Dealing with Depression

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

In this episode of the Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen have a discussion on a topic that has been very personal for Tana: Depression. Learn the many causes and risk factors for depression, the 7 different types of depression, and natural methods a Brain Warrior can use to attack depression.


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Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warriors Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen.

Daniel Amen: Today we're going to talk about depression. Unfortunately, you know more about it ...

Tana Amen: Way more than I want to know.

Daniel Amen: Thank you want to know.

Tana Amen: Yes.

Daniel Amen: Right.

Tana Amen: In fact, it's affected my family quite a bit. My mom had a couple of very, very serious episodes with my depression. My dad was depressed, I think most of his adult life. I went through a really, really, really bad episode of depression when I was sick. I had thyroid cancer. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer that had metastasized, kind of rare for the type of cancer I had. It came back multiple times, which meant multiple treatments and surgeries and all sorts of things, but I was not really prepared for the treatments the way I think could have been, or maybe should have been. At the time that I had to go through treatments, it was different than it is now. They used to take you off of your medication for long stretches of time. So they removed my thyroid ...

Daniel Amen: Off of the thyroid medication?

Tana Amen: Right. They removed my thyroid gland and then they took me off of thyroid medication for a couple of months. I was not prepared for what was going to happen. I remember what they said. They said, "Don't plan on going to school because you're not going to be able to focus." Okay, well that didn't tell me ... That did not prepare me for what I was actually going to experience. I was so weak I couldn't climb stairs. The brain fog was so bad I couldn't put a sentence together, like coherently, and there was just this horrible fog. I couldn't add two and two. Then the depression that came over me was this black could that enveloped me and I think the combination, it wasn't just the thyroid medication, no one prepared me for much of anything. Here I had the biopsychosocial spiritual, the four circles we talk about. My physiology had changed, My psychology, the idea that I could even get cancer and have to go through this at that young age freaked me out completely. The fact that I had to drop out of school, didn't get to engage in my dreams while all of my friends were moving on in school and doing all these things. It all stacked.

Daniel Amen: You're saying more socially isolate.

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: Then spiritually, was there any of the why me?

Tana Amen: Oh, no. I began to think God hated me. I went believe in God to thinking, "Well, if there is a God, he hates me." Then I started praying that God would just let me die. I literally prayed that I would get hit by a truck because there was just no point to waste oxygen. I just remember the pain. It's a pain you can't go away from. To this day, it motivates me. To this day, the fear of that pain motivates me to do things to never go back.

Daniel Amen: Well, and one of the interesting things, and you said depression runs in your family.

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: When you were a teenager, you actually figured out that if you exercised a lot ...

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: That ...

Tana Amen: Well, two things.

Daniel Amen: Your mood was better, your focus ...

Tana Amen: Focus. Yeah.

Daniel Amen: Was better, your body image was better.

Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It elevated my mood and it cleared the cobwebs. The only way I knew how to describe it at that time was cobwebs. I felt like I'd wake up and it was kind of fuzzy and then I'd exercise and like, "Oh, everything's clear." Like I can think.

Daniel Amen: As we talk about natural ways to heal depression, exercise clearly is one, and many people don't know they use it as an antidepressant when they get hurt, when they blow out their knee ...

Tana Amen: That was the other thing.

Daniel Amen: When they pull a muscle, when they get hurt, they actually get depressed.

Tana Amen: Well, and you just touched on another thing. I couldn't exercise during that period so the thing that I had used for almost 10 years, at that point, as something that made me feel good on top of the medication, on top of the other, you know, stacked issues, I now couldn't exercise. Yeah.

Daniel Amen: Two huge issues. We've already ... Three. It's genetic.

Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Daniel Amen: Depression can be genetic. It ...

Tana Amen: Medical.

Daniel Amen: It can be because of thyroid deficiency ...

Tana Amen: Or other hormones.

Daniel Amen: And yours was blatant.

Tana Amen: Or other hormones.

Daniel Amen: Right. I mean they killed your thyroid and then they didn't replace it immediately.

Tana Amen: Right. My mom ...

Daniel Amen: And then you couldn't exercise.

Tana Amen: And for my mom, hers started with early menopause. She didn't know. Well, she was triggered in early menopause with some stress.

Daniel Amen: Very common ...

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: That menopause can also trigger depression. The major symptoms are you feel sad or blue, negative, that pain ...

Tana Amen: Hopeless. Hopeless.

