Episode 11: Anxiety RX: Healing the Root Cause of Anxiety
Dr. Russell Kennedy
CASAT Podcast Network
Welcome to season two of CASAT Conversations.
I am your host Heather Haslem.
This season we will explore the timely and complex topic of resilience for healthcare providers.
Within each conversation, you will hear from experts, clinicians and providers who will explore and share the latest research, best practices and applications for how to be resilient.
Please enjoy today’s conversation.
On today’s episode we have Dr. Russell Kennedy aka The Anxiety M.D.
He specializes in the art and neuroscience of helping people recover from anxiety disorders.
He knows anxiety from the inside out as he developed his own anxiety disorder.
As a result of growing up with a dad with severe schizophrenia, Dr. Kennedy has degrees in advanced training in medicine, neuroscience and developmental psychology, but it’s not all science as he is also a certified yoga and meditation teacher and was a professional stand up comedian for over a decade.
No joke in his award winning book and audiobook anxiety Rx.
He shows a practical actionable program for anxiety relief that incorporates a combination of the latest in neuroscience with the grounding wisdom of the body, with the ultimate goal of relieving the anxious thoughts of the mind using neuroscience and blending that science with a more artistic approach he learned through living as a template in India taking psychedelics and being a natural and gifted intuitive Dr. Kennedy gives a unique and never before seen understanding of what anxiety truly is and further exactly how it can be successfully treated.
Dr. Russ wants to make sure that nobody has to suffer with anxiety as he did.
Dr. Russ, we are delighted to have you here today on cassette conversations, thanks, it’s great to be here.
Yeah, so as we get started, please tell us a little bit about your journey with anxiety.
I was born in 1960 I think if I had been born in 2000 I would have been diagnosed with ADHD.
But my father was bipolar and schizophrenic.
So I kind of grew up in this house that was chaotic because I never knew when my father was going to kind of go off whether he was also bipolar so we could go manic or depressed or whatever.
So I never really knew what to expect around the house.
My mother was a very dutiful registered nurse who always made sure that we had a roof over our head and food on the table, but wasn’t exactly the most affectionate person in the world, you know, Although if I needed her I knew she would be there.
So kind of growing up in this environment with my dad just, you know, him being a great dad for most of the time, you know, teaching me how to to fish and swing a bat and catch a ball and stuff, but then he would go psychotic.
So as a child, I kind of learned, hey, it’s not safe to trust the caregivers because they could, you know, you could lose them.
So and I still have a bit of that program to this day, like everything could get taken away from you at any moment and it’s something I’m really aware of.
But growing up in that environment, it really made me vigilant all the time.
So I had to read him constantly as to, you know, is he having a good week?
Is he heading into mania?
Is he heading into depression?
You know, is he still in touch with reality?
So there was this vigilance that I, you know, had growing up and it just stayed with me and you know, it made me, I think it made me smart because if you saw my elementary school grades, they were pretty, I was a strong c minus student all the way through school.
But I think that that when you think a lot, which is basically what anxiety does to you, I think it makes you better at thinking a lot of my patients that I see with anxiety are quite smart because they have really practice thinking to uh, to a fine art and a lot of them.
So I think you just start to analyze things more.
And that’s what I think made me a comedian as well because I’m always looking at things and analyzing things and Wondering why this is happening or why that’s not happening.
So the short answer is I grew up in kind of a house that was chaotic about every 12-18 months.
My father would kind of descend into mania, or I guess, descending depression and go into mania.
So, you know, I I just learned to be really vigilant, and that became my my modus operandi and you know, a lot of childhood strategies kind of work when you’re younger, so I had the feeling that it was helping me, but as I got older, I realized that just being on, You know, 100% all the time was just wearing me out completely.
So that’s basically how, you know, a lot of anxiety is hypervigilance and I was certainly hypervigilance still am to some extent, but I I can see it now, so when I can see it, I don’t have to be it so much.
It sounds like you have a lot of self awareness about where your anxiety stemmed from.
Can you pinpoint?
Like when you realized how much anxiety you were living with?
Probably pre med At the University of Victoria, I’m from Victoria, British Columbia, I lived in Vancouver for quite a while and I did, I did stand up for about 15 years, so I lived in Vancouver because Victoria’s a smaller town and victoria is was a great place to go to school and it was also a place that I could really, you know, still feel safe at home rather than going away to school.
So when I was at home I still, I had that feeling that something wasn’t quite right, but it wasn’t until I went away to med school in London Ontario that’s when my anxiety kind of blew up.
And what was it like for you when it sort of blew up?
How well depersonalization feeling like I, you know, I wasn’t me, I was watching myself do everything.
The realization things just didn’t look right to me, like words didn’t look right.
And you know, when you, when you go through med school, you learn 50,000 new words.
So it was kind of like it was a real, I was sort of on my own in kind of my own little island there, you know, I had my wife and my daughter who was, my daughter was 1.5 at the time when I started med school, but there was just this feeling like, am I going to get through this?
And you know, one of my big fears was am I going to develop schizophrenia?
Like my father And part of me thought, okay, well if I can get through med school kind of like a crucible if I can get through med school then I probably don’t have schizophrenia, you know, So, so there was a lot, there was a lot of chips riding on me getting through med school and it was hard, there was points where I considered quitting a few times and just got so much that, you know, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I lost £20 over the course of the first two years and I just wasn’t able to, I mean, I was able to function enough to get to get by and do okay, my grades were okay, but I just, I wasn’t comfortable by any means at all.
