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How the "Widow Maker" Taught a PT-Turned-Hair-Entrepreneur To Get A Hold On Life - by Kent Mulligan

My name is Kent Mulligan, I'm 45 years old, and I'm the founder of Melbourne-based men's hair product company Modern Pirate. My mornings routines weren’t always this regimented, but the ‘widow maker’ almost got me a few years ago. I’ve done the same routine daily for close to 3 years now and it has been a life saver—literally.

Stress overload

After going to bed on what had seemed like a very normal night back in 2017, I was woken up by an unfamiliar feeling: I had crazy pains in my chest and neck. At the time I was 43, in great physical shape and had a very clean diet. After two uncomfortable hours the pain subsided, and I went back to sleep. Initially I thought it was a pulled muscle in my chest from training but unbeknown to me it was actually something far more serious. First thing the next morning after heading out the door and off on my morning run, I was greeted with the exact same feeling. At the time I lived what I thought was a healthy life: I did strength training at least four days a week, attended yoga classes and surfed regularly. But I was also in a long-distance relationship splitting my time between Melbourne and California, drinking a little too much at times, sleeping too little and disrupting my body's daily cycle - known as circadian rhythm - by traveling internationally almost monthly. Bogged down by the weight of emotional and financial stress, I wasn’t resting enough and struggled to slept properly. A new business can be challenging, and at times it was hard to cope with the financial pressure, not to mention managing the international expansion and growth opportunities. I didn’t know it at the time, but my lifestyle choices and stress were causing systemic inflammation in my body and worsening an underlying cardiovascular issue.

A shock discovery led to next day surgery

I let the chest pain go on for almost two weeks, getting the same result every day until I finally visited my doctor who took one look at me and sent me straight into the emergency ward at St Vincent Hospital in Melbourne. At the time my symptoms were pretty mild, with very little pain or discomfort, only occasional shortness of breath and chest pain when running. After a full day of testing, the real giveaway came when I was asked to run on a treadmill prior to an ultrasound of my heart. What they discovered shocked me. One of the main arteries to my heart was almost completely blocked—this is known as the widow maker. I was told I could have a heart attack at any time. The next morning, I was rushed into surgery and had a stent inserted through my wrist and up into the artery to open the blockage. The procedure was done under local anaesthetic and seemed very straight forward. I got to watch the entire procedure take place on a screen in front of me.  My treatment and care were outstanding, and I was extremely grateful to have access to our medical system.

A personal interest

Despite the great medical care I received, I wanted to know more; I wanted answers as to how this happened and how I could avoid winding up in this situation again. I have had a deep, personal interest in health and wellness, so much so that I studied sports nutrition and was certified as a PT with Australian Institute of Fitness. I was also a chef for 20 years prior to starting my hair product company which taught me about ancestral nutrition and wellness practices so I was fortunate enough to have some key people in my network who I could turn to for help. I reached out to Ben Greenfield in America who has one of the most viewed alternative health and fitness platforms globally and has a podcast with leading doctors and integrative practitioners in the health, wellness and biohacking space. Bens feedback and direction guided me into a deep dive over 2 years into a broad range of research and data around managing heart disease and general wellbeing. The complexity around my issue was overwhelming but I did find enough information to create and implement a plan.

'By no means in the clear'

I chose to address some of the underlying inflammation and lifestyle issues rather than just treat the symptoms. My work gave me the flexibility to do so. In turn I made room to work on my health and the lifestyle factors which compounded the initially incident. My key areas of focus have been stress management, being in the ocean and outdoors more, less travel, limiting emotional stress, eating a clean, organic whole foods diet, far less booze and a lot more sleep, rest and recovery. I have also found that writing down what I’m, grateful for each morning, known as gratitude journaling, and meditating daily to be most effective for creating a positive mindset and building emotional strength. Creating positive messages and affirmations around health, relationships and goals has helped me establish new thought patterns. Over time this has led to more desirable outcomes for me. Sounds a little 'woo', I know, but I can't deny how these practices have impacted positively on my mental health and overall quality of life.

Within four months of making changes to my lifestyle my cardiovascular blood and inflammation markers were almost completely reversed to the point my doctor didn’t believe this was possible without medication. I am by no means in the clear, but I at least have a positive plan and approach to empower me to move forward. I still track cardiovascular risk and inflammation markers with regular blood testing and keep on top of stress as best I can. For something that was scary at the time it has impacted my life in an extremely positive way. I have a real apperception of my relationships, have developed a lot of knowledge around my own health and experienced huge self-growth. Ultimately, I believe our personal health is our own responsibility and with some simple principles we can improve our health, increase vitality and look and feel great.

As famous Australian business consultant Brag Sugars says, “the formula for change is when the desire for change is greater than the resistance to change”.

Today my mornings play out a little like this

  • I wake up with the sunrise and avoid exposure to any artificial light, especially from mobile phones or digital screens. These forms of artificial blue light can trigger an unfavourable hormonal and biological response in the body so early in the day, possibly disrupting morning androgen hormones and neurotransmitters.
  • I take a cold shower for a quick dose of cold thermogenesis which can produce a powerful hermetic response with a cascade of benefits including reduced inflammation, upregulation of immunity, increased testosterone production, reduce depression or anxiety, increased circulation and so much more.
  • I follow it up with a little barefoot yoga, stretching and walking outside on the grass before moving into some breath work. I generally do 15 minutes of Wim Hoff-style hylotropic breathing techniques which induces a small natural release of dimethyl tryptamine,  a hallucinogenic chemical produced endogenously in our body and also found in many forms in nature, released from the pineal gland resulting in a blissful euphoric feeling that eases me into a deep peaceful meditation. It’s like a little holiday from life and quietens the monkey mind.
  • Next it’s time to kick all those neurotransmitters into gear and get fired up for the day ahead with an uplifting intelligence and cognition increasing brew. Yep you can actually increase your intelligence and rewire new neural pathways in the brain with some simple techniques. This process is called neuroplasticity and the chemical responsible is brain derived neuro factor (BDNF).

Meditation is one practice scientifically proven to increase BDNF production along with exercise, learning new skills and also a type of cognitive and focus enhancing fungi called lion’s mane mushroom which is the foundation of my morning brew along with a number of other adaptogenic herbs including chaga mushroom and ashwagandha which counteract and balance the effects of stress in the body. It’s the perfect brew to sip while writing in my daily gratitude journal. Gratitude Journaling has a mountain of proven health benefits relating to stress and anxiety reduction, boosting memory, appreciation of what you have in life, visualization and goal setting. It’s also a great way to dump some of the negative mental overflow that we tend to accumulate. We are no different to every other living being and organism on this planet in that a lot of our biological, chemical and hormonal responses are controlled by day night circadian rhythms and earth cycles. We need natural morning sunlight in our eyes and on our skin to provide important biological and chemical signals required for hormone production, neurotransmitter responses and melatonin stores for the night’s sleep ahead.

By implementing some of these simple daily practices I was able to build momentum that hasn't just optimized my day but improved my overall health and emotional wellbeing.

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