May 11, 2023
EP. 162 — Building Mental Hygiene with Zak Williams
Mental health advocate, CEO of Prepare Your Mind, and son of the late great Robin Williams – Zak Williams – joins Jameela this week for an in-depth discussion on how to build out mental hygiene. They discuss his personal mental health journey, why digital overload is real issue for all of us, the power of good nutrition and sleep, how meditation has been game-changing for Zak, why multiple self-care approaches can be necessary, and more.
Check out Zak’s company – Prepare Your Mind – on Instagram @youcanpym
Follow Zak on Instagram @zakpym
You can find transcripts for this episode on the Earwolf website.
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162 — Building Mental Hygiene with Zak Williams
[00:00:00] Jameela Hello and welcome to another episode of I Weigh with Jameela Jamil, a podcast against shame. I hope you enjoy today’s episode. It’s it’s one that’s about the kind of holistic approach. Not only the holistic, but a lot about the holistic approach to mental health. And it is with the lovely Zak Williams, who is the son of Robin Williams, who was one of the great comedy actors and just general actors of our time. And he tragically took his life a few years ago and Zak, because of that, has been, I guess, inspired to make advocacy around mental health his cause in life and unexpectedly found great solace and comfort in doing so, a great purpose in doing so. And he’s even created an entire company around mental health. And it is his and I mean this in the most positive way, his crusade in life, having grown up with his own mental health issues and watching his dad suffer and then watching his dad lose his life to suicide. And so it was really cool to have a chat with someone who has really seen it all and been through the mill themselves and who has pulled themselves out, who are still in the process of pulling themselves out with such transparency, and who’s willing to share all the little things, the tips and tricks that he has used to be able to find peace and solace. And this is via research and via the help of experts and people he’s had access to. And a lot of these things that we talk about sound incredibly obvious because it’s shit that we hear in sound bites every so often online, but there’s no real societal emphasis on implementing those simple things because, you know, there’s a lot of money to be made when we’re sick. So we have a society that doesn’t really it sort of shames us when we’re not feeling very well, but doesn’t actually give us tangible steps as to how to pull ourselves out or how to prevent it. And I don’t mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist there, but we all know how this shit works and how capitalism works and how capitalism thrives when we aren’t happy. So I’m just going to leave it at that and say that in this episode we are really getting into the nitty gritty of how one implements real changes in diet, in sleep, in exercise, in their daily routine, in in being very careful around what they’re looking at online to truly try to have a fighting chance at securing mood regulation in a world that is just full of fucking chaos and with devices that are actively harming our mental health, it’s normal to have these things in our faces for a double digit amount of hours in the modern mainstream, especially in the West. And we just kind of get into the chemical issues with that and what it does to our cortisol levels and what it does to our depression and anxiety. He’s a really interesting man and he’s done a lot of soul searching to get to this place. And it was just really nice to have a very simple chat about all of the things that we can tangibly do to take control over our minds and our bodies. It just felt very empowering to know that there’s something beyond just finding the perfect medication. And I also just want to stress we’re very pro medication in this episode. I’m very pro medication. No one suggesting we replace medication. We’re just talking about the fact that medication doesn’t have to be the only thing you can do to regulate your mood and therefore your life. There are lots of things you can add on top that can really lift the floor of your happiness to make it as high as possible so that you feel as good as you can in this very difficult life. So I hope you enjoy it and I hope you learn something from it. And I hope at the very least, it encourages you to do your own research around your body and around things that might be linked in your body to how your brain feels, to how your mood feels throughout the day. Because that’s the only reason I make this podcast is so that we can all learn together and never so that you take my word or my guess word as gospel, but that it encourages you to do your own digging because there is help out there. It’s not always promoted to us if other people can’t make a lot of money off it. And that’s things like lifestyle changes. So I hope you enjoy it and let me know. Send me letters. I love your letters. But for now, this is the adorable Zak Williams. Hi Zac Williams, welcome to I Weigh. How are you?
[00:04:58] Zak I’m excellent, Jameela. How are you?
[00:05:00] Jameela I’m good. It’s so nice to meet you. And thank you for being here. I I’m so excited to talk to you about so many things that you’ve been working on. But I always just want to start with the small question of how has your mental health been your whole life? To ease you in.
[00:05:18] Zak How has my mental health been my whole life? Up and down, all around. I think for me, really what it’s been is a continuous journey towards learning and healing.
[00:05:34] Jameela And how old were you, would you say, when that journey started? I mean, were you even aware of it when it started?
[00:05:39] Zak I’d say catalyst for me was in my early teens. You know, when I was 12, my cousin died by suicide. And it’s when I first started experiencing dysregulation in a way that I personally noticed. Prior to that, I didn’t even know what mental health was or.
[00:06:01] Jameela I mean, even 12 or so young.
[00:06:03] Zak Yeah, 12. 12 was young. Yeah, it was it was, I guess the mid-nineties at this point. And for for me, my cousin was one of my closest friends and he was 13 when he passed away. And it was my first exposure to gun violence and also the relationship between, you know, media and how impressionable we are and how it ultimately impacts our mental health. And so it just just brought up a lot within me that I didn’t really start dealing with until over a decade later.
[00:06:48] Jameela Yeah, it’s quite classic. And can you tell me a bit of how that mood dysregulation looked?
[00:06:54] Zak Sure. What I was prone to anxiety as a kid, I guess you could call well I was was part of the gifted program in terms of school. And I had a tendency to overthink. I had a tendency to be obsessive and thinking I couldn’t sleep at night. That was kind of an overarching theme throughout my entire life. And, you know, when I experienced traumatic events, I tend tended to have an orientation towards either self-medicating or avoidance then actually, you know, versus actually diving in to the challenges, which is, you know, not uncommon for young people.
