I’d like to give an enormous hat tip to Dr. Peter Attia for championing the integral role our emotional health plays in the overall quality and length of our life. He is shining a beacon on the many ways that our emotional health impacts our physical and cognitive health, our most treasured personal relationships and maybe most importantly — how well we actually know ourselves.
From the outside looking in, Dr. Peter Attia certainly seems to be a shining example of living the good life. He has a hugely successful career in medicine, is a renowned authority on the subject of longevity and good health, is in great physical and cognitive shape, and is married with three children. He practices what he preaches. In other words, he has checked all the boxes for a successful, happy life.
Yet in recent years, while writing his newest book, Outlive, Dr. Peter Attia became acutely aware that there was a gaping hole in the complete picture of longevity and quality of life — emotional health. What good is checking all the boxes that outwardly give the impression of success and happiness, if in fact inwardly we are miserable?
Yes, we can be physically and cognitively very healthy; we can be proactive with preventive measures and early detection to ensure we live longer — and possibly longer without illness, disease or cognitive decline. But if we are unhappy, discontent and lack emotional regulation, we will continue to be miserable no matter how physically fit or mentally sharp we are; no matter how many measurements of success we seem to have achieved.
This is a true fact for so many of us. We have a very big blind spot about how our emotional health has taken its toll on us and our families, all while we have been actively checking off the boxes.
We can be so unaware of the impacts of our emotional health that we will unconsciously sabotage ourselves over and over again. Dr. Peter Attia uses the metaphor of Formula One racing to help us grasp the magnitude of ignoring our emotional health:
Just a few short decades ago, Formula One racing had a very high rate of death among its drivers because of the risk factors. The cars were engineered for performance not safety. Today that risk factor for death and serious injury has been dramatically reduced. What changed? The cars are now engineered for safety first and performance second. Minimize risk.
As Dr. Attia points out, we use risk factors all the time to help us minimize the risk to our physical and cognitive health. We intervene early to prevent infection, illness and disease. Yet we have been ignoring emotional health all the while.
No one asks the questions — “What is your risk for poor emotional health and what are we doing about it?“
It has become very clear over the past decade or two that it behooves us all to reflect on how the old parenting models impacted us — and especially our emotional health. The risk factors for our emotional health are imbedded in those old parenting paradigms that disconnected us from understanding and effectively utilizing our emotions. Our emotions are an integral part of our brain/body connection and we are long overdue for a major upgrade to our human operating system.
Just look at all the advances that we have made in modern medicine to fight genetically inheritable diseases. We have been blind to the generational inheritances of poor emotional health. And now our eyes have been opened – we have a brand new pathway to addressing the quality of our emotional health.
Not only are we able to intervene early for our own emotional health, we can begin to ensure that our children get a head start on a lifetime of good emotional health.
We are the change agents; the ones that will break the cycles of dysfunction that got passed unconsciously from one generation to the next. We will advance human evolution by proactively integrating our emotions with our complex, developing brains.
Dr. Peter Attia shared with Dr. Andrew Huberman in a recent podcast that for most of his life he got really good at drywall repair – because he was dealing with an unconscious inner rage from trauma in his childhood – and that anger often had him punching a hole in the wall. In fact, it was that same anger and strong urge to punch a guy in a parking lot that made him realize he had to get help for his emotional disregulation. He realized in that moment that he could have lost everything he had spent his whole life building — his reputation, his career, his marriage and family – because of unchecked emotional health.
I just have to say that Dr. Attia still packs a punch — a positive and very healthy one. He punched a big hole in our blindspots when it comes to emotional health and the integral role it plays in the overall quality of our life.
As I was reading Dr. Attia’s book, Outlive, I was delightfully surprised to discover that he had turned to two of my favorite resources to help him in his search and recovery process for emotional health — Esther Perel and Terry Real. I have long followed their work, participated in their seminars and read their books. It was Terry Real’s relationship summit in May, 2022 that prompted my blog post “Whatever He Has, I Want It” featuring Hugh Jackman’s journey with personal growth and emotional awareness.
Little holes have been being poked into our need to focus on emotional health from a diverse array of sources for several decades. Neuroscience has been paving the way as we make tremendous breakthroughs in understanding how our brains, bodies and emotions need integration in order to function optimally.
Changes are happening at a very fast pace now. Old methods once used for parenting, for treating trauma and mental health issues are being tossed out and replaced with protocols that focus on integration of emotions. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk even emphasizes that it is not necessary to go back and revisit all the re-traumatizing details of a childhood event. Instead, the focus and therapy becomes on how a person is feeling today, what they are experiencing in the present moment – and integrating that into more manageable responses to current experiences.
Dr. Attia explains that we can reframe this work as an “invitation to view our own young experiences through the eyes of our own child”. I wouldn’t be surprised if he learned that from Terry Real, who often says that the best motivation in the world for personal change is our children. Terry says that we might not change for our partners or ourselves, but we rarely resist change if we know it will help our kids.
Our emotional health is rooted in our childhoods. There is no doubt about that. It is crystal clear that we will be the change agents for breaking generational patterns of poor coping skills, unhealthy attachment styles, maladaptive patterns of behavior and lifelong poor emotional health.
Dr. Attia would encourage each of us to view our emotional health and its risk factors the same way that we view our physical and cognitive health. Dig into our family history, intervene early, develop healthier approaches and incorporate a daily maintenance program to support an ongoing healthy trajectory.
Develop a list of podcasts that become your “go to” playlist to support your emotional health. Here are a few of my favorites: