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20 July 2020

How We Balance And Respond To Stress: Interview with Dr. David Rabin

Jairek Robbins

Dr. David Rabin is a board-certified neurologist, psychiatrist and inventor who has done tons of work in studying resilience and how humans can tap their evolutionary abilities to get back control of their physical and mental health. Jairek Robbins had a chat with him and we bring you the excerpts.

Tell us a little bit about some things you have found out in your research about how people can deal with what is going on right now…the pandemic, the protests, and other stressful things going on.

For starters, people should know that it isn’t their fault that they are feeling stressed, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.

One of the single biggest drivers of anxiety is trying to get a hold of your anxieties, especially if those things are out of your control. 

Anxiety is just a signal that something is bad in our environment. When you are feeling low or sad, that is an indicator that something is amiss in your environment. We only have a certain amount of attention, and we spend most of it focusing on the things we cannot control. We are better off spending that precious focused attention on the things that are within our locus of control.

What tools can one use to shift their attention to what they can control?

There are two things that I use, and they are based on neuroscience and cognitive behavioral therapy. One is the “is it true, is it useful test.” 

This particular test is good for controlling our thoughts because you subject each thought to that test. This technique ensures that we consciously direct where our attention goes by choosing to focus on only those thoughts which are true and useful in the moment. If the thought isn’t true and useful in that moment, then it doesn’t deserve our attention.

We just have to train ourselves to let go of those thoughts which fail the test above and transfer our mental energy to other thoughts which pass the truthfulness and usefulness test. This cognitive behavioral technique has produced for us some of the best results that we have ever seen when compared to other techniques out there, so we encourage our patients to learn how to use it all the time.

And the second tool you use?

The second tool we use is gratitude, and I know you also use it quite a lot. Practicing gratitude is great because it isn’t something that requires you to take time away from the other things you do during the day.

For example, you can easily say I am so upset to be awake today and you could as well say I am so grateful to have woken up today. We don’t know what things or surprises the new day is going to have, whether positive or negative. By nature, trauma is surprising to us because we never know when it is coming. The only thing we can do is to give each other support through it all. 

The only way to have some control during times of anxiety and stress is to find something to be grateful about, such as the fact that we can still breathe, still have family and friends around us, and so many other good things happening. That is the way through which we can embrace what is happening and use it as an opportunity to grow.

When we remain grounded like that, our bodies have a chance to rest themselves and bring us back into a state of balance so that we now have a chance to start reconsidering what other opportunities or options which may exist in that situation.

As we do that, we begin to see that the challenges we are going through are actually opening doors for us and we may not have seen these doors before.

I actually work with several people who greatly inspire me because they’ve overcome great and sometimes impossible challenges in their own lives that they didn’t think they could overcome, yet they just pushed and pushed until they overcame them, and now they are leaders in their fields. Think of the Martin Luther Kings of this world, the Oprah Winfreys, and so many others who overcame adversity to become icons.

Why is it important for us to acknowledge our vulnerabilities?

When we acknowledge our vulnerabilities, especially during our darkest moments, we open ourselves up to exploring the opportunities for self-exploration, self-healing and for overcoming the difficulties we might have forgotten or not known are there. In short, our vulnerabilities give us an opportunity to reach out to the highest version of ourselves. Gratitude is one tool that can take us through this important process.

What is the Apollo Tool?

Earlier, we talked about the “is it true is it useful” test as something you can use to check your thoughts and discard those that aren’t true in the moment or those that aren’t useful to you. Doing this leaves you with energy and focus to concentrate on connecting with those that matter to you, finding solutions to pressing problems and doing all those other things that build you up rather than expending all your emotions and concentration on thoughts that aren’t true or aren’t useful yet they take away your peace of mind.

Apollo is a tool that we developed at the University of Pittsburg for my research on how to cope with trauma. It delivers safety signals to the body through gentle vibrations. It’s a wearable device that you can have on your ankle or wrist. It sends signals to the skin, reminding the body that it is safe. 

This is just like somebody giving you a hug on a bad day, or holding a pet and it is purring in your arms or at your feet when you are upset. Such instantly brings us back into the moment and into our bodies, and reminds us that we are safe enough to consider other opportunities in the situation.

How did you come up with Apollo?

Apollo helps to bring balance to someone’s nervous system, just like deep breathing, a soothing touch or mindfulness. It is about the size of an old Apple watch. It has no screen, and it has two buttons which you can use without the phone because we want people to be independent of their mobile devices. It has airplane mode so you can turn off EMF transmission if needed.  The idea being that it delivers these gentle, soothing vibrations that we developed at the University of Pittsburg after studying the neuroscience of music and the neuroscience of trauma, to understand what evolutionary pathways are there to help people to recover from stress.

A hug is one of those most important evolutionary pathways because traditionally, when you look back tens of thousands of years (not the short memory that we tend to have as humans) or even millions of years and see how mammals and other animals have conveyed safety to one another in situations when there is a threat, we see that evolutionarily (and most of this incredible work was done by a neuroscientist called A.D. Crag) there is a hardwired part of our brain that is responsible for empathy, feeling others, introspection (looking within ourselves) and also interoception (feeling our bodies).

When I say hardwired, I mean these are literally hardwired sensory pathways from our sensory organs like our ears, our eyes and our skin, that go directly to the emotional cortex of the brain. These pathways are present in every human and in every mammal on the face of the earth.

The fact that these pathways are present means when a person says I don’t have the capacity for empathy, it means they haven’t learned empathy or they haven’t been exposed to the tools that can help them to look within themselves. 

What I realized as I was seeing more and more patients with PTSD and substance abuse disorder was that I was seeing more and more people reporting that they couldn’t introspect or empathize. We decided to demonstrate to them during one on one conversation that they had that ability. We noticed that this became doable for them in the office, but when they left our office and were exposed to their regular lives and all their triggers, they relapsed and went back to where they were.

Interestingly, there’s a lot of literature showing that the fear associated with the fight or flight mode interferes with the ability to change. The reason why yoga, meditation, breathwork and all those other powerful techniques often fail to deliver the desired results is that stress impairs our ability to learn. 

And so the change part (associated with learning) is what we sought to address. In all our PTSD patients, there was a measure we could track, and that was the heart rate variability and this has become one of the best predictors of our body’s response to stress.

We noticed that all these PTSD patients had low heart rate variability and low heart rate variability means that they are less likely to recover, and the only way to raise their heart rate variability is through a soothing touch, biofeedback, meditation, ice baths, and all those other techniques can potentially do that. The reason for this is that they boost activity in the parasympathetic recovery system.

Having seen that, we wondered whether we could take what we know about music and the touch system, and create a technology that we can put on the body and the person will not require a doctor or assistance. 

We wanted it to be something they could use on their own so that they are empowered to change themselves. If you realize that you can make yourself feel safe in a situation that used to be threatening, you reset your body and nervous system so that you gradually shift your attention to more positive things.

Basically, what we are doing is retraining the brain. If you practice being stressed out, you get really excellent at being in that state and it becomes a part of you. A little or occasional stress isn’t exactly bad, but chronic stress starts to mess up your mind and body.

Our tool provides a way to retrain your brain so that we can stop sapping our resources and instead allocate them to the things we really care about (intimacy and reproduction, digestion of food, sleep and recovery, etc.). this is clearly what happens in kids with ADD as they often have mood disorders and anxiety, and since they don’t understand what is happening to them, they start seeking tools (video games, for instance) that distract them from what they are feeling.

Apollo is an incredible tool in such cases because we are seeing kids who were having trouble sleeping, who were prescribed multiple drugs like antidepressants and other medications to control behavioral issues, giving these kids Apollo helps to calm them down and normalize the parasympathetic side of their nervous system. Their performance and attention improve, their anxiety scores decrease by approximately 50% in just an hour of use or even shorter, they sleep better, and many voluntarily (with the help of their parents and doctors) taper off of some of their medications. We’ve seen incredible results in our efforts to help kids use the tool to manage their symptoms without resorting to drugs.

What is Apollo most useful for?

When you think about it, Apollo is largely useful as a change agent. As humans, our survival on the planet has largely depended on our adaptability. Stress inhibits our ability to change, and because Apollo restores balance, we are able to learn and change as needed in the moment. It allows us to be present in our bodies, and if we can do that, we are safe.

Apollo retrains the body to more readily access a state of mind of being safe, and in this respect, it is in a way similar to meditation, massage and other such practices except that you don’t really have to do anything if you use Apollo. The gentle waves emitted reprogram your nervous system so it can come back to a position of safety.

Where can one buy Apollo?

Just go to our website and place your order. The device will be shipped to you typically in a week or less.

Is there a proper approach to introduce this device to kids, for example presenting it as a game or something? What were your findings like when you did a study using this device on kids with ADD?

Kids are really sensitive to the way we address them, since they don’t have control about a lot of the things happening around them. It is therefore best to tell them that Apollo will make them feel the way they want to feel, such as focus while playing a video game. Be careful not to stigmatize the device around a disease or condition. For example, don’t say this will help with your ADD. Kids will respond much better and they will feel more in control.Thank you for speaking to us, and for the viewers, go to to learn how you can get this device. See you soon!

To Your Success,

Jairek Robbins



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