Can Your Thoughts Change Your Body’s Chemistry?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Words matter. Not just for those that hear them, but also for those that speak them. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, the third in a series on the power of words, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen describe what happens inside your body and brain when certain types of words are spoken or heard, whether aloud or merely inside your head. Daniel and Tana also discuss how this info can be a useful tool in interactions between parents and their children.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. On our podcast we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years, using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more go to
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're talking about the words that we use and how they matter. Every time you have a thought, every time you tell yourself something your brain releases chemicals, every single time. When you say negative words to yourself, your brain immediately produces negative chemicals that make your whole body feel bad, and it happens immediately, but the opposite is also true. Whenever you have a hopeful thought, a helpful thought, a loving thought, your brain releases chemicals that produce a completely different set of chemicals.
Tana Amen: So, my challenge to you in this episode is to think about certain times that are important and how you can set it up to be positive and get the outcome you want. I'll give you one example. Whenever I would pick up my daughter from school as a teenager, I'd go to pick her up, before I would ever arrive at the school I would ask myself, "What is my goal?" So, I created a ritual. We would always go for a drive, stop, get some tea, and that would be our talking time. We'd take a drive down by the beach, but my initial question was, no matter what she gets in the car with, "What is my goal?", and I would tell myself, "My goal is to connect with her. It's to listen. It's to hear what she has to say." I would set it up in advance, so that I'm not surprised when she gets in the car and either throws and attitude or tells me something totally off the wall, which teenagers can do. Right?
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's the most important two minutes of your day. That's why one of the exercises we give all of our patients is the one page miracle. On one piece of paper write down what you want, and then ask yourself every day, "Is my behavior getting me what I want in this relationship, for my work, for my money, for my physical, emotional, and spiritual health?" What do you want? Are the thoughts you're telling yourself or the words you're using with other people, are they going to help you get what you want?
Tana Amen: Right. Also, instead of saying to myself, "Oh. Teenagers are such a pain in the butt," which is what so many people say, "They're so difficult. They're so this," I would tell myself, "Teenagers are hilarious." I would always say to myself, "They're like unicorns. You never know when they're going to show up. You never know how they're going to show up, what color they're going to be that day, but they're so interesting." Just that one simple shift would literally make it so that I had so much fun, so matter what happened that day. So, just the power of words.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, a lot of people say, "Well, they're a teenager, so they're trouble," and that's actually not true.
Tana Amen: We haven't had trouble with any of them.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Large population studies say that a third of teenagers never have any problem, another third periodically, and then another third, they have a lot of trouble. Those are the teenagers that need to see us, because something may be going on in their brain. But if you use the words, "Oh. Teenagers are trouble," you-
Tana Amen: Right. See?
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... you are going to find trouble, because as soon as they say something or do something that you don't like, you're going to be all over them, which is only going to reinforce-
Tana Amen: And that's actually you, not them.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... the negative behavior.
Tana Amen: Because you need to know and go in expecting and knowing that teenager years are a time that teenagers are supposed to be forming their own identity. They're supposed to be separating. That doesn't equate to problem.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. It's basically who I am I separate from you?
Tana Amen: It can be irritating, but it doesn't mean it's a problem.
Dr. Daniel Amen: One of their psychological tasks in a way is to kill the parents, because that's how they separate.
Tana Amen: Right. Otherwise, they're going to be living in your basement when they're 40.
Dr. Daniel Amen: If you don't overreact to that in a negative way, we've actually had a number of podcasts on that, then that can help you. I have a poem I want to read by a Sufi poet by the name of Rumi. A lot of Americans don't know Rumi, but he's very famous in the Middle East. He has a poem I just love called The Guesthouse. "This being human is a guesthouse, every morning a new arrival, a joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all. Even if they are a crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond."
The reason I love that poem, all of us have dark thoughts. All of us have stormy thoughts. Unfortunately many people grab them, hold them as if they are real, and then that becomes their identity. But if you can go, "Oh. It's sort of like the weather," challenge the negative thoughts, they won't stick around. They won't stay, even when awful things happen, because you've got in your mind it's always going to be this way, and things change. So, when they change, go, "How can I use this to get what I want in my relationships, for my work, for my money?" But words are just so powerful.