And it wasn’t until third year when I thought, hey, you know what, I am actually gonna make it through this.
Then I started to kind of relax a little bit, I mean, I was still anxious for sure, but it wasn’t that sort of Hypervigilant, hour a day, kind of, you know, what the hell am I doing?
Kind of anxiety?
I’m struck because a couple of years ago, I was presenting to some second year med students and I was sitting there just prepping my presentation and um they’re sitting there chatting and it’s like they were chatting about how they had only experienced to panic attacks the previous month.
And so, you know, I think we’re at a good place where we’ve normalized that it’s okay to talk about our mental health with colleagues.
Um and I thought, oh my like, you talked about this crucible, I think about the training and the gauntlet that is the training for healthcare providers um and the intensity that goes along with that, that then, you know, compounds and kind of promotes this anxiety.
Oh yeah, I mean, med school was one of those things where, you know, the, the information was just relentless.
Like just every day there was like A good 10 hours of information.
And then at night, you know, you could go back, I would have a little nap, I would have something to eat and then I would work all night and um yeah, that was, that was my life for, you know, three or four years for sure.
And it is this kind of They call it the old boys network.
I mean it’s a lot medicine is a lot more women than it is men now actually.
But but they call it the old boys network.
Whereas I had to do it this way.
So you’re gonna have to do it this way.
So 36 hour shifts, you know, on call just about every weekend, all that kind of stuff.
So it teaches you actually to get displaced from your own body.
So you start denying your own needs, you eat on the run, you sleep when you can and and everything goes into the patient’s right.
So it’s no wonder all the physicians are burning out because they were trained to ignore their body.
And it became a way of life.
And it becomes, you know, if you do that for a long time, it’s like childhood coping strategies that strategy worked while you were a child.
But if you’re trying to, if you’re trying to use it throughout your whole life, it’s going to crush you.
And the same with medicine if you try and use that, you know, patients come first um denying my own bodies deny my own needs, push through, push through, push through eventually you’re gonna crack.
And that’s why I think physicians have the number one rate of suicide out of all of the professions Is because we are trained almost from day one that our bodies don’t matter.
Everything has to go to the patient.
I’m curious when did that shift for you where you started paying attention to your own body?
It didn’t it Never did.
Um 2013, 2013.
Uh I have achilles tendonitis february two in 2013.
I had it two years before that and like an idiot.
I injected myself with lidocaine and cortisone because it worked and I was I was going to go on a trip And then I did it again because it was getting worse and worse and worse.
And then my achilles tendon ruptured February the 8th-2013.
And that was the straw that broke the doctor’s back because before that I was working in an urgent care clinic, still doing comedy at night.
But working in an urgent care clinic and I would go in, I would say to patients and then I would go into the bathroom and breathe and then I’ll come out and see a patient or two and then go to the bathroom and breathe and I was just burned right out.
But I wouldn’t let myself do it.
Like the thing about physicians is your physician identity is like the last thing to go, your exercise goes, your diet goes your your attention to your family goes that doctor thing is really, really important.
So you’re kind of indoctrinated in a way.
So I didn’t actually see it until I was out, you know, that was the last day that I practiced as a medical doctor february the eighth of 2013 because I realized that I just couldn’t do it anymore.
Now if I knew what I know now I could probably continue practicing and I’d probably be just fine but I had lost so much touch with myself that no amount of you know, reducing my hours or making my work environment more effective.
None of that was really going to help, you know, I was completely burned out and there was no way I was going to be able to go back into that environment with that mindset.
So it took me what eight years to kind of figure out how to look after my body and how to look after.
You know, the things that are important to me and realize that that that mind, body connection is just so important and we’re losing it in general, physicians lose it very early I think.
But just in general in the society we live in, I think we’re such a neck up society.
You know, if you look at the dopamine system and the and the reward system in the brain.
You know we we we want to want.
So James Claire wrote this this great book called Atomic habits and in it he writes that that a child looking at the christmas presents on december the 15th gets more of a dopamine rush from looking at the president anticipating opening the presents that he actually gets when he’s opening his presents on christmas day.
So that’s just such a metaphor for human beings like we want to want.
And then unfortunately we have this thing called habituation which is we get used to whatever we have and then we have to go over the next to get the same dopamine rush we need.
So that’s why you see these people like movie stars and who you think have everything and they’re just not happy because it it just comes from the sense of being your mind and your body gets disconnected and if your mind and body just gets disconnected you start living a transactional life.
You really start looking at, oh I’ll go on five trips a year, I’ll go and do this or I’ll go and do that.
And it’s really it really becomes about the things that you do rather than this this connection with yourself.
There’s nothing wrong with going on trips.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying yourself, going to restaurants, eating good food but if it’s a distraction, if you’re just distracting through your whole life to kind of keep this mind, body disconnect going eventually.
It’ll catch up with you.
So what is your life like today?
Okay, that’s a good question.
So this morning I got up, I had a protein shake.
I went to the gym because I just started going back to the gym because my gym is now kind of open.
So that’s good.
And then I’ll write a lot.
I’ll do about one or two, consults a week with people that struggle with anxiety.
Uh, not many.
And then, um, because a lot of my work I do intuitively.
So I’ll look into people and I’ll see.
