Ep 253: How to Clean Up a Mental Mess

Dr. Caroline Leaf, author and clinical neuroscientist, shares wisdom from her years of study and practice helping kids develop healthy minds. She offers us practical tips on what parents can do to help their teens build mental resilience for years to come.

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Full Show Notes

It will come as no surprise to parents up and down the country to hear that we are in the midst of a mental health crisis, and it is our children and adolescents who are bearing the brunt of it.

Every generation faces change, experiencing something completely unique and different to the last - whether that’s technological, political, socioeconomic or something else entirely. Change is life’s constant companion. However, when the pace of change accelerates but we do not adapt our methods for managing life’s chaos along with it, our mental health suffers.

The model our society has in place for managing mental health has remained largely unchanged over the last 50 years and it is no longer keeping pace with our mental health needs. This has left us in a mental mess; one that is felt most acutely by the youngest members of our society.

A change in approach is long overdue, and if we want our children to rise to life’s challenges today, we need to adapt our own thinking so that we can equip our kids with the tools they need to thrive now.

To learn what we can do to help our teenagers manage their mental health and find peace of mind, we’re talking to Dr Caroline Leaf, author of How to Help Your Child Clean Up Their Mental Mess.

Caroline is a communication pathologist and cognitive neurologist who specializes in helping people to see the power of their mind and find mental peace. With over 40 years of research and writing in this area, she is a best-selling author of 19 books, has a top-rated podcast, and currently lectures at academic, medical, corporate, and religious conferences around the world.

In our interview, we’re talking about the impact our mind has on our brain, body and lives and how managing our teen’s mental health starts with managing our own.

The Mind Is Not The Brain

When we talk about the mind and the brain, we often use the two words interchangeably. But the mind and brain are not the same thing, says Caroline - they’re separate. It is our mind that actually processes life. The mind translates life to the brain, and the brain responds on a neurochemical and physical level and directs the bodily response. 

In the study of psycho-neurobiology, Caroline explains, we look at how the mind changes both the biology of the brain and the body, and how this mind-brain-body connection impacts us and influences how we show up in life.

If we look at how a person is showing up, how they are communicating, how they are feeling in their body, we can read the signs that tell us the story behind them. Then, Caroline says, we can help that person process the story in a very organized and sequential way to understand its source, reconceptualize it, and influence how it plays out in their future.

Because stuff has happened and will happen, Caroline says, and you can’t change that fact. So, what we need to know is what is happening inside of our minds and what we can do to manage it.

Caroline describes her system, which she calls the neurocycle, as the cyclical process of how life becomes a part of us and how we can, in turn, influence life. She explains that we are all constantly neurocycling and we’re either doing it well and managing, or we’re not and it’s messy. A messy mind means a messy brain, messy body and a messy life. 

But over the last 50 years, this mental messiness has been reduced down to a set of symptoms to diagnose, medicate and ultimately eliminate. Ignoring the complexity, the massiveness of a person’s unique story, Caroline says, does not help to clean up this messiness. Symptoms are just the tip of the iceberg. 

Experiencing a mental mess is okay, she says, so long as we read the signs and do something about it. We need to take the time to understand our mind-brain-body connection and how we can better manage its impact on our lives. Helping a person manage their mind is absolutely something we can teach ourselves and our children, Caroline says.

Helping Your Teen Manage Their Mind

What does managing your mind even mean?, Caroline asks. In the episode, she shares a simple example of how an everyday interaction can turn into a behavioral pattern and spiral into a messy situation if both a parent’s and a child’s mind isn’t properly managed.

Say something happened that really threw your teen for a loop at school. They come home, throw their bag down, and get frustrated or snap at you. And as a parent, you react to their bad attitude, letting your emotions rule you in a way that can lead to immediate conflict. Let’s say that this happens on a continual basis, and your child starts to withdraw to avoid the conflict and stops communicating with you. So, you take the child to a psychiatrist, who diagnoses them and gives them medication and a label like clinical depression or ADHD.

That is not mind management, Caroline says. What happened in that example is just spiraling into more and more of a mental mess. 

Managing this messy situation starts with the parent’s mental health. If we could put a policy in place to help the mental health crisis that we are in, Caroline says, it would be to work on helping parents to help themselves first.

When a parent hasn’t managed their own mind, it impacts their child. Children, especially adolescents, Caroline explains, will look at the level of distress you feel about their distress and feel even worse about themselves. As parents, in trying to protect or connect without regulating our response, we may unintentionally make the situation more messy.

In the episode, Caroline explains the five simple steps you can take to manage your mind if you find yourself facing a difficult situation with your teen. By taking these steps, you can rewire the network that your response comes from. Your neurophysiology shifts to one that you are empowered to control, Caroline says, and you can say the right thing to your child and they can learn how to respond. That is mind management.

Life is not going to be perfect; you cannot insulate your teen from everything. But, Caroline says, bring the five-step process into your lifestyle and you can not only manage your mind but teach your teenager how to manage their own too.

In the Episode…

We have a fascinating episode today with Caroline! In addition to explaining the mind-brain-body connection and her five-step process to manage it, we also talk about:

  • The oxygen mask principle
  • How to manage your reaction to distress triggers
  • Empowering our teens with critical thinking skills

Thanks for listening! If you want to hear more from Caroline, check out her website and follow her on X as @DrCarolineLeaf. Don’t forget to share and subscribe, and we’ll see you next week!

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Caroline Leaf
Caroline Leaf
Neuroscientist, mental health & mind expert, bestselling author, researcher, activist, mother 📲Text me: +1 (833) 285-3747
Ep 253: How to Clean Up a Mental Mess
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