars for, perhaps certain individuals. How do we access neurofeedback? Will we ever have neurofeedback available in wearables? I mean, how do we get these impressive results?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Right. Well, there’s no free lunch.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah. Right.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: And the payment for biofeedback, neurofeedback, is that you have to do the training. As opposed to just taking a pill with an SSRI, or other medication to help anxiety and depression. Here, you are retraining the brain, you’re retraining your neurophysiology or your psychophysiology. So to retrain it requires sessions.
In the chemo brain study we did 18 sessions. But my recommendation in that publication is that, when we do the next study, we’d probably do 25 to 30 sessions.
And so, that’s possible. Right now, there are companies trying to get equipment out that people can use on their own, but I’m not sure of their viability, I’m not sure of their accuracy. I’m not sure how well someone can use that without working with a professional who knows about neurofeedback.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Right. Right. So not ready for prime wearable-
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Getting close, I would say. Yeah.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah. Well, it’s just very cool and impressive results.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Yeah.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: So looking at your own experience, and your research over the years and your program. Relationships and long lives, where are they on the continuum?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: So in my Nine Pillars, it’s hard for me to weigh one more than the other. They’re all my babies.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah. Sure, sure, sure.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: But I do identify one and four, one being relationship with yourself, and four being physiological, physical balance and mastery. But none of that can… They all require Pillars two and three, relationship with others and relationship with something greater. Relationships are so very important. So very important.
If you have a hard day at work and you’re stressed, and you come home and you have more stress, because there’s issues in your relationships. Whether it’s with your partner, or with your children, or with your parents. You come home because you want succor. You come home because you want to feel home. You want to feel like you are home. You want to feel like you’re safe, you could let down your guard. Because those are required in order to have recovery. And if you come home and there’s more stress, on the one hand, you’re not giving yourself the opportunity to recover. And, you’re adding to your stress.
So, it’s so important to have relationships where, you’re with a person who you know accepts you and you could let down your guard, because that’s when recovery happens. And that’s why I refer to relationships as the opportunity for emotional nourishment. And emotional nourishment is a piece of resilience and recovery.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah, absolutely. I found this cool study that you published on your site using rhythmic drumming.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Yes.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Are you using that still, and can you talk about it? I mean, it just really sounded like it must have been fun to do, fun to participate in, and just powerful.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: It’s powerful. It’s a process I learned from a colleague of mine, Steven Angel, who has an organization called Drumming for Your Life. Actually, he’s the co-author on that paper with me.
And it’s a way of using drumming to help a person get into a physical, emotional, mental state in which they’re more available to address their own healing and their own needs. And so, there’s a regular process of drumming and bringing in feelings, bringing in experiences from a person’s past, that have to do with what’s going on in their lives right now. Different ways of encouraging…
The other thing that the drumming process does, it helps people get out of their heads. And it’s a very powerful… I participated in doing a training for 200 physicians and medical professionals in Mexico. And I did the drumming journey with the 200 in the audience, all at the same time, and it was very powerful.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Amazing. Oh, I can only imagine. And if they’re physicians like us in the States, they’re pretty buttoned up, and that would’ve probably been really helpful.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Yes. Yes. Yeah. So, it’s great. It’s a way to help people get out of their head, into their bodies.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Beautiful. So, you’ve got a book coming out, you’re doing this amazing work with executives. I’m sure you’re up to a lot of other cool projects continuing to conduct research. What are you up to these days?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Well, what I alluded to with you a moment ago is what I’m very interested in. Which is, to look at the correlation between resilience as I’ve defined it with my Nine Pillars, and the aging process and longevity. “Do we see a correlation? The people who are more resilient, do they show the slowest rate of aging?” So, it sort of is my sense of how resilience is the definition of optimal functioning. And if we are functioning optimally, does that get reflected in how slow we age?
So, that’s one of the things I will be… And I will be launching my book in January, which is a good time, because my new book, every day gives another step that a person can take toward their resilience. So it weaves my Nine Pillars throughout daily steps people can engage in, to improve and develop higher levels of resilience.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: That’s fascinating. Gosh. We’re going to have a physician-guided Younger You program. So using the diet and lifestyle intervention in my work, it would be really cool to layer in the resilience training that you’re doing, and look at them together.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Oh. We need to talk about that. Yeah.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Beautiful.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: It’s just so fascinating, and I’m thrilled that you’re inspired to look at bio age. I think absolutely, you’re onto something, and it would be so cool to partner.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Right.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: We’re going to have all of Dr. Sideroff’s contact information, link to his site, his programs, everything. Send us what you want us to post on, and we’ll put it on our show notes.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Great.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: I am so thrilled that we had a chance to meet. Your work is fascinating, revolutionary.
I want to ask you if there’s anything that I missed? Was there any area that you wanted to talk about, something inspirational that I didn’t ping you on in questions? I’ll just give you a few moments here.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: First of all, you’ve been a great interviewer, because you’ve been comprehensive in how you’ve touched on just about everything. Let’s see. I think we’ve really covered it.
I’m really interested, as I engage more in this field of longevity, in bringing the mind and mental health into that equation.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Oh, yes.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: I think it’s so important. And I am actually engaged in preparing a summit on body and mind longevity with my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Robert Lufkin, who you know.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Oh, good. Yes.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: And so, yes, I’m very interested in bringing more of the mental and mind into the equation here.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Beautiful. It’s absolutely essential.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: Yeah.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: And your work is so important, and I’m thrilled to be able to have the opportunity to bring it to my audience here on New Frontiers. Dr. Sideroff, thank you so much for joining me today.
Dr. Stephen Sideroff: You’re welcome. I appreciate it, and I’ve enjoyed speaking with you.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: As always, thank you for listening to New Frontiers in Functional Medicine, where our sponsors help bring the very best minds in functional medicine, and today is no exception. Not everyone can be a sponsor on my platform, and I so appreciate the good work, relentless research, and generous support from my friends at Rupa Health, Biotics, TA Sciences, and Integrative Therapeutics. These are brands I know and trust in my own clinic and can confidently recommend to you. Visit them at RupaHealth.com, BioticsResearch.com, TASciences.com, and IntregrativePro.com, and please, tell them you learned about them on New Frontiers.
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Dr. Stephen Sideroff is an internationally recognized psychologist, executive and medical consultant and expert in resilience, optimal performance, addiction, neurofeedback, leadership, and mental health. He has published pioneering research in these fields. He is a professor at UCLA in the Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences and Department of Rheumatology, and director of the Wallenberg Institute of Ethics. He was the founder & former Clinical Director of the Stress Strategies program of UCLA/Santa Monica Hospital and former Clinical Director of Moonview Treatment and Optimal Performance Center.
His research explores the impact of his model of resilience on longevity. His recent book, “The Path: Mastering the 9 Pillars of Resilience and Success” has been hailed as a true bible for living in balance and spirituality. His new book, “The Resilience Response” will be published in January 2023. Participants of Dr. Sideroff’s workshops have said that the experience was “life-changing.”
Email Dr. Sideroff at Sideroff@UCLA.edu for free copy of resilience assessment profile
Download free Relaxation/Visualization Exercises at drstephensideroff.com