And this is used to happen to me when I was a medical doctor to someone would come into me and I would see that they were physically abused.
I wouldn’t, sometimes I get a picture of them being hit by their dad or or abused by their mother or whatever.
But often I’ll just get this feeling like, okay, this person has abuse in their background and as a medical doctor with 7 to 10 minutes with each patient, I can’t touch that, right?
But now I can.
So now I’ll talk to people.
I’ll read them.
I do every week on clubhouse.
Well actually I do two rooms on clubhouse every week.
One with my friend Neema who’s a retired chiropractor about relationship anxiety.
And I talked about relationships and on Sundays at noon pacific time, I talk about anxiety in general, like whatever questions you have on anxiety, like asked me because I’ve probably been there, so I write a lot, I’m trying to figure out where I’m gonna go now.
I’ve got a second book in the works, my my book anxiety Rx is doing really well and the audio book is actually doing really well too, which is great because as a comedian, I I narrated the audiobook as well to kind of make it fun because it’s a pretty heavy subject anxiety and childhood trauma because the book ostensibly is about, you know, anxiety, but really it’s about childhood trauma and it’s really about healing that childhood trauma and that that mind body disconnect and that connection disconnection from your younger self, that is still in you, that still has all the old pro you know, all problem problems and paradigms and typically what happens is we push them away, you know, we push that little child away because they have a lot of pain in them and we don’t want to feel that pain in this neck up society, so we distract, we live in an environment of distraction, wow, that was pretty cool, I brought that around full circle, I like That well, and as you think about your healing journey um and we talk about like the society we live in, you know, we want this quick fix, like what are the 10 things I need to do to manage my anxiety and like how can I effectively do it today?
Um and I would imagine, you know, as we’ve talked about this eight years of healing journey and there’s probably still layers of that for you.
Um How do you look at the healing journey and think about that?
Well, I think what happened with me was in 2013 when I kind of hit the bottom there, I I looked to a friend of mine who was an ayurvedic doctor and he’s a specialist in kind of psychedelic medicine.
So so we did LSD and LSD showed me that my anxiety is really a stored sense of alarm in my body from my unresolved wounding with my dad more than it was my mind, my mind was kind of like your mind is a meaning making makes sense machines.
So what it does is it’s constantly reading your body through this process called entire reception.
So if it reads this alarm, what I call background alarm, the alarm from your background that actually stays in the background of your life, but comes up, you know, when you go through stressful periods, fires up your epinephrine system, cortisol system, all that kind of thing that makes you feel off balance, It’s kind of hot, sweaty, not quite present, you know that affects your your your brain power.
So it’s kind of one of these things like how do you understand what is happening to you from What is actually really happened, What’s the root, cause the root causes the old trauma that’s still stored in your body.
And Gabor mate just did a brilliant movie about this called The wisdom of trauma, about how it sticks in our body.
Now, that sounds as a medical doctor and a neuroscientist, that sounds pretty woo to me, you know, like how does that that work?
And really if you look at like young and Freud, you know, a lot of them believed that the body was the representation of the unconscious mind.
So the unconscious mind is where we stuff our old, you know, programs as Children when we are very uncomfortable.
So when we can’t handle something as a child, we’ll stuff it down into the unconscious.
And I believe that the body becomes this conduit as a way of accessing that because we can do talk therapy till the cows come home, I can do talk therapy on my dad, I did it for 20 years.
Didn’t really help, you know, it didn’t really help because I wasn’t really getting in the same room with that unconscious program and once I started doing somatic theory and somatic teaching and that kind of thing that really allowed me to feel what I was feeling and allow me to express it and see that that actually is my younger self, that is a version of my younger self.
It’s for me it’s in my solar plexus and that’s what I saw on LSD on LSD, I don’t know where I heard this, but there was a voice that said your anxiety is actually not in your mind, it’s actually here in your solar plexus and it’s an energy that’s there.
So once I had that idea I thought okay well let me start working with that and I started working with that and it started really helping me and helping a lot of the people that I work with with anxiety.
So that’s why I wrote the book because that’s what’s really provided me with the most amount of healing.
My wife says somatic experiencing practitioner, she’s also a touch practitioner, so she has really helped me as well see that there’s two ways of healing cognitively which we need.
I’m not against cock therapy or CBT or any of that stuff but I am sort of against it by itself because by itself it’s not going to fix you, it’ll help but it won’t fix you to to really get that problem fixed or integrated as dr dan Siegel would call it integration so that you’re not pushing it away anymore but it’s just now there’s kind of like your system kind of shares the load of that trauma.
So it isn’t kind of just reverberating out of one place and causing a lot of havoc in your system.
So somatic therapy really helped me a lot.
So there’s a lot about it that in the, in the book, there’s also a lot of like, cognitive stuff in the book too, about So I try and go at it from both ways, going at it from the mind and going at it from the body and that seems to surround it.
So it has no place to go.
Because if you if you only do mind therapy, it’ll escape into your body.
If you only do body therapy, it’ll escape back up into your mind.
And that’s why people overthink because there’s this trauma that’s stored in their body and they don’t want to go back down there anymore.
So what they do is they worry, they ruminate.
They stay up in their head because if you stay up in your head you don’t have to go back down into feeling town because that’s where all the pain is.
But really that’s where the healing is too.
So you need a guide to kind of take you back into that old pain, who can regulate your nervous system at the same time, do it slowly.