[00:07:40] Jameela Especially young men. You know, it’s something you and I spoke about on the phone is that so many men are struggling and have been struggling for a long time and seem to be statistically struggling more than ever. Or maybe we’re just hearing about it now, which is great, but it’s so rare for men to talk about it or to be able to feel they can talk to each other about it. And there’s so little information. Increasingly, there is online, but especially when you and I were young, there was nothing out there. Other than just, you know, keep calm and carry on.
[00:08:13] Zak One of the ways in which I thought about things growing up, there was no such thing as mental health unless you found yourself institutionalized. Right. And so it just was was something that no one spoke about, and especially amongst cultures of men. And, you know, the whole underlying theme and culture of masculinity, it was seen as doubly challenging to even acknowledge it in the first place. So I think it’s interesting to see the data come out that says, hey, you know, men are suffering in an equally profound ways, as you know, women, and they’re willing to acknowledge it. Right? I think previously it was just a matter of acknowledging the issue in the first place. And so, you know, I’m glad that we’re we’re taking the first steps towards healing.
[00:09:04] Jameela 100%. So your father, who I have loved my whole life, he struggled immensely with his mental health. And I wonder, was he someone in your life that you were able to talk to about some of these things as you got older and started to understand them?
[00:09:23] Zak Yeah, You know, we we were able to to communicate openly and in a vulnerable way with one another. We were we were very close. I think, you know, in my father’s case, often as a performer, you know, at his core, he just he really lived for helping people laugh, helping people learn. Finding ways to give people, you know, a spark of light in their day or in their lives and. You know, sometimes that was at the detriment of his well-being. And this is not uncommon to other performers experiences, too. You know, I just want to say it wasn’t something that was specifically unique to him, but but he felt it particularly intensely. Especially when it came to. Getting approval, receiving validation and so forth, because for him, that’s what really invigorated him and propelled him forward in his career and his craft. He loved giving people joy and hope and and energizing folks. And when he didn’t necessarily get that response or connection that he was seeking, I think that was very hard for him. Yeah. And he was he was a. In specific ways. He was a savant. He was able to facilitate connections in his mind, unlike anyone I’ve ever met. And, you know, associations of one topic to another topic. And, you know, it gave him an opportunity to improvise in an almost unprecedented way. You know, that quickness, though, has had some challenges associated with it.
[00:11:12] Jameela You can put together negative thoughts or feelings of hopelessness very fast.
[00:11:15] Zak There’s that there’s there’s also the you know, the the experience of rumination and anxiety. And, you know, I experience that personally. And so I’ve had to go through extreme and unusual measures to support and manage my personal experience with the world and all the stimuli it has to offer. And so, you know, I think what we’re seeing too on a cultural level, it’s something that, you know, I think is has kind of crept up on a lot of us is the whole premise of digital overcrowding of we’re feeling overcrowded in our lives and that makes things very challenging. I’d say, you know, I can’t speak for my father, but I can speak for myself. And some of our conversations that quickness or the way in which my mind works has led me to, you know, feel overcrowded in specific situations just because my mind is racing. And and so the concern I have is that experience around rumination and again, having to go through, you know, extreme measures to manage that is something that we ultimately all might need to deal with because of the nature of how we are experiencing the world and that the the sense of overwhelm that’s occurring in so many different contexts and circumstances.
[00:12:52] Jameela So you’ve been thinking about this a lot and working towards this a lot and doing your own kind of experiential based research as well as other research. And you talk a lot about mental health hygiene. And I wondered if you could explain what that is.
[00:13:08] Zak Sure. Yeah. So mental hygiene is not a new term. It’s something that was applied in the context of, you know, the culture of mental health health institutions in the 20th century in some respect, late 19th century in terms of having lifestyle interventions to help manage and support people’s wellbeing. And so, you know, I didn’t know this when I first started using the term, but as I started looking at the historical precedent around it, I understood that it it had in some respects, a association to the culture of institutionalization. I ultimately realized that it was important to establish definitions and use and take an opportunity to really refine the term when it came when when it came to actually calling it out and and exploring it further, because it is it’s not a it wasn’t a commonly used term and it’s one that I think has a lot of import relative to helping people frame how mental health oriented activity, mental wellbeing needs to be a daily habituated process. And so. You know, for me, we started looking at my personal mental hygiene, the mental hygiene of my wife, Olivia Jean Williams, and and working with the chief medical officer of my company and other science and medical advisers that we work with, whether they’re a psychiatrist, whether they’re researchers generally associated with an academic institution in the United States. And we we we in talking through it, we started realizing that the process of of rituals associated with one’s mental well-being is not something that’s integrated into most people’s lives. And what that looks like is, you know, on one on one side, you know, nutrition, what you ingest, what you put in your body, whether it’s it’s, you know, food and some circumstances. Some people require pharmaceuticals and so forth. But, you know, there’s that there’s a nutritional element that’s front and center for me. And then there’s the behavioral element, whether that’s, you know, fitness, mindfulness, meditation therapy, community support, expanding beyond that, looking at specialist interventions like breath work, really looking at an individual as someone who would need. You know, a subset of those things to really create a foundation that’s helpful for them in the course of their life that will kind of orient around prevention so that it doesn’t lead to crisis. And, you know, for me, my personal mosaic that works really well is having a very clear and concise approach to my nutrition. For me, fitness is very much about walking. I need to implement more exercise into my life. But but it is something that’s that’s front and center for me as a priority. Mindfulness for me is absolutely essential. I prioritize gratitude and and rituals associated with gratitude as a core part of my mindfulness exercises over the course of a day. Meditation has been absolutely game changing for me personally. Specifically, I’m a big advocate for transcendental meditation. I’ve gone through the processing and coaching experience and it’s just it’s just like night and day, a day where I practice transcendental meditation a couple of times versus days where I don’t. And and then looking at things like therapy, I’m currently seeking a new therapist, so I’m not actively engaged. Community support absolutely essential for me. I’m in recovery. I have been for several years and things like step work and and fellowship associated with specific anonymous communities are very, very key for me and. And then looking beyond, you know, depending on the day and the like, things like breath work fulfill specific roles on certain d ays. And so, you know, for any individual, there’s all sorts of you know, there’s what I mentioned. There’s also pursuits like having a, uh, a developed spiritual life, having a deep understanding of one’s relationship. Relationship with spirituality is another and element. And there are others too, but. You know, the term mental hygiene relates to applying and practicing the rituals that work best for someone in their daily life.
