Ryan Soave is a trauma therapist, director of the APN Lodge – a world-class treatment facility in the Colorado Mountains and a researcher at the Huberman Lab at Stanford University. He recently joined the team at Beautiful Minds – Australia’s largest teen mental health company founded on the Sunshine Coast.
Recently he spoke with Brendon Rademakers – the Chief Creative Officer at Beautiful Minds about how individuals can build capacity to manage stress.
BRENDON RADEMAKERS: Ryan, great to chat again. You’ve had an interesting ride as a therapist and educator. You’ve got a world-class PTSD, addiction and trauma treatment facility in Colorado – you’ve led meditations for US Congressmen on Capitol Hill and now you’re doing some interesting work with Virtual Reality with the guys at Stanford University.
RYAN SOAVE: Yeah, I met and became great friends with Dr Andrew Huberman the Head of Neuroscience at Stanford University. We’re doing some cutting-edge things with VR – not as a treatment but to help us understand what’s happening in the brain and body with trauma, stress, fear and anxiety. People go into a VR experience where they’re on top of a tall building and have to walk a plank, or they’re in a room full of spiders, or outside a cage with great white sharks. The whole time they’re in there we get them to perform tasks and teach them how to control their fear states.
BR: Did that amplify or expand your existing knowledge? Did the findings surprise you?
RS: I think it expanded what I already knew. That science and the old teachings from shamans and yogis that have been taught for thousands of years were actually in alignment. We’re just learning how to get people there more quickly and we’re seeing that people can really change.
BR: There’s a lot of confusion these days around the language of mental health. When people are talking about mental health, what they’re really talking about is mental illness. Is there a way to elegantly describe your work? A lot of which is helping people who mostly have good days have better wellbeing, better relationships or a better system in place to function in an optimal way.
RS: What I really try to drill down, is to help people feel bad and still make decisions that take them where they want to go. That we’re not just driven by our feeling states. If I’m just being driven by those states, that’s where addiction comes in. Humans spend an inordinate amount of time trying to make bad things happen less and the good things happen more often. Which sounds reasonable, but what it does is never allows us to be fully present. Because I’m always either running from something, or to something else, or pushing something away or trying to hold onto something. And the reality is that life has all of it: The good, the bad, the ugly and the pretty – we need it all.
BR: Before we wrap up, you’ve spoken a lot about mental fitness being as essential as physical fitness. What tools can I use on a daily basis to get the most out of my life and to start building true mental fitness?
RS: These are tough times to be living in. I’m being quarantined with my family. I used to have hair and now I don’t. I think number one, if you want to manage your life, you need to get your baselines down: sleep, hydration, nutrition, movement. And take it easy. Do a little bit better today than you did yesterday. Wake up at the same time every day. Don’t beat yourself up because you’re not meditating for an hour a day or exercising for two hours a day. Just do a little bit better. Don’t start eliminating things; add more water. Add more vegetables. Add a little walk. Don’t try and reinvent the wheel. Pick one or two and work on it. Forget an hour – stop for two minutes and do seven deep breaths. The same time it takes a smoker to smoke a cigarette. You can use these tools during the ad breaks of shows. You can call them micro-meditations. You can stretch in the shower. Do these little things. Take these little steps. They add up. Take it easy on yourself and most of all be nice to yourself.