Daniel Amen: Hopeless, helpless, worthless.

Tana Amen: Yes.

Daniel Amen: You could have active suicidal thoughts, which you didn't have, but you had passive suicidal thoughts.

Tana Amen: Just wanting to die. Yeah.

Daniel Amen: Wanting to die.

Tana Amen: Like I would never do it, ...

Daniel Amen: Or praying that a truck would hit you.

Tana Amen: I just didn't want to live. Right. Then the other thing, besides the hopelessness, is I literally just couldn't will myself to get out of bed. Couldn't do it.

Daniel Amen: So lower motivation. Things that are usually pleasurable, are no longer ...

Tana Amen: Nothing.

Daniel Amen: Fun anymore.

Tana Amen: Nothing.

Daniel Amen: Decreased concentration ...

Tana Amen: I don't even like talking about it.

Daniel Amen: Increase in brain fog. Well, I mean, you know why. It's obviously important because depression has gone up 400%.

Tana Amen: I know, but it actually causes like a PTSD reaction in me, like, well, I just don't ever want to do that again. Like it's so scary.

Daniel Amen: It is. It's awful.

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Daniel Amen: Having had treated it for the last 35 years ...

Tana Amen: Yeah, I can, I can just so empathize with people.

Daniel Amen: And it doesn't just devastate the person. It devastates their families. It devastates the people that work with them. I mean, it really has a very negative ripple effect.

Tana Amen: I think, you know, depending on your environment growing up, I think I was sort of ... Looking back, I was kind of primed, in a sense, because my environment wasn't super stable.

Daniel Amen: No, you had a lot of stress.

Tana Amen: There were a lot of stacked ...

Daniel Amen: A lot of trauma in the past. You know you [crosstalk 00:06:15].

Tana Amen: Right. So I was primed. I didn't handle stress well.

Daniel Amen: Well, I mean, and let's just talk about it because I think you are illustrative of so many different things.

Tana Amen: You are the one who told me about the study, that children who grow up in stressful environments, that grow up with chaos and trauma in their lives, that it has the same effect on their developing brains as a soldier coming back from war. The PTSD.

Daniel Amen: Exactly. When we posted that, we got like 13 million views ...

Tana Amen: It was crazy. Yeah.

Daniel Amen: To that.

Tana Amen: So many of us had pretty crazy upbringings. Mine was crazy. Okay, so ...

Daniel Amen: The chronic stress damaged your microbiome ...

Tana Amen: Plus I was constantly on antibiotics.

Daniel Amen: Right. When you have early chronic stress and early, often antibiotics, it's disrupting your microbiome and it's ability to produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter that actually ...

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: Helps you feel happy and [crosstalk 00:07:17].

Tana Amen: Bad gut means you're more vulnerable to depression.

Daniel Amen: Were you taking birth control pills at the time?

Tana Amen: I don't remember actually. I don't remember.

Daniel Amen: Because that also depletes serotonin ...

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Daniel Amen: And so if you just look at the stacked depressives ...

Tana Amen: In other words, I'm the perfect case study because of those stacked events.

Daniel Amen: I told you that when we met.

Tana Amen: I know. I'm a psychiatrist's dream.

Daniel Amen: That you're were a psychiatrist's dream. Right.

Tana Amen: Whatever. I've no idea what that's supposed to mean.

Daniel Amen: That's actually not ... We didn't meet with you as a patient.

Tana Amen: No, definitely not.

Daniel Amen: Right.

Tana Amen: There's a lot of things. I know every time I talk about these stories, people write to me because they ... I never would tell this story. Do you remember that? The first time you told me to tell my story. I'm like, "You're out of your freaking mind. It took me decades to build these walls and no one's going to see behind them." It's like, you know, behind the curtain type of thing because you just think people are going to judge you for the awful stuff you've been through, but the truth is the minute that I started talking about them, I couldn't even handle the emails and the messages coming into my Facebook page because ...

Daniel Amen: The people don't judge you.

Tana Amen: No, they've experienced it and they need to know that there's hope. That's what I found out.

Daniel Amen: Since I have known you, and you've been working really hard on being well, you've not had ...

Tana Amen: No.

Daniel Amen: An episode of major depression.

Tana Amen: No, but I know I'm vulnerable, so I'm a warrior. I believe in having a warrior mindset. You don't wait till fight day to start training. You've got to train every day. You've got to be prepared and aware.