[00:18:08] Jameela But when you list all of that out. That’s a fucking lot. That’s a that’s a lot to have to do. It’s intimidating. I felt intimidated just listening to it. Even though I see you as a person who’s significantly far in their recovery and I can see how it works for you. You can see how daunting a lot of that sounds if you list it all out together, even though we practice all kinds of wellbeing and hygiene and other areas of our lives. When you think fucking hell, I got a deep breath or I gotta do meditation, transcendental medication. I got to watch what I eat, I’ve got to watch how much I’m on my phone. I go to mindfulness.
[00:18:44] Zak It’s a lot.
[00:18:46] Jameela It’s so it’s so consuming in a world that has filled every fucking minute of our day with nonsense. And and I wonder if we could just break down a few of those things so that they sound a bit less, kind of like they sound more integrative as to like how someone who’s 18 and at college and struggling with these thoughts or feelings doesn’t have a lot of time. I want to break it down into. And that’s not me being critical at all of what you’re saying. I, I wholeheartedly agree. I just know that. Especially, you know, ten years ago, there would have been a time road have been like, well fuck that I haven’t got fucking time for that. And it’s so worth it now that I’m at an age where my mental health is my number one priority in life. But let’s start with nutrition. So what nutrition changes did you make to to make yourself feel better emotionally?
[00:19:37] Zak Well, there’s two specific things. One is understanding what I could eat or what it was that I was eating that would benefit my mental well-being and ultimately my mental health and understanding what I shouldn’t be eating. You know, it’s important relative to the conversation around mental hygiene and listing all the things I neglected to mention sleep, which is an essential element of it, too.
[00:20:00] Jameela And what I eat completely changes how I sleep, which is something I only realized, really, in the last few years. I was like if I eat a lot of a lot of carbohydrate at night. I’m not sleeping till 4:00 in the morning. If I eat sugar after about 7 p.m., I’m not going to sleep anytime soon. Like there are certain things that if they spike my insulin, I have to be very careful and I have to eat quite light at night time it’s crazy that we’ve made dinner the big meal of the day. Given that then my digestive system is just like up working awake thinks that we’re just getting going. Like I’m going to go out partying all night. I’m not. I’m just lying there struggling with insomnia at 2:00 in the morning on my own, listening to my fucking boyfriend peacefully asleep because he eats like a sensible adult.
[00:20:49] Zak I hear you. I hear you.
[00:20:51] Jameela I feel you.
[00:20:51] Zak So relative to nutrition, it’s pretty straightforward in terms of what we should eat. It’s. It’s generally, you know, less is more. Whole foods are essential. You know, for me specifically, I’m I’m very oriented around certain things, like eating more vegetables and not eating a ton of grains and so forth. I also can’t eat things like, you know, lentils and beans, which generally are quite healthy for people.
[00:21:29] Jameela Is that because of farting or is that because of mental health?
[00:21:31] Zak Um, they’ll actually make me sick.
[00:21:33] Jameela Ok fair fair.
[00:21:34] Zak I can’t I can’t process a specific protein in a way that.
[00:21:40] Jameela I just get gassy. I was just wondering, I was just being weird.
[00:21:43] Zak I hear you. I hear you loud and clear. Yeah. So, so, so generally it’s less is more. And then in terms of and then, you know, I would advocate for certain things like, fermented foods. We just don’t eat a lot of fermented foods and they’re quite good for our, our neurotransmitter health specifically great for things like our GABA system which is great for information modulation.
[00:22:10] Jameela What’s the GABA system?
[00:22:10] Zak So GABA is it’s a molecule, it’s gamma aminobutyric acid, it functions as a neurotransmitter. And we have a system in our body called the GABA system that’s responsible for managing information uptake. So if we’re GABA deficient, things feel very overwhelming for us and if our our GABA is appropriately supported. We’re calmer. The information is more manageable. Things don’t feel kind of out of out of control. Fermented foods are great because they’re, you know, whether it’s things like kimchi or sauerkraut or yogurt and things like that, because because they they generally lead to supporting the GABA system.
[00:22:56] Jameela Well, wait, wait, wait. Sorry. Just to start, because I haven’t heard about this before. So the GABA system, I understand that it works on neurotransmitters which are helping deliver signals and messages to our brain. Right. So is there a large deficiency in GABA in people or is there just so much information to take in that everyone must be deficient in order to be able to handle this much information like I. I’m so glad that I experience being a teenager without being bombarded where I had to seek out information. It didn’t hunt me down. And so are we in a because of diet or because of lifestyle generally deficient in GABA?
[00:23:33] Zak Well, so. So GABA has a relationship with cortisol.
[00:23:40] Jameela Mm hmm. And cortisol is what is the chemical that gets released when you’re stressed?
[00:23:45] Zak Yeah, it’s a stress hormone.
[00:23:46] Jameela And when that that that gets released traditionally, then our body releases insulin because it thinks we’re in an emergency.