Because that’s the other thing about this society is like, we want to get it fixed now, we want to go in, we want to have three therapies therapy sessions and be healed and it just, it doesn’t work that way.
It took 10 15 2030 years to get where you’re at now.
It’s going to take a little while to undo that and to hook the mind and the body back up together.
So that’s what I focus on, that’s what’s really been helpful for me is somatic therapy, cognitive cognitive resources to some extent.
But really just connecting to myself, really just connecting with that younger version of myself that you know, watched his dad descend into madness every year.
I um I love your book.
I’ve been I’ve been reading it and listening to the audio.
Um and I have to say I do love the audible version because it’s yeah, I enjoy your humor and bringing some light to this difficult Topics.
Sometimes it’s heavy topic of anxiety.
You wrote your book in 108 short chapters.
Can you tell us why you did this?
I read the book, eat pray love years ago and it’s probably not popular for a guy to say this.
But I really loved that book.
I really thought and I thought one day if I was going to write a book, I would like to use the same format, just 108 short chapters.
And it took me probably an extra nine months to a year to write the book in that format because it’s a little, it’s definitely different than any other nonfiction book.
Like most nonfiction books are written in like 9 to 12 chapters.
There’s a, you know, an ending, you know that that wraps it all up and with me it’s kind of like each chapter is a lesson I learned in anxiety, you know, like one of the, one of the chapters is inability to receive, which is, can you receive?
Because if you don’t allow yourself to receive, you’re never gonna heal from anxiety.
And one of the things that I do is I say, hey, I’ll give someone a compliment.
I’ll say, hey, those are really nice boots.
And if they say, oh, I got them at a thrift store and there’s a rip over here and that kind of stuff.
They were really cheap.
I kind of know that that’s probably how they talk to themselves, you know?
Whereas if they say, oh thanks, I really love them.
I really love them too.
Not all the time, but it gives me a sense that if you deflect compliments or you make fun, you know, it’s like, oh, use humor to deflect.
You probably don’t speak to yourself in a very, you know, kind and generous manner.
And it gives me a lot of information.
So that one of the chapters is inability to receive.
Like how long are you the first one to release a hug?
Like when you, when you’re, when you hug one of your friends or your, your family members, are you the first one to let go?
You know, just little things like this to see like how, how are you at receiving because if you’re not very good at receiving, you’re never going to hell, can you say more about that?
Yeah, I mean it really is about giving to yourself, you know, but what you didn’t get as a child, you know in your attachment issues.
I did a lot of work with the Neufeld Institute in developmental psychology with Gordon Neufeld and he’s been a mentor of mine.
And if you didn’t get a lot of attachment when you were younger, you have to you have to learn how to give that to yourself as an adult.
And there’s a lot of talk about re parenting and all that kind of stuff.
And sometimes the medical doctor and me when I listen to like re parenting and that sort of stuff, I want to have a seizure because it’s it’s so antithetical to how I was trained, right?
It’s just like we don’t in medicine, we don’t talk about your younger self or God forbid, inner child or any of that stuff.
So it really is about finding that younger version of yourself because that’s where the the alarm is.
That’s where the alarm.
So that’s where the alarm sits.
So if you can find that younger version of yourself.
And one of the things that I do is I get people to say, you know, or to get a picture of themselves At the time that they experience a lot of the trauma.
So I have a picture of myself at 12 and I put it behind my bathroom mirror and I talked to him every day and I also, I talked to him and then I look at myself straight in the eyes and I talked to myself And then I talked to him and then I talked to myself and what that does from a neuroscience perspective, I believe because I made this up um that it brings me into the present moment and there’s part of me that’s still living as that 12 year old watching an ambulance take my father away to the mental hospital.
So it’s part of me that’s still there.
So if I can talk to that part and then look at myself in the eyes and show myself both my conscious mind and my unconscious mind that I’m actually not back there anymore because the amygdala has no sense of time.
So anytime something, a memory comes back into your awareness that causes you alarm you.
Part of you will regress back to that time.
So if someone mentioned schizophrenia or bipolar, part of me will regress back into that 12 year old again.
So what I do when I look look at him in the picture and then I look at myself in the mirror and I talked to him is I’m showing him in me that we’re not back there anymore, we’re actually here in 2021 and that in and of itself starts to rewire there’s there’s another um structure in the brain called the hippocampus and the hippocampus is much more factual, that kind of time date stamps memories so that when they come back into awareness, they don’t feel like they’re coming from the past anymore.
You kind of realize, oh yeah, that was when my dad got, you know, driven away in the hospital to the hospital, but that’s not happening anymore.
You know, that’s that’s old, that’s that’s past.
So a lot of people who have trauma, that trauma is still alive in them.
So it’s just a little way of bringing people back into the present moment so that they can see and feel from an unconscious point where all those negative, those negative programs set, but they’re not there anymore.
And, and it takes some of the sting out of the tail of those old programs because one of the other things that I like to say is all emotional Overreactions or age regressions.
So when you see somebody losing their shit, like just losing it right there in an age regression, I can guarantee you, you know, they’ve regressed back to the five year old who, you know, used to get hit by their dad or the seven year old who, you know, came around the corner and saw the for sale sign on their lawn knowing that they were, their parents were going to get a divorce.
Like these are all things that I’ve heard with people and, and when you bring people out of that old dream of the past and they feel it as well and show them that they’re not there anymore.