Daniel Amen: Let's talk about natural ways to attack depression.

Tana Amen: Okay. Well, I'm a little intense, so if you're asking me ...

Daniel Amen: Really?

Tana Amen: Yeah, a little bit. If you're asking me, I'm just one of those people ...

Daniel Amen: That surprises me.

Tana Amen: I know. Why do you think I married you? You are the yen to my yang. I always say he grounds me.

Daniel Amen: I'm asking you, as we're talking together, natural ways to go after depression.

Tana Amen: Yes, because of experiencing it and because I do have that little bit of PTSD, that fear of ever, ever going back to that place, I just do it all. I mean, I literally do it all. For me, having that 10 minutes to meditate and pray and ground myself, literally ground myself and focus on healing energy and gratitude.

Daniel Amen: Yeah, you don't let me bother you during that time.

Tana Amen: I don't. I'm like, "Don't come in the room. Don't talk to me. I don't care." Like don't talk to me. Exercise.

Daniel Amen: You have boundaries.

Tana Amen: I have boundaries.

Daniel Amen: Let's do it one by one. Meditation and prayer fooled us because what we actually discovered is those increase brain activity and increase the chemicals that help people feel normal and happy.

Tana Amen: Oh, I'm just balanced afterwards. It's very interesting. Then exercise, for sure. I start my morning off by hydration, so lemon water with some ginger, you know, hydrating, detoxing, because your brain needs hydration. Then the fastest way to make it feel better is to hydrate. Then I do the meditation and prayer, then exercise. My daughter has that same desire for exercise as her medicine so we do it together.

Daniel Amen: She has the same genetic vulnerability to depression.

Tana Amen: Yeah, she's more anxious, but we exercise together and she loves it. Every morning we go to the gym and that's sort of our routine with that. And food. I mean we eat ultra clean and she got so mad at me yesterday. She's like, "Why did you pass on your digestion to me?" because she's so sensitive.

Daniel Amen: Which is what mothers do.

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: Right.

Tana Amen: She's so sensitive to food, so she eats probably cleaner than I do. I mean, she's that rigid with her food because she feels every little change in her diet.

Daniel Amen: Well, and because she's a c-section baby ...

Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Daniel Amen: She didn't pass through the birth canal ...

Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Daniel Amen: That her microbiome didn't get loaded and there's a whole interesting issue ...

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Daniel Amen: Around c-section babies having more gut issues than babies who are born natural.

Tana Amen: Right. Then I take supplements. I take supplements. I am vigilant about managing my thyroid and I have all these people write to me all the time about all the thyroid disease issues and wanting to not take medication. I think it's a mistake. Okay, you're asking ... As much as we try to do things naturally ... Now, if you're just trying to balance it out and you're just starting on it and it's just slightly off, okay, but it you've had Hashimoto's disease, you've had thyroid cancer, you've had Grave's disease or whatever it is ...

Daniel Amen: Take your medicine.

Tana Amen: Take your medication because it's too important ...

Daniel Amen: Right.

Tana Amen: And too hard to control.

Daniel Amen: If you needed glasses, you wouldn't try to do it naturally.

Tana Amen: Absolutely, and I manage my hormones and I do supplements to make me feel better.

Daniel Amen: Especially omega 3 fatty acids.

Tana Amen: Absolutely. Vitamin D.

Daniel Amen: As we talk about ... Depressions not one thing, ...

Tana Amen: No.

Daniel Amen: It's seven different things in the brain, so you have to know your type. I wrote a book called, "Healing Anxiety and Depression" where we talk about the seven different types or you can ... We talk about them in the "Brain Warrior's Way," or also in my newly-revised "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life" book, so there's a way to talk about it. Basically, if you have pure depression, depression without other things, SAM-e and omega 3 fatty acids can help especially ...

Tana Amen: What about vitamin D though?

Daniel Amen: Especially higher in EPA. Vitamin D is absolutely essential for your brain for [crosstalk 00:12:51].

Tana Amen: My vitamin D was like 13.

Daniel Amen: Right.

Tana Amen: Didn't never knew it.

Daniel Amen: Right, and you live in southern California where the sun it out 330 days a year.

Tana Amen: Why did no one ever tell me that? It's beyond me.

Daniel Amen: What's your vitamin D level now?

Tana Amen: It's about 90.

Daniel Amen: How much do you take a day?