[00:23:54] Zak Yeah. Yeah. So a lot of these neurotransmitters and hormones are interconnected with one another. But but there’s two things that are happening. One is we’re generally not getting a good amount of GABA in our diets. Because we’re not eating, at least in the Western context, we’re not eating a ton of fermented foods. We’re not eating a ton of, you know, specific vegetables. And so that leaves us deficient in some ways. And then, you know, we’re having a lot of stressors. We just have, you know, a good deal of cortisol present in our lives. There are certain things that are dietary related to that. Sugar, too much sugar has a relationship with with cortisol. And so, you know, that leads to what we shouldn’t eat. And, you know, in the case of things that we really need to be mindful of, it’s too much sugar. It’s specific fats, like seed oils. It’s processed food. Those are the big three. And and if we’re if we’re. If we’re eating the wrong things, it can lead our it can lead us feeling disregulated because we’ll have things like cortisol spikes we can ultimately lead to. You know, if we’re eating way too much sugar regularly, we can get things like type two diabetes or we can be pre-diabetic. Ultimately leading to metabolic issues, which creates challenges for our system and ultimately has co-morbidities relating to things like anxiety and depression associated with it. If we’re looking at, you know, nutrition in more depth, there’s things like a healthy microbiota, you know, a healthy gut brain connection, which plays a role in serotonin synthesis, actually. And we actually need to be thinking about the probiotics prebiotics And ultimately, you know, how we’re nurturing our our gut flora to help support our serotonin synthesis environment. And that’s an essential thing, too. There are elements related to things that we can eat to better support our catecholamine system, which is which is made up of what, dopamine or epinephrine and epinephrine. So, you know, and.
[00:26:18] Jameela And what do those things do?
[00:26:20] Zak Well, and to simplify it, it relates to dopamine, which is, you know, our pleasure, you know, the pleasure chemical it’s called. And and then adrenaline. Right. Which is very much relating to, you know, how our body activates in certain ways. Some might attribute it to, you know, being in a fight or flight mode. Of course, cortisol plays a part in that, too. But but if we’re not nurturing our catecholamine system, we can we can end up burning out our adrenals and, you know, getting exhausted. If you’ve ever felt burnout in a specific way that’s relating to our adrenals. It can be hard to focus. You can get very. You can get very challenged in terms of having motivation. It can feel like any sort of activity is is like moving the world.
[00:27:21] Jameela This is what I’m going through right now. This has been like eight months of my life where I’m just kind of an adrenal shut down and everything’s come to a complete standstill. And I feel like I’m 85 years old. And I, whenever I talk to anyone about it, at least half of my friends are feeling the same way. And we all have high stress jobs and high stress lives. And I have only been learning in the last kind of six or seven months about the links to diet and mental health and the links to lifestyle and mental health, because we’re very I’m not going to I’m not going to put my tin hat on okay, fully, I’m going to have it near me when I say that we are very much so led away from the idea that we are supposed to think of anything other than medication as something that can help you with your mental health. Right. And there’s a big profiting market for that. And I am again very pro meds. I’m pro meds. I take them on. I need them. I don’t take regular daily medication, but I take occasional medication to calm down my anxiety when I know I’m not going to be able to self-regulate it. But we we really like doctors, really go out of their way to press the idea that food isn’t medicine. And of course, food isn’t medicine, but food is medicinal in that it can be helpful in a holistic and wholesome and whole approach towards your health. You need lots of different things. As we’re hearing in this episode, you need lots of different things to balance out your complicated computer of a brain. But but to deny that nutrition is a vital part of it. And it feels like now we’re coming into a modern age where that’s becoming a slightly more accepted conversation. But I still see doctors online slamming anyone who claims that there is a relationship between gut health and mental health. And given that the two are literally connected. And that there are brain cells inside of your stomach. It feels obscene to still be at a place where it feels. It feels ludicrous and also slightly suspicious that we can’t even investigate the fact that there could be a link, given the fact that we all feel better when we’re eating foods that are more nutritious emotionally.
[00:29:44] Zak Well, yeah, well, one could make the argument that food is medicine, that the food as medicine movement is actually picking up momentum in clinical and research communities as well. In the sense that. And I’ll just.
[00:29:59] Jameela No, I know. I think I just have a responsibility to make sure that no one ever thinks that what we’re saying on this podcast is like, replace your medicine with food.
[00:30:06] Zak Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, totally. You know, I think, you know, for me, I think pharmaceuticals are an essential part of one’s toolkit.
[00:30:14] Jameela Yeah.
[00:30:15] Zak As as is nutrition. Nutrition needs to be part of one’s toolkit as well.
[00:30:20] Jameela But even pharmaceuticals don’t have it all right. A huge study came out at the end of last year saying that they’ve just recently discovered the SSRI, which is a serotonin balancer, which is what most antidepressants are, don’t actually have a connection, that serotonin and depression are not actually connected, and therefore, they’re not actually sure what SSRI serotonin medication has been doing for people with depression all this time. And they’re wondering if some of it is placebo effect. I mean, that is that’s main big pharma that that have had to come out and admit that actually maybe maybe some of this has been wrong. And I advise everyone to go and do their own research on that. But it was mainstream news last year and that was a big shock where it’s like, okay, we don’t have all the answers. Therefore, we cannot demonize alternative practices of also supporting our brain. Like, sometimes I worry that the reason that enough time and study hasn’t gone into something is because it would threaten lucrative markets. And so we just need to continue to push for more transparency. And I think it’s also a really important conversation because I think so we’re still so new to the conversation around mental health. So a lot of people associate like, well, I have to have had a trauma for me to be mentally ill or I have to have something bad going on in my life or, you know, we’re always looking for circumstantial things that could cause mental health issues, which absolutely there is a link. And I know that a lot of my mental health stuff comes from my experiences, but I also have some best friends where they don’t actually have any discernable issues, quote unquote, that are making them sad. But they are frozen with depression. And that is clearly coming from a chemical place. And we are still not really having the conversation about the the neurological imbalances, hormonal imbalances that are massively causing the same exact feelings as if you are dealing with a trauma or a loss.