Really show them that they’re not there anymore.
A lot of healing happens and a lot of compassion happens because a lot of times when when you know things go down in your household when you’re younger you blame yourself as the child because you can’t blame the parent because the parent, you know the parent is responsible for your entire livelihood, your life basically.
So if things are going wrong and you unquestionably feel that things are going wrong, who’s left to blame.
And there’s a great saying that says, you know if you abuse abandon or neglect the child, the child doesn’t stop loving the parent, they stop loving themselves.
And then and then there’s something called jabs that I write in the book which is self judgment, abandonment, blame and shame.
And once you start that once you start that self judgment and abandonment blame and shame, it’s very hard for self kind of compassion to come in because you built up this wall that you believe is keeping you safe.
But in the in that in that safety it’s also keeping you shielded from the actual love and connection, you need to grow and mature your social engagement system and the social engagement system in all human beings is like eye contact tone of voice, Prague city of voice, body language, that stuff that makes us feel like we’re connected to the people that are close to us and if you can’t engage that social engagement system, you can’t sue the other people and you can’t soothe yourself.
And I think that’s one of the problems with kids these days is that they’re not maturing that social engagement system, they’re not getting the eye contact, they’re not getting the body language because everything is done through screens, not everything, but most things are done through screens, so when they, when they go off to university they collapse because the the screen doesn’t help them as much anymore, you know, they didn’t mature that social engagement system when it when it had its critical period, you know, when they’re younger because when we’re younger, you know, we were out playing with their friends and talking and having sleepovers and you know if you see someone cry, you kind of empathize with them or if you see, if you laugh, you laugh together, you know, all that stuff matures your social engagement system, which allows you to sue the other people and allows you to soothe yourself, but if you don’t get that soothing, if you don’t and I believe what we’re getting now is a lot of pseudo connection, so we’re getting a lot of like texting, we’re getting a lot of, you know, kind of face time, which isn’t quite the same thing, it’s a little better because the face is there, but still it’s not, there’s a still a tiny tiny delay that your brain picks up on and knows that you’re not actually with someone, but anyway, kind of going off here, but I think we’re just, you know, we really have to mature that social engagement system and it’s never too late to mature it, but there’s a lot of resistance to going in there and accepting that comforting, compassionate love and connection, because for a lot of us when we were younger, it was dangerous, it was dangerous for me to love my dad and then watch him collapse time after time after time.
So after a while I thought, you know, I’ll just keep myself in this state of kind of limbo where I, you know, I kind of feel half of life, but I don’t allow all the pain in.
But when you block love, like when I block love for my dad, I block love for every other person in my life.
And you know, there’s a reason I’ve been divorced twice, it’s just like I’m I go into defensive detachment, which is basically it’s not safe to love.
I mean, I’m out of it now, thank thank God, but for a long time, you know, I would go into what’s called defensive detachment and this is a Gordon Neufeld term as well where you detached from love because you perceive love wasn’t safe as as a child.
So if love wasn’t safe, you know, if a parent wasn’t safe for you if they were, you know abused you or abandon you or neglected you or or bullied you, the parent wasn’t safe, you have this this mix up MS mash up with love and fear where love isn’t safe anymore and as soon as you know love isn’t safe, love is the only thing that kind of heals us and I have this little saying it’s like our psyche is kind of like a closed box and everything is either love or fear, Love is appreciation, you know gratitude um affection and fear is envy and disgust and um just just being scared you know and everything is love or fear.
So the more love you push into the box, the more fear you push out but the more fear you push into the box, like if you don’t allow love in slowly, that box is gonna get filled up with fear and it’s gonna push out the love and you know it starts this vicious cycle where if you push out love, you can’t actually let it back in because you’re so used to pushing it out that you know, you can’t you can’t heal and I think that was the thing with me is like I really, really, really had to like accept love and especially for myself because if I didn’t do that, you know, I’d still be living this kind of transactional life would still be kind of, you know um dating a bunch of people going on trips um doing stand up comedy, not the stand up comedy is a negative thing, but it was it was a distraction for me as well.
So it is one of those things where you know, you don’t want to live a transactional life, you want to be in the present moment because if you do live a transactional life, your relationships are going to suffer and especially your relationship with yourself, I’m curious, you talk about self love and love with others um like how like when you talk about the interconnection of that a little bit and like do you have to love yourself before you can love others?
How do you see that?
Yeah, it’s both.
I think, I think you know if you’ve had a lot of wounding in your childhood, I think you know, get a therapist, get a somatic therapist that will help you kind of feel safe in that connection because and Kathy Kane talks about this like regulation regulation regulation, right?
So a lot of times in this society we have an issue and it’s like, well, you know, my issue is my my childhood experience with my father.
Well you don’t want to go into that, you know right away, you wanna you wanna have a platform where you can actually heal from that, so you regulate your nervous system so that when you start bringing up those old wounds, there’s a place for them to land kind of softly, you know, there is this idea that okay if you if you discuss what happened to you and all of a sudden you, oh, you know, it wasn’t my fault, my dad was actually, you know, physically mentally ill, you know, that that’s somehow gonna heal you and I think the knowledge of that is helpful, but I don’t think it’s healing, I think what heals you is just really being able to trust love again and seeing that, you know, what you, what happened with me was that I stopped trusting love because he was so mentally ill and then it became a habit and then if you look at the fear bias of the brain, because all human beings have this fear bias in the brain, um there’s a predilection for us to look towards fear, especially if you grew up with childhood trauma.
