Written by Kristen Schweizer
February 19, 2022
Today I tilt my gaze away from the stage to the audience who makes this city’s art scene possible. San Diego is home to California’s oldest symphony, an internationally-respected opera, two Tony Award-winning theaters, hundreds of performance spaces, and dozens of museums. Balboa Park is 40% larger than Central Park in New York City and is home to 17 museums and cultural institutions. This city punches above its weight because a strong military, university, and industrial triad – along with a legendary climate – draw a diversity of brilliant minds who appreciate, partake in, and support the arts. This month I introduce the local author of Frazzlebrain: Break Free from Anxiety, Anger, and Stress Using Advanced Discoveries in Neuropsychology because her book improved my understanding of the artistic mind and broadened my definition of art.
Dr. Gina Simmons Schneider defies simple categorization with a dodecahedron of adjectives. The San Diego State University alumnus is a licensed psychotherapist, executive coach, and coping skills expert; a published writer with pieces in Psychology Today and Women in Crime Ink (among others); a singer and bass player in a rock band (One Track Mind); a weekend cyclist; and proud mother. Her multifaceted interests may be why her books can connect with curious readers from all walks of life.
In Frazzlebrain, Simmons Schneider weaves together research along with patient and personal experiences to illustrate proven mental health practices. It is this fusion that helped me (as a self-proclaimed right-brainer) translate dense, neurological findings into practical guidance. In our conversation, she spent time praising the unique viewpoint of artists.
Frazzlebrain prescribes “Frazzlehacks” to explain heady concepts in a way that I (who barely passed Biology 101) understood, remembered, and can implement today. These directives point toward a goal state which Simmons Schneider dubs “CalmBrain.”
As a writer, my favorite ‘Frazzlehack’ is finding or even creating your own words — e.g., hangry — to purposefully name emotions or discoveries and “bask in positive feelings longer.” In a section of Chapter Eight, titled The Language of Happiness, Simmons Schneider translates words from around the world; such as the Hebrew word nachat (the joyful pride you feel when one of your students or children enjoys a success) and the Danish word morgenfrisk (the morning fresh feeling after a good night’s sleep). “Lingering on words that describe positive emotions helps you remember those feelings better.”
Artists may be delighted to discover we need not wait for a fickle muse. As both a scientist and artist, Dr. Simmons Schneider confirms we can consciously cultivate “wonder” to inspire creativity and help to reach CalmBrain.
“It might read like common sense. It feels good to feel good, duh,” but thanks to findings made by researchers in the area of positive psychology since 2010, “there is a lot more meat to share as to why; if you can intentionally cultivate positivity, we know it will change your brain chemistry for the better.” While listing examples of wonder, she describes making hours-long friendships with neighboring audience members at a concert.
“Wonder is associated with connection, with other people; it is often a collective experience: seeing or hearing something together – be it in art or nature or music – it makes us kinder, more compassionate.”
Compassionate is a good word to describe Simmons Schneider’s ethos. It is almost a visible color on her; sky blue to match the blissful hue of her office walls. Many self-help books I’ve read focus on alarming statistics and the rising American mental health epidemic, and I close the book with spiked blood pressure.
Frazzlebrain slowed my heart rate even as it activated my brain. It speaks to both trauma and actionable change in a calm, caring voice developed during decades of conscious compassion for hundreds of patients.
In describing the years-long writing process behind Frazzlebrain, she praised her editor, Central Recovery Press, and other women; specifically her writing coach Marni Freedman (founder of the San Diego Writer’s Festival and San Diego Memoir Writers Association), and the reading and critique community who served as beta readers on her book since 2019.
It is rare for interviewees to spend time praising the brilliance of other locals, but Simmons Schneider championed other women writers throughout the conversation. She proves one of the wisdom she preaches: mental health manifesting as contentment and contentment translating to a confident yet humble heart.
“We should all be more like you,” I told her.
“Whenever I hear the word ‘should,’ it’s a signal that the motivation is external,” Simmons Schneider warned. “We are all fully unique and we bring something to the earth that no one else can. The process of “becoming” is not a light switch we turn on or a finish line when we ‘have arrived,’ but an everyday choice of finding and centering on your own values. And that requires knowing your values which require knowing yourself – and your mind.”
Frazzlebrain is nonfiction and it is art. I’m going to call it mextbook, an innovative self-help book with textbook-worthy knowledge yet feels like meditation literature; a marriage of fact and story that inspires compassion and catharsis while teaching too. Dr. Gina Simmons Schneider’s artistic mind, her authentic intentions and years of education, alongside her openness to collaboration have crafted 293 pages I can only describe as a healing salve; a balm for the tender minds in this city and the world.