[00:32:15] Zak Yes.
[00:32:16] Jameela And it’s it’s it’s one of the most important conversations in mental health is to say something doesn’t always have to have happened. You might have a hormonal or neurological imbalance. And that’s why medication can be very handy. But it’s also something that can be supported by supplementing your your gut health or your diet or certain chemicals like GABA, as you were saying, like GABA really helped my brother.
[00:32:46] Zak Yeah, well, you know, I think you bring up a really interesting point and one a really interesting point because. You know, historically speaking, if you’re talking about defining trauma. You know, if you’re looking at kind of how it was qualified within within the cultural context involved, if you’re talking about, you know, the 20th century and so forth, like going to war. Right. And. You know, you had, whether it was a thousand yard stare or some sort of some sort of.
[00:33:22] Jameela Classic discernable PTSD.
[00:33:23] Zak Right just some sort of consequence associated with that. And then, you know, over time we started started saying, hey, other people are traumatized, you know, victims of of sexual violence. That’s that’s another one that’s kind of, you know, seemed very, very highly correlated with trauma. But but over time. What’s becoming clearer is that more and more of us are experiencing, you know, the trauma of modern life. And as a direct result of that, you know, you know, we often relate relate, you know, someone being traumatized to reaching crisis when they’re dis-regulated and get to a point where they’re they need to be under medical supervision or, you know, institutionalized or, you know, something like that. But. But what I’m seeing, at least in terms of what the socio medical data is starting to present, is that more and more situations are leading to or specific situations are leading to people expressing symptoms of trauma. And it might not lead to the point where they where they’re reaching, you know, institute, you know, the point where they need to where they need, you know, medical supervision or or so forth. But we all have this kind of collect not everybody, but but many of us have this kind of collective low grade or or, you know, mid-grade trauma that modern life is kind of catalyzing within us.
[00:34:59] Jameela Well, an example of that on a kind of like what sounds like quite a frivolous level is that our brains have and I’ve spoken about this on the podcast before, but our brains haven’t updated to, what modern day life being in danger looks like. Right. So we kind of still have a very old fashioned brain that thinks that when we sense something, an example is you can see lots of negative comments or negative tweets that say directed at you. It can trigger a similar response to if your life was in danger thousands of years ago and your brain can’t operate, that there is a difference in the level of threat necessarily because your hormones, your stress hormones have already been released and you feel like you are in fight or flight now, just from writing on a phone that you can turn off and that is not in any way to diminish that, because I have experience that we have all experience that when we’re watching something horrific happening on the news, like our stress levels go up, we there’s a lot of very divisive rhetoric out there and people talking to each other in a really appalling and depressing way and newscasters talking to politicians. But there’s just so much going on and bombarding our brains with stressful thought that then starts to kind of like fatigue, our adrenal system. And it’s it’s not really something that we understand. And I think like older generations make fun of younger generations for this, but it’s a very real and constant and current pervasive threat.
[00:36:26] Zak Right. Well, you know, this this goes back to the point of digital overcrowding, right? In the sense that we are experiencing fight or flight responses. We are getting you know, there’s a whole classic, classic framing, at least in the context of building technology that those dopamine hits. But we need to identify
[00:36:45] Jameela As in we get a dopamine hit from looking at stuff online.
[00:36:47] Zak From, you know, liking things, from receiving validation and the like. But but coinciding with all of that, we get cortisol hits, adrenaline boosts and, you know, everything associated with, you know, interfacing with technology. And the challenge is when it comes to media and so forth, it’s oriented around engagement, whether it’s good for you, bad for you or neutral for you. And, you know, a lot of engagement comes from, you know, fear based activity. Hey, you know, we’ve got all this negative stuff in the news that you can’t stop scrolling through, but it’s eliciting a response in you that puts you that makes you feel in danger. Right. And and that in turn, I think, is ultimately having a a a degrading effect on our collective mental health.
[00:37:36] Jameela Is it creating like a hypervigilance. Right. And like that that that tendency that you strain your neck to see what happened in the car wreck as you pass it by? Like there’s a kind of not even schadenfreude, but like it’s that there’s a hypervigilance to protect yourself of like what’s coming.
[00:37:52] Zak Oh, 1,000%, 1,000%. And so, you know, I think in the case of things like burnout, which is becoming a very, very real reaching, almost epidemic proportion issue, we’re not I think collectively we’re not doing enough to take care of ourselves and and our, you know, adrenal environments and so forth. You can recover through diet and things like rest, but they require conscious.
[00:38:20] Jameela Takes a long fucking time.
[00:38:21] Zak Focused activity to manage that and you know, can take weeks at a minimum. But, but then over time it’s like, hey, you’re recovered. Then you want to orient around not subjecting yourself to the same thing over and over where you’re just hitting this cycle because. It can. It can lead to the entire. It can just leave the entire system being run down. Right?