So if that’s, if that’s what the the die is cast, it’s very difficult all of a sudden go from, you know, um I’m, I’m have a conflicted relationship with myself that, that I love myself and everything is great and I feel so connected to myself, like it’s just what will happen is there’s this thing called the Hoberman sphere and I have one here and I’m using it right now, so basically what happens is I get people to kind of get into the love, they feel the love and then all of a sudden they go love it today, and it’s like, okay, now let’s just go into that again, let’s just sort of feel that in your body like where is a safe place?
Okay that’s good, I’m breathing okay okay okay nope love isn’t safe so and what you have to do is kind of just shepherd them through that so that over the course of time they actually get a felt sense that life is safe you know and if you look at, if you look at you know your past, if everyone looks at your past you’re still here like you’ve gone through a lot like a lot of us have gone through a tremendous amount but we’re still here so there is this inherent safety of life that I think that you get when you have attached parents you know you have this feeling like the world is a safe place, you can go out, you can you can grow but if you don’t have that safe secure attachment with the parents.
You learn that life is about survival and your your life becomes very transactional and you’re you’re trying to always survive and you know growth and survival are you know basically diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive.
So when you’re in growth you’re by definition out of survival, when you’re in survival by definition you’re out of growth so it’s learning how to show people that survival is okay.
You know we need to keep you in survival for a while but slowly slowly slowly where’s a place in your body that actually feel safe or neutral and can we kind of go into that and sit there for a while and just really get this felt sense of safety and that’s the platform that you know everything else builds on and then you start shifting the tide from you know fear coming in all the time to sort of allowing more lovin and slowly and like I said you’ve got to do it slowly because if you do it all of a sudden you the part of your ego will just clamp down and go nope this isn’t safe because it wasn’t safe when we were younger so you got to do it slowly and just kind of like two steps forward, one step back, two steps forward one step back and you just keep doing that and then over the course of time you know we we do naturally want to heal, we do and that healing will come about if you give the body and the mind the right resources to do that but if you think that you’re going to go to some you know you know Dominican Republic love retreat and you know at the end of the week you’re gonna love your parents and you’re gonna love everything about your life and then it just doesn’t work that way.
You know it doesn’t work that way, you have to you have to take this slowly, you have to move it and allow your nervous system to feel safe feeling safe because a lot of us didn’t feel safe feeling safe and when we felt safe, we actually felt worse because we were waiting for the other shoe to drop.
So there’s a chapter in my book that says when it’s not safe to feel safe, which is a lot of what happens.
I remember getting these massages from my massage therapists and I still see her to this day and a few years ago, I would get this wonderful massage and I walk out of her office just feeling so like jelly, like and so good.
And then I would have a panic attack because I had a panic attack because it felt too safe and it wasn’t as a child, it wasn’t safe to let down my guard.
So here I am in this kind of, you know, marshmallow, we safe, you know, loving place and that’s not safe.
So it’s like, I would I would sort of get back into this sort of vigilant mode again very quickly.
I don’t do that anymore, which is great and I’m aware of that.
But for a lot of my patients, a lot of people I talked to, you know, they’ll do that, they’ll when they’re feeling relaxed, that’s when actually they feel the worst because they’re just waiting because this was their childhood, right?
Like if you have an alcoholic parent, whereas the ones that blow up gonna happen because I know it’s gonna happen.
So they’re just vigilant.
so they sort of sit there in this vigilance for three weeks, and then every day for three weeks, they’re like, is it today, is it today is today, and then three weeks go by and it blows up and they go see, you know, see now rather than sort of every day being okay, and then, you know, when it blew up dealing with it, that’s not how Children happened, you know, that’s not how Children adapt to things, they basically say I’m going to protect myself, and the only way that I know how is to sort of pull back and not allow myself to be connected here, because when I’m connected, everything blows up, so when things go safe, it’s almost worse, you know, it’s almost better, and people have said, you know, when things start going down, when things start going badly, there’s a sense of familiarity and I feel actually safer because I know this situation, I know I’ve survived it before, whereas that sort of lull phase where everything is is fine and and okay, and and there’s not a lot of conflict is very destabilizing for a lot of people because of what it meant in their childhood.
I’m struck thinking about uh all of the people in our world running around in a hyper vigilant state um and how divisive and challenging, really, I mean, we’re in a really challenging place in our world, and so you can see how all of this childhood traumas right?
Like, and then people running around in hyper vigilance states.
So, yeah, because it’s a distraction from pain.
And then, and then what happens is anything that acts as an outlet for that pain will get, you know, crapped on.
And that’s basically what we’re seeing with cancel culture.
It’s basically what we’re seeing.
And, you know, the United States with republicans versus democrats.
It’s not really about which party can do the best for the people.
It’s which party can screw over the other side and make the other side look bad.
There’s a study that um, many years ago, unethical study, I think robert Heath was a neurosurgeon.
I think his name was robert Heath and I learned about this on the Andrew Huberman podcast, which I love.
Um and he talked about this, this surgeon, you know, did a skull flap.
So he basically peeled back the skull and the scalp of these volunteers apparently.
And then he would put electrodes in the brain and he would say, where do you what do you like to feel the most?
And, you know, you could feel um love or sexual attraction or envy or fear or anger.