Tana Amen: I started off having to take 10,000 units because it can vary with people, not only based on skin color, but also if you have a thyroid condition or if your guts not healthy, you might need more. Now I'm down to 5,000 units a day, but I had to take 10,000 units a day for about two years to get it to finally balance out.

Daniel Amen: Right, and on Brain MD we have vitamin D3, which is the supplement ...

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: That's the one you should be taking for vitamin D.

Tana Amen: My doctor likes mine high though.

Daniel Amen: Also Nervite Plus, our multiple vitamin, has 2000 international units ...

Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Daniel Amen: Of vitamin D.

Tana Amen: So, I'm actually taking 7000.

Daniel Amen: You're actually taking 7000. Multivitamin, fish oil, vitamin D. If you have the over focused type of depression, worried, rigid, inflexible, argumentative, oppositional, things don't go your way, you get upset, then boosting serotonin can be very helpful. One of the supplements I really like is saffron because it's been shown head-to-head in studies to help support mood.

Tana Amen: Do you remember when Chloe was young, she was very rigid, very inflexible, would freak out when things didn't ... She got surprised or things didn't go her way, she would really freak, so on her chore chart, flexibility because one of her chores she had to work on. Literally. It was a daily practice for her. Now she's not like that. She's actually an amazing child now, but we worked really hard on it. She does take supplements and she notices. They help her not to be so rigid with, like, thinking things have to be a certain way ...

Daniel Amen: Right.

Tana Amen: With school.

Daniel Amen: Serotonin support can be really ...

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: Helpful for that. The other thing you do, I remember when we first met and I just ... I feel in love with you immediately. It took you longer to fall in love with me.

Tana Amen: What are we talking about?

Daniel Amen: One of the things we did is we went to a Byron Katie workshop.

Tana Amen: Oh, yeah.

Daniel Amen: One of the skills, I just think everybody should know, and they should actually learn it in second grade, ... And I have a new book coming out in September called, "Captain Snout and the Super Power of Questions."

Tana Amen: For kids. Yeah.

Daniel Amen: It's about learning how to kill the ants. The automatic negative thoughts that steal your happiness and rob your joy.

Tana Amen: Yeah. I had to work really hard at this idea of talking back to thoughts initially. Really hard. Now, I automatically jump to, Is that true? It is true? Probably not. Then turn it around. Once you get practice at it, you can start talking back to them quickly, you can turn those thoughts around quickly, but I worked at it and it's not comfortable.

Daniel Amen: A natural treatment for depression, exercise, omega 3 fatty acids, and learning not to believe every stupid thought you have. The exercises, whenever you feel sad or mad or nervous or out of control, write down what you're thinking ...

Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Daniel Amen: And then question it. The act of writing it down helps to get it out of your head.

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: So many times this week, I don't know why this week, but I'm working with patients and it's like, "He made me crazy." "He made me depressed."

Tana Amen: Then you're a victim.

Daniel Amen: "She made me this." I'm like, "Okay, so let's write that down."

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: We ultimately change it to, "I allowed him to make me crazy ...

Tana Amen: Right, because then you have control.

Daniel Amen: I allowed ..." Right, because if you allowed it, then you can stop it. The cognitive therapy part, or the therapy for your thoughts, is just a critical piece of that.

Tana Amen: Two little things really quickly that I really like in addition to that are, ... You know, you and I talk a lot about this, because I can get fairly intense with things, is ...

Daniel Amen: Seriously?

Tana Amen: Is does this have eternal value? Am I going to care about this in 10 years or, you know, 20 years? Does it matter really? If I'm not going to care about it in five years or whatever, why am I getting all worked up over it? It's not going to matter.

Daniel Amen: Right. Now some things you will care about. Right?

Tana Amen: Some things are too big. If it's your child's health or ... I mean, yes. Okay, there are some things that are, but my computer crashing, or whatever, you know, it's just not worth it. That's happened to me in the middle of a book and I started to freak out and then I'm like, "You know what? Ten years from now, not going to matter." It really helps me to bring it back into focus. Then the other things is in addition to talking back to thoughts, focus on one thing you're grateful for, at least one thing, and really focus on it because most of us have a lot to be grateful for.

Daniel Amen: Where your focus goes ...

Tana Amen: Your energy flows.

Daniel Amen: Right. Awesome. You're listening to the Brain Warriors Way podcast.