[00:38:48] Jameela Hundred percent. So, okay, so then let’s break this down. So we have diet. We have learning more and understanding more of the impacts of sugar and what the impact of glucose spikes can do repeatedly over time to your brain and the fatigue it can give you that makes you feel worse. Something we haven’t touched on, but I think is fairly obvious by now is the fact that alcohol can be a depressant. It’s very much so associated via extraordinary marketing as always a good time and a happy and joyous sort of celebration adjacent thing. And I’m not anti alcohol, but I also know that it can really significantly impact friends of mine who already have a predisposition towards depression. It is a depressant and a downer a lot of the time. And so even if you don’t feel it on the night two three days later, I watch my friends go into a dark tunnel and they forget because it was several days ago that they drank alcohol, that there’s a link between that and their brain. So it’s something that we need to be more vocal about to warn people at least. You talk about meditation. Does that have to be a long, a long part of the day if someone’s busy.
[00:40:00] Zak No, no, not at all. Well, you can meditation can be as much as it or as little as a few minutes a day. The thing for me, I found, you know, again, I call that transcendental meditation earlier. It for me was an incredible way to the function as a sort of stress dump.
[00:40:18] Jameela I don’t really understand what transcendental meditation is.
[00:40:21] Zak It involves a specific process that, you know, you need to go through a little bit of training around. But once you go through training, you can keep it with you the rest of your life. It’s not necessarily spiritually oriented, it’s mainly around a very procedural set of steps that you apply to meditating that that’s shown to be, you know, there’s research around it being effective for things like stress management and so forth. And so, you know, I’ve started doing it. I’ve been doing it since the beginning of this year, and it’s been transformational for me.
[00:41:06] Jameela So then another thing that I think you keep getting at when you talk about digital overload is preventative care in not exposing ourselves to this much Hyperstimulation right.
[00:41:17] Zak Yeah, I think that’s an important element.
[00:41:19] Jameela Rather than just always having to clean up the mess from afterwards.
[00:41:23] Zak Well, you know, unfortunately, we’re constantly cycling, you know, I would say. I do it mindlessly. I can’t speak for others. But, you know, I’m cycling through Reddit and Instagram and TikTok and it’s just not very productive activity. I’m getting bombarded with little bits of information again, true or otherwise. And and it’s just not terribly useful or helpful for my mindset. And, you know, there’s there’s, there’s quality bits of info in there. And a lot of us are now getting education from things like TikTok and YouTube and so forth. But even Reddit. And you know, the challenge with all this, though, is it’s not structured activity, it’s not oriented towards a specific goal. It’s just kind of, you know, scattershot, a little pell me;l oriented around engagement, meaning like the only thing.
[00:42:16] Jameela And it’s a distraction, right?
[00:42:17] Zak Yeah.
[00:42:18] Jameela It’s a it’s a way of kind of self-medicating in a way in that like it’s it’s like you’re able to escape the thing that you’re thinking about that’ll make you feel better. And sometimes those things are hard or boring and it’s easier to go on I know this because I did it. It’s easy to just go on the phone and look at 1000 dog videos, which do make you feel better and do give you dopamine temporarily. But you also have to carve out the time to do the work, which I know sounds super fucking obvious, but if it was so obvious and if we really had a grip on it, we’d all be doing it. And we’re not. We’re getting sucked into tech.
[00:42:54] Zak Yeah. Yeah. We are getting sucked into into tech because it’s easy to do. The friction around interacting with it is quite low.
[00:43:01] Jameela Mm hmm. And it’s also, we require instant gratification, don’t we? So it’s just like instant, like sugar stimulants stimulation online, and watching, like everyone looking at their phones while they’re watching something on the television at the same time. We are becoming just sort of like it’s just we’re addicts who are just being constantly fed. And I think that’s this like kind of growing conversation around ADHD, but some of it actual clinical ADHD and some of it is just kind of behavioral addictive patterns that are becoming hyper normalized aren’t actually a clinical pathology, but they’re just like how we’re being encouraged to live in the West.
[00:43:37] Zak Well, you know, we’re as human beings, we’re generally oriented around what you call quick fixes. You know, with sugar, it’s cheap energy with with things like that.
[00:43:49] Jameela Coffee.
[00:43:49] Zak Yeah. You know, with things like with things like technology and social media and so forth. It’s low effort, high reward activity. It just happens to have a lot of detriments associated with it versus, you know, like books which are high effort, high reward activity. You know, there’s nutritional whether it comes to, you know. The high dense nutrient, whole foods and things like that. Your body can convert that into really quality energy, but it requires a little bit more work. And we’re oriented towards just eating sugar and so forth because it’s a quick fix. It gives us a huge boost and then a huge a huge
[00:44:37] Jameela Crash.
[00:44:38] Zak Crash. And so, you know, I think the key thing is, is, you know, and this goes in in league with the mindfulness activity is understanding, hey, why are we doing what we’re doing? You know, first off, understanding our bias is associated with. But when the bias is, am I doing this to get energy? Am I doing this because I’m bored? Am I doing this because I’m procrastinating in favor of doing something else? And, you know, a lot of what we do is yeah, at least in my case, is, you know, coping mechanisms, right? It’s why I use tech is because I’m generally, you know, avoiding doing not tech in every circumstance, but, you know. That’s why I scrawl TikTok and Reddit and so forth. It’s because it generally relates to me avoiding doing something that I need to be doing over or could be considered harder. That requires more effort and that will ultimately be more rewarding, but requires me to put in, you know, minutes, hours, days and a set of sequential steps that need to be structured and all these things, that’s that’s hard.
[00:45:41] Jameela Well, it’s also embarrassing because I you know, I am someone who’s very into instant gratification. I am the laziest person I’ve ever met. And I, I so funny the way that I feel like when I don’t have time, you know, to do that. I don’t have that three days or that week to read that book or that month to read that book because I’m a slow reader. Like, I don’t I don’t have time. But then I look back at the month that I thought I didn’t have time in and I and I look at my screen time on my phone and I’m like, you fuck twat, You had loads of time and you spent it all just absorbing constant hits like a coke addict of of just drips and drops of information without actually learning the whole thing of anything. It’s just constant snacking and no meals. And I do half the time and I burn so much of that time looking at pointless bullshit online whilst having convinced myself that I needed to take a shortcut that I totally didn’t need to do. And that hasn’t made me happier.