Uh and what people went back to over and over and over again, What frustration and mild anger.
That was the feeling when you had your choice of picking whatever feeling you could have, that’s what people tended to go to frustration and mild anger, which, you know, if you look at the dopamine system makes sense, but i there’s probably no point in going into the anatomy of that, but if you look at that and you look at our society today, you know, that’s what we’re getting, you know, social media is nothing but frustration and mild anger and and the anger actually, you know, it increases, like it starts off is mild, you know, like, I don’t like those vaccination people or those anti vaccination people or whatever, and then it blows up into this huge thing, so people have so much angst in them now, they’re looking for an outlet for it, and because we’re so separate and we’ve become used to being so separate over the last year or two, um that becomes a very easy place to start crapping on other people, and, you know, one of the things that i with my comedians is that a lot of them won’t play colleges anymore, because there’s just you can’t make a joke about anything because someone’s gonna get offended and, you know, a lot, and the comedians are kind of like, we’re the last bastion of being able to say whatever the f we want, because that allows us to discharge the energy if you can’t say something, you know, basically by definition, that energy gets built up inside you more and more and more so, so the comedians are kind of like the last bastions of being able to say whatever we want, and now that’s being taken away, so, you know, you can only say certain things and you can’t make jokes about this and you can’t make jokes about that, and that’s why I love Ricky Gervais, because he says you can make jokes about anything, right, and I think we should make jokes about anything because, you know, laughter creates dopamine being feeling like you’re on the right track in life creates dopamine like this and it’s motivating and it helps you keep going, But so I think so many of us collectively now, I feel like we’re on the wrong track, I know the last two years, it’s like, I mean, I published a book, I mean, I’ve made an audio book, I’ve accomplished so much, but I just feel like my life is kind of dull, like there’s really, you know, there’s not a whole lot of excitement in my life, I’m not doing stand up because of the Covid and all that kind of stuff, but there’s not a whole lot of excitement in my life, you know, and then there’s a difference between what’s excitement and what’s distraction, because that’s the other thing too, because if you have pain, you’re gonna want to distract, so people buy things and, you know, there’s there’s that that whole sort of conundrum as well, but I think a lot of people are feeling like, you know, I’m on the wrong track, I don’t like my job, I don’t like this about life.
I don’t like that about life because we’re in this kind of milieu of dissatisfaction.
So anything that were even remotely dissatisfied in our in our relationships or whatever, so many people are breaking up during the pandemic, it’s like, well there’s nobody else, you’re not going to find anyone else during a pandemic, but it’s just like anything that’s even remotely negative in your life gets blown up so much and, you know, one of the tenants of Neurosciences, whatever you focus on, you get more of.
So if you focus on the negative, you’re going to see more negative regardless if there’s more negative out in your present environment or not, you will see perceive more of it when you’re in this angst state and that’s kind of where we’re all at.
So we’re just seeing more and more negative and were more likely to see more and more negative, which affects our psyche, which makes us feel down, which makes us look for the negative even more.
And we’re really in this vortex of of kind of just despair and disillusionment and, you know, and hopefully, hopefully, hopefully when this pandemic kind of ends, we’ll start appreciating each other more.
And typically that’s the way things go is like after pandemics are over there, is this huge or after World War Two was over there was this huge boom of connection again, I just hope that we haven’t blown it.
you know, I just hope that we haven’t gone so far that we don’t have that ability to really connect anymore.
So I mean we have it physiologically and psychologically, but just environmentally, I don’t know, we’ll see.
So how do we break this dissatisfied negative thinking cycle?
I think one of the things that’s really powerful is is telling yourself you’re on the right track, like finding, finding little things that you like, like the book was really like a savior for me because as I was writing the book, I really felt like I was making a difference for people and kind of making a difference from my, my dad because I struggled and suffered a lot with my father and uh I know he really wanted to make a difference in the world, but his brain just wouldn’t let him.
So I kind of did it for him in a way and did it for me too, of course, But just feeling like you’re on the right track.
Even small little things to feel like you’re on the right track.
Play, you know, play hits, so right thing, feeling like you’re on the right track.
Secretes dopamine play, laughter all the every morning when I get up, I didn’t say this earlier about that, but every morning I’ll watch about 15 to 20 minutes of comedians, you know, like youtube and I’ll laugh, you know, Dave chappelle Bill burr uh jerry Seinfeld, you know, like that’s up and I’ll laugh for the 1st 20 minutes of my, my day.
So, um laughter secretes dopamine as well, so it’s that those are the positive things you can do, the other things is just be really aware of when you’re judging, abandoning blaming and shaming yourself, those jabs that I that I talked about in the book, um because those are poison, you know, when you judge yourself, you know, and a lot of times, I think we judge ourselves because we have this sense that if we see ourselves negatively, that’s gonna cost that we’re going to create change, but Renee Brown talks about that too.
Like when you shame or blame yourself for something, you actually put yourself deeper into it.
So it’s really about, you know, not to go all Pollyanna, like, you have to love yourself and oh my God, you’re so special.
And there’s only one of you, you know, I want to have a seizure when I, when I talk about that stuff too, but it really is important to understand, but that’s so important to be able to kind of see yourself in a positive light and realize when you’re, you know, abandoning blaming shaming and judging yourself and and just, you know, you don’t have to like the sphere, like the thing collapsing right away, You don’t have to change it right away, You just have to be really become aware of the things that you say to yourself to scare yourself and like, do I really have to do this?