Tana Amen: Yeah. They really are. It's so interesting.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So, in your darkest time, since we're talking about the words we use that matter, how did you climb out?
Tana Amen: One word. I mean, it was a series of things, but the one word that had the biggest impact on me was responsibility, the ability to respond. It literally was like click. That word for me is still a theme in my life, because I felt so defeated. When that was brought up to me, "How much responsibility are you willing to take for everything in your life, for being sick-"
Dr. Daniel Amen: You should actually share that conversation.
Tana Amen: I think I have before, but I'll share it again for people who haven't heard it in the other podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Because it goes really well with the words you use.
Tana Amen: Right. I was feeling really sorry for myself. I'm a seeker, so I wanted out of that dark place, and so-
Dr. Daniel Amen: So, just the word, "I am a seeker," is a healing word.
Tana Amen: Right. It's proactive. It's empowering. I was taking this course, like trying to figure out what the heck can I do to change this, and someone said to me, "How much responsibility are you willing to take?"
Dr. Daniel Amen: This is right after you were struggling with cancer.
Tana Amen: Right after I had cancer and severe, debilitating depression. I mean, it was debilitating. Anyone out there suffering with depression, I get it. What's the one thing that I've ever been through that was worse than cancer? Depression. It is the one thing that to this day it's the reason that I kick my own butt and go to the gym when I don't feel like it. I'm so terrified of ever going back to that. It's not an option. It's just not an option. So, I will do anything to stay away from that darkness. But I was just coming out of this debilitating depression. I had gone through several treatments for cancer. I had filed bankruptcy. I was in my early 20s. My life just felt hopeless. It felt hopeless. I had to drop out of school. I had to quit my job, because I was sick.
Someone said to me, "So, how much responsibility are you willing to take?" I was irritated. I was really irritated at first. I'm like, "Responsibility for cancer? Are you out of your mind? That's not my fault." He said, "I didn't ask you how much blame are you willing to take. I didn't say it was your fault. I asked you how much responsibility you are willing to take," and he drew this big circle, and he split it in half. On one side he wrote 50%, and on the other side he wrote 50%. He said, "If you're willing to take 50% responsibility, not blame, responsibility, you have 50% opportunity to change the outcome, because responsibility means the ability to respond. So, you have 50% ability to respond to that scenario."
I don't know why, that was like someone punched me in the stomach, but in a really good way. I was like, "Oh my god. I have not been taking responsibility for my life. I've been this total victim. I've been letting circumstances and people, and whatever, doctors control the outcome of my life. That's not going to happen anymore." I don't know why. It just was like this huge wake up call to me. From that moment forward it was like responsibility. Now, bad things have happened. Don't get me wrong. Situations, circumstances. It doesn't guard you from life's situations. What it does is it gives you the ability to respond to them. That was the difference.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And isn't that what you want, I mean, if you're a brain warrior? You want to respond to the situation-
Tana Amen: You want to be a warrior.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... in a way that serves your health, your family, your community. What is it you can do today ...? I ask myself this [inaudible 00:10:44], "What is it I can do today to make this better?" That's when you are in your most powerful place.
Tana Amen: And I got this from you, and I have taken it and run with it, and I spread it as much as I can, because I love this question. Why is the world a better place because you breathe, because you are on the planet? Why is the world a better place? Because that immediately places responsibility on you to make the world a better place. It's not you sitting there sucking up oxygen. It's you doing something.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, preach it, sister. All right. Stay with us. When we come back, we're going to answer some of your questions and talk more about the words you use matter.
Tana Amen: Remember, don't forget to post what you have learned. What is the disempowering thing you have been saying, and how are you going to change it? If you're enjoying the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast, please don't forget to subscribe, so you'll always know when there's a new episode. While you're at it, feel free to give us a review or five star rating, as that helps others find the podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: If you're considering coming to Amen Clinics or trying some of the brain healthy supplements from BrainMD, you can use the code, podcast10, to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at or a 10% discount on all supplements at For more information give us a call at (855)978-1363.