[00:46:41] Zak Yeah, well, you know, the irony around it is and, you know, I created a whole company around distilled nutrition that you that’s meant to be in chews, that’s meant to be in like simple forms that support, you know, nutritional well mental wellbeing using nutrition. But, you know the whole the irony of it is is that throughout all that we’re advocating for, looking at all the hard stuff that you need to be doing. Right. Because I’m like, yeah, you can take this. You can you can do certain things as kind of crutches or fixes. But really what you need to do is take a step back and look at the whole system and. You know, I in creating a company that.
[00:47:27] Jameela This is Prepare Your Mind.
[00:47:28] Zak This is Prepare Your Mind. This is PYM in creating this company. We I didn’t necessarily, you know, I set out to create products to help people, but also educational solutions. You know, the whole thing is if you have someone engaged in taking a product and you can give it up, give them an opportunity to read something or engage in a certain way, then just tell them this isn’t this isn’t this isn’t the way just doing this one thing. You have to actually look at how you’re treating yourself across the spectrum. And and, you know, we decided to kind of take. You know, a broader approach towards this, Just because part of my role as a mental health advocate is finding ways in which you can engage people. And then when you have them engaged and give them the opportunity to learn more things, we need to pride ourselves around giving, you know, helping people broaden their horizons around what they can do to take care of themselves.
[00:48:27] Jameela And gain some autonomy. Right? It’s like gain some feeling of self-control, of like, oh, okay, I can make this nutritional change, okay I can spend less time on my phone, I can read more books, I can make sure that I don’t look at screens after 9 p.m. at night. I can you know, there’s certain things that we know we can do and when we are reminded to do those things and we are, we are galvanized to do those things because there’s a higher reward of happiness on the other side or more mental stability then. I think that it’s so uplifting, it’s so empowering. And so I think it’s great that you do that with this company. And and in these chew s, you’ve kind of taken supplements that we don’t normally associate with mental well-being, and you’ve put them together in a form people can eat.
[00:49:15] Zak Yeah, well, I mean, the quick, you know, the, the elevator pitch around or the elevator story, the elevator narrative, I’m not really pitching right now, but.
[00:49:28] Jameela We’ve established we’re in an elevator.
[00:49:30] Zak Yes, exactly. We’re in an elevator. And, you know, after after my my dad passed away. I was self-medicating, using alcohol to manage the complex PTSD, the Generalized anxiety disorder and the depression I was diagnosed with and I ultimately found. You know, a mode of healing, a path to healing through mental health advocacy. And that was very helpful for healing from the trauma. But when I stopped using alcohol to self-medicate, was more anxious and ever was depressed. And, you know, my now wife, Olivia June Williams, went through went through a similar journey to me. She her sister died by suicide when she was ten years old. And she spent a couple of decades trying to learn about her, about what would work for her in terms of lifestyle intervention and so forth. She introduced me to nutrition. She said, Hey, you should look at these nutritional solutions, specifically, you know, sublingually absorbed solutions that had amino acids in them.
[00:50:44] Jameela That just means under the tongue, right?
[00:50:45] Zak Yeah. Yeah. Well, in a liquid. And I. I, I was super skeptical. I started taking these products and was able to sort out my anxiety in two days. And.
[00:50:59] Jameela What products did you take that got rid of your anxiety in two days?
[00:51:01] Zak It was it was just it was this company that sold products through her doctor. And and, you know, it tasted terrible. And it was you know, it was things like GABA and L-theanine and and ultimately there was other products like 5 HTP and and serotonin synthesis supporters. And it was like it was like for me personally, it was miraculous. I didn’t know that I could feel this way. You know, not feeling kind of moderately depressed all the time. Not being anxious to the point where I was having trouble kind of going going anywhere. And to have that lifted for me was like, night and day. It was like. It was like I didn’t know I could feel. I didn’t know I could feel in the way that I felt. And so, you know, I started researching further and ultimately ended up creating this company. Prepare Your Mind. My middle name is Pim. My dad gave me the name, so I thought it was fitting to, you know, have an approach towards, you know, honoring, you know, the name while we could have it stand for something prepare your mind and, you know, create a brand that stood for mental health advocacy while we created products in education relating to nutrition for mental wellbeing. It just kind of all fit together in a meaningful way. And. And, you know, now we’re hearing these stories time and time again. It’s like, hey, I didn’t know nutrition was a thing. I didn’t know you could actually support X, Y, and Z using nutrition. And it’s deeply satisfying knowing that we’re turning people on to new ways of expanding the toolkit. Right? That’s what it’s all about. But, you know, through this whole process, too, we realized we can educate people around all the expansive set of mental hygiene solutions that they can use, whether they take our products or not. You know, the main thing is our products are helpful, but.
[00:53:12] Jameela They start the conversation.
[00:53:14] Zak They start the conversation. Exactly. That’s what’s most important to us.