And can I put my hand on my chest, you know, can I, can I breathe into this?
Can I smell an essential oil?
Can I bring something into sensation rather than just ruminating on this negative thought?
Because it’s basically just gonna, it’s gonna, the vortex is just going to pull me farther and farther and farther down and it’s unconscious.
That’s the worst part of it is that we’re not aware of it so much.
Like we’re not aware so much.
Like I’m really treating myself like shit right now, like we’re not aware of it, it’s just so automatic, it’s just so in there and I, and we live in a society that really rewards negativity and then comparison if you look at social media, all that stuff, it’s just like how do you judge yourself?
You know, and do you have to do that and can you slowly kind of move the tied to the other direction?
Feel like you’re on the right track, You know, Play, play is hugely massively important and laugh, You know, it really is important just to laugh because it does change your physiology and when your physiology changes, your psychology changes when you talk about being on the right track.
Are you talking about having purpose and meaning in life or what does or what does the right track mean?
It could just be that you’re getting up and making yourself a protein shake in the morning rather than, you know, slapping some jam on some toast and you know, firing a cup of coffee down your throat, you know, and just focusing on the small winds every day because that creates more wins.
I mean mel Robbins has an interesting book.
I just finished called the High five habit, which is basically giving yourself a high five in the mirror every day and I’m trying it and it seems to be, you know, it seems to be kind of helping um and it sounds kind of corny and she admits to that too.
Um, but it is just, you know, getting on your own side, like being your own best friend, being your own advocate.
Uh and if you haven’t been that way.
And a lot of people like I said will treat themselves poorly because they feel like that drives them, you know, there’s the old and this is in the book too, about the carrot and the stick, you know, how do, how do you get yourself to do stuff?
Do you entice yourself with a carrot or do you beat yourself with a stick?
And it really like for a long time, I used to beat myself with a stick, I still have the stick around here somewhere a little bit, you know, like, oh, well you finished this book.
What about the next book?
What about teaching therapist about this, this model?
What about doing this?
And there’s there’s part of me that goes okay, that would be good, you know, and I write it all down, so I get it on paper somewhere, but it’s really just about like, what would be the kindest thing to me while I’m getting my goals then, and am I making small increments towards my goals, rewarding myself for that, you know, and and just telling yourself, you know what, you haven’t finished your program for for people with anxiety, but you’re on the right track, you are moving towards it, you know, even if it’s a small thing every day, you are moving and, you know, if you look at the motivation in the brain, how the brain gets motivated, it’s small things that sort of, and then all of a sudden it’s like, you know what, I don’t I don’t want to have that toast anymore, you know, I really now I really want to sort of take the time and chop up some avocado or whatever, you know?
And then you feel like, yeah, I’m really looking after myself and that starts this cascade of looking after yourself as opposed to the negative vortex of just, you know, treating yourself badly and distracting and just being on the run all the time, which I can still do, you know, I can still do that by by no means of my anxiety free.
By no means am I like, living the perfect life, but if you compare me to what I was doing five years ago, I’m millions of times better.
I’m really curious about how you would describe your relationship even perhaps in one word With yourself in 2013 and then how you would describe your relationship with yourself today?
Yeah, 2013 would be adversarial And uh and 2020, would be friendly.
As we wrap up for any fellow healthcare providers.
What do you see as the most important thing for health care providers to be aware of when it comes to anxiety?
I think the most important thing is to sort of realize that anxiety is more of an alarm state in your body and your patient’s body and what will happen is that the mind is a meaning making makes sense machine.
And it will take that sense of old trauma that’s in your body and it will compulsively make you think and it will make you think negative thoughts because it feels negative.
So if you can start to see the alarm in your body as separate from the thoughts of your mind and if you see them as separate there, therefore separable.
And then allow that alarm to be there.
Like put your hand on it, like see if you can really drill down like mine is in my solar plexus, it’s purple, it’s sharp, it presses up against my heart, It’s about the size of my fist, I’m really well aware of that and then when I have that sensation, I just, you know, I sit with sensation as much as I can and I don’t add thoughts to it because when you add thoughts to it, you know, and even the positive thoughts, like even I like I love myself or whatever at that point in time, no thoughts at all, basically just the feeling.
Just sit there with connection and just allow the feeling to be there and feel it and realize that your mind is going to try and seduce you into thinking.
But you can’t heal a feeling problem with the thinking solution.
You can’t get into that unconscious programing, right?
So, so it’s basically just stay, stay with the feeling separate.
The thing that I tell people.
The one thing, if you could take one thing out of what I say is separate that feeling of alarm in your body from the thoughts in your mind.
Because if you can unhook those then you can start to heal.
But as long as those two things are hooked together, you’ll never escape anxiety.
How can our listeners learn more about your work?
Um The anxiety MD.
Yeah, just look the it’s my Youtube channel, it’s my instagram page.
Um it’s basically, you know, if you if you just google The Anxiety M.D.
You can find just about everything about me.
It’s also my website, theanxietymd.com.
Um I’ve got some hypno meditations on my website.
I’ve got some courses.
I’ve got the book of course.
Um yeah, that’s probably the easiest way to find me.
It’s just googled The Anxiety MD and all this stuff will come up.
I’m pretty easy to find.
Thank you for all the work that you do.
It’s been fun.
It’s been fun chatting.
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