[00:53:18] Jameela I am my boyfriend actually got we got a bunch of your product a few years ago via a friend and we didn’t look at what was in them. They were just gummies. So we ate them. Especially my boyfriend. And he loves a gummy and I just presumed they were CBD because I did genuinely notice that he was calmer while he was totally addicted to your sweets and I thought it was maybe placebo effect or there must be some sort of CBD. And I’m not advocating for the product. I can’t speak to any specificity. But, I just like when I was getting ready to interview, I was like, I swear I know this fucking packaging. And then I went back through it and a friend of mine was like, Yeah, I gave you that years ago. And I remember James. I mean, he went through every fucking tin. I barely got a look in, but, but there was a noticeable change in him so I, I am, I’m keen to try that again now like more intentionally and see what’s in them, but I think it’s fucking brilliant that you have started this conversation at this level and that you are pushing for this. And I think it is. I think in ten years time we’re going to look back and laugh that we didn’t know more about these very simple links. And I think that that information has been subdued and paid less attention to deliberately because there is so much money to be made from sickness in the in the United States of America. And so it is exciting to meet more people who are now looking for a 360 degree approach to mental health, meditation, exercise, exercise being so key and so important and such a game changer for me. And getting a dog has been an amazing part.
[00:54:59] Zak Dogs are great they’re amazing.
[00:55:00] Jameela because I have to go out and I have to run around, but I really appreciate it. And I also just want to stress one last time before we go, which is that still take your medication. But this is
[00:55:13] Zak Yeah, yeah.
[00:55:13] Jameela That this is no way trying to replace medication. It’s just trying to make sure that you can continue to raise the floor of your mental health as much as possible and take as much control as possible and feel as good as you can because meds can take me so far, but they still can’t alone do what exercise, nutrition, sleep and less time on my phone can also do together.
[00:55:35] Zak Yeah. Look, I mean, it’s all about balance, right? The thing is there’s a process or there’s protocols called adjunct protocols in which you can do something in conjunction with something else. That’s one of the things I advocate for, is that like, look, you can take meds and so forth. You can also eat well. You can also prioritize sleep. These are all things that don’t need to be mutually exclusive with one another and and.
[00:56:05] Jameela Just do what you can because the world is really fucking hard. Obviously, do what you can. Grab it, grab whatever you can, and know that each psychological condition requires different things. There are different imbalances, different chemical imbalance of different hormonal imbalances. No one thing is a catch all, but please God, like let this conversation be something that steers you towards really starting to investigate. If you can access bloodwork going and finding out like, am I deficient in anything that could be fucking with my hormones and therefore fucking with my brain like it has been the, the most revolutionary like journey of my life the last six or seven months having it. And I got forced into it cause I got so sick, but everything came to a standstill and I’ve been unable to work for months. If I hadn’t had this podcast, I wouldn’t have had a job and I got forced into it. And please don’t let yourself crash the way I have because I have crashed and I have burned and I am now talking to you as a a crisp, as a burned piece of cheese at the bottom of your oven. That’s what I am now feeling like. And I would love for people to not get to that point of mental and physical breakdown before they take everything into their own hands because it is a hugely empowering journey. But when you get as far down the toilet as I have, it’s now going to take me like a year to crawl out of and you can be more preventative than I can hopefully. If I may be so bold just to say that, I just think it’s really cool as someone who grew up watching your dad put something really beautiful into the world, like to see that you are now doing the same in a different way, but all kind of altered towards the same goal of making people happier is really cool to see, and I really appreciate it and admire your journey and what you’ve taken that grief and and used it to fuel.
[00:57:55] Zak Well, thank you. It means so much to me. And, you know, the feeling is mutual. I appreciate your vulnerability in doing everything you do to help bring light to issues like this. It’s really important to me.
[00:58:06] Jameela Well, otherwise it was all for nothing. You know what I mean, it was just all for fucking nothing. Why did I go through all that? Why? Why? Why was I in so much pain if I can’t turn it into if I can’t recycle it into something that makes the world better and like, it makes me feel in control of what happened somewhat. Not you can never be fully in control of anything, but it makes me feel like, okay, you know what I am at that I am at the wheel here and I can steer this in a direction that’s going to leave me feeling like it was maybe not worth it, but it was for something.
[00:58:37] Zak I love it. I love it.
[00:58:39] Jameela It’s been so nice to meet you, Zak. And I, uh. I look forward to seeing the continued research coming out of your company, PYM and I look forward to continuing to watch your advocacy, and I appreciate that while this conversation can sound to some people like we’re just spelling out the obvious, there’s a reason that conversation still needs to be had, because we talk a lot about these things, but we’re never encouraged, or really made to feel like we have the time to do it and we have to do it now more than ever.
[00:59:10] Zak Music to my ears. You know, I think we need to hit upon these points time and time again for really to really get the behavior change in place, because changing people’s behavior takes time. It needs to occur on a daily basis or we need to be reminded on a daily basis to really implement those rituals. So excited for everything to come.
[00:59:32] Jameela Well, before you go, will you please tell me, Zak Williams, what do you weigh?
[00:59:37] Zak I Weigh family relationships. My friends and my health. Above all else at this time.
[00:59:46] Jameela That’s great. Thank you.
[00:59:48] Zak Thank you.
[00:59:51] Jameela Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode. I Weigh with Jameela Jamil is produced and researched by myself, Jameela Jamil, Erin Finnegan and Kimmie Gregory. It is edited by Andrew Carson. And the beautiful music you are hearing now is made by my boyfriend, James Blake. If you haven’t already, please rate review and subscribe to the show. It’s a great way to show your support. We also have a bonus series exclusively on Stitcher Premium called Ask Jameela Anything. Check it out. You can get a free month of Stitcher Premium by going Stitcher.com/premium and using the promo code I Weigh. Lastly over at way we would love to hear from you and share what you weigh at the end of this podcast. You can leave us a voicemail at 18186605543 or email us what you weigh at IWeighpodcast@gmail.com. And now we would love to pass the mic to one of our fabulous listeners.
[01:00:43] Listener I weigh my smile and my humor. I weigh being a great partner and a good daughter and a great granddaughter and a nice sister. I weigh being a good, compassionate person who has nothing but good intentions for our world. I weigh being myself, no matter who is around, and I weigh my journey to self-love.
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