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Dealing with grief is among the most difficult of all human experiences. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss the pitfalls that can accompany grief, such as isolation, using problematic comforts (like alcohol and sugar), or using your grief as an excuse to hurt yourself. They also discuss several ways that can make the grieving experience more tolerable.
Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Doctor Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here, we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.
Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit brainmdhealth.com. Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.
Before we get started today, I wanna just read a very short, sweet testimonial. Someone who's been listening to the podcast, they love this. I think I do this more for me, for us, than anybody, because I love it so much. This one says, this is by Ollie.
"I love Doctor Daniel and Tana Amen. I look forward to their podcast every week. Each episode I learn new things to apply to my life, for a longer life. I would choose a brain scan with them over an all-expense paid vacation. Thank you, God bless you guys for all you do."
Daniel Amen: I love that.
Tana Amen: That's so awesome. Yes.
Daniel Amen: You know-
Tana Amen: We love hearing that what we're doing is making a difference, so thank you for sending these in.
Daniel Amen: Well, our friends Joel Chambers and Michael Peterson, when they got married, they gave themselves the gift of getting scanned, so they could see their brains, optimize them and have a better marriage.
Tana Amen: Right. I think that's awesome.
Daniel Amen: It makes a great gift. Today, we're gonna talk about grief, because it is rampant in our society nearly-
Tana Amen: None of us can escape it, right? I mean it's, we are all exposed.
Daniel Amen: ... all of us experience it at some point and we had something at the office happen, where someone near and dear to us lost their sweetheart of a heart attack. Somebody who was apparently healthy-
Tana Amen: And not very ... Very young actually.
Daniel Amen: ... very young and it's heartbreaking, it's devastating. It just reminds me ... Jen and I were just texting, and it reminds me of this story of Chris and Sammy. Chris lost her daughter Sammy to bone cancer, I think, five or six years ago now.
Tana Amen: Right.
Daniel Amen: Sammy was only 12, so even more heartbreaking. After Sammy died, Chris, she couldn't deal with the pain and went to bed. Drank too much, ate bad food, gained a lot of weight, and on the second year anniversary of Sammy's death, Chris had planned to kill herself. Then a friend of hers gave her my book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Body, and she said, "Well, if it's a bad book, I'll kill myself tomorrow."
Tana Amen: That's terrible. That's just terrible.
Daniel Amen: When she told me that, I'm like, that's so much pressure on me when I write these books.
Tana Amen: That's actually really awful.
Daniel Amen: She said, "It was a great book. I just did everything you asked me to do and I stopped drinking. I stopped eating bad food. I started to walk." And she said, "Literally within eight days." She stopped waking up with panic attacks."
Tana Amen: This is a really good point and I don't want to gloss over this, because, those of us who have experienced grief of any kind, the normal thing to do or the typical thing to do, is to comfort yourself somehow. As a society, we've learned to comfort ourselves, it's like, "Oh, I just want to bury this pain." So, you do this with either alcohol, or food, or whatever it is that we do that sort of immediately helps to squelch that immediate pain.
The problem is with that, if you're doing that, over a period of time, and not a very long time, over a period of a few days, that begins to actually affect the way your brain functions. As that happens, it's actually gonna magnifine. People don't realize it. It starts off sorta dulling that pain, but then, all of a sudden, it increases depression. It actually affects things like anxiety, it affects your sleep and so now, all of a sudden, it has this ricochet effect. Right? This is why we want you to know that when you're doing that, it's the long-term effect is gonna be worse.
Daniel Amen: Well, and I had met her two months later when she's down 24 pounds, she was running every day. Over the next year, she ended up losing a lot more weight and getting back to where she was before Sammy died. She said, "Now I know Sammy would have never wanted me to get into that state. Never let grief be your excuse to hurt yourself."
You bring up a really important point. The pain is so bad and I know when I went through a period of grief, I had chest pain. I literally went to the doctor, thought I was having a heart attack. When you lose someone you care about, your heart starts to beat funny. There's actually a thing in the literature, your heart's not broken, but it's not beating right. That causes chest pain. Sugar is a short-term fix. I mean, it works.
Tana Amen: And alcohol.
Daniel Amen: Alcohol calms down the bad feelings and sugar raises serotonin in the brain and so, makes you feel better. The problem is, it also increases inflammation, which increases the risk of depression and dementia. I know when I went through grief, it's like, I couldn't remember anybody's name. You just feel stupid. This person that works with us, I was just texting with her, and I'm like, "Get magnesium glycinate,-
Tana Amen: Yeah, help you sleep.
Daniel Amen: ... 400 milligrams. Not only it will help you sleep, but it will help your heartbeat-
Tana Amen: Yeah. I take 400 every night.
Daniel Amen: ... in a more normal rhythm."
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Daniel Amen: The first thing, never let grief be your excuse to hurt yourself. There are specific things you can do. We talked about magnesium. The other important thing that's really helpful is journaling.
Tana Amen: Absolutely.
Daniel Amen: Is journal your thoughts, because that will help them get out of your head and then they won't circle, because you know you've already written them down.
Tana Amen: Well, and there's something about journaling that is very healing anyways. It helps you process. It's really interesting, one of the things that I wanna add to that list is, be honest with yourself about, like, have a conversation with yourself about what the other person would want. That's not always that easy to do. Especially if you're a parent and we're talking about kids.
Daniel Amen: Well, I know what you would want. You would want me to be awful.
Tana Amen: No I wouldn't.
Daniel Amen: You have threatened to come back and haunt me.
Tana Amen: No, seriously. Especially if it's a parent, like using Sammy. Okay? I went and saw the movie, The Shack, with my daughter. We took Chloe to see the Shack. Now, that is my greatest fear, has been my greatest fear forever. If you haven't seen the movie, it's awful. It's a hard movie to watch, because it's about a little girl who's kidnapped and basically killed by this sex offender.
That's always been my biggest fear. Why? Because I not only love my child, because I'm a sheep dog, and protective by nature, and we think it's our responsibility. This is that thing that's our biggest fear. As I watched this movie, it's about forgiveness and I kept wrestling with myself, no, I wouldn't be able to do it. Then they make their point and I'm like, oh, that hurt so bad to like think of ... I'd have to forgive that person. All of a sudden I'm back to, no, I wouldn't be able to do it.
I'm watching this with my daughter and she saw me crying and she looked at me, it was almost like she could read my mind. She knows how protective I am. She said something so powerful to me. She said, "I just wanna tell you right now, I know you're thinking that you would wanna go find that person. I know you're thinking that you would wanna go hurt that person and do something awful to the person that hurt me, if that happened to me." And she said, "I'm just gonna tell you now, you can't do that. I'm just gonna tell you, you could never do that."
I'm like, "You can't say that.", like, "You can't say that." She's like, "No, you can't, because I would be so disappointed. I would be so upset." I'm like, "Take it back right now." She goes, "No." She said, "Because, you know, if I did have any way of knowing, I would be so disappointed, because it would ruin ... " She goes, "The only thing that would ever make me happy is knowing you found some way to make sense of it." This is my 13 year-old telling me, "The only thing that would ever make me happy is knowing you found some way to make sense of it and some way to be happy again." I thought, oh my gosh, how does a kid, ... I'm thinking my job is the only thing that would ever make sense of it is to-
Daniel Amen: Have vengeance.
Tana Amen: ... have vengeance. To like-
Daniel Amen: To be angry.
Tana Amen: Well, no, to get back for her. To get them back for her. You have to know what's in their head, because she's like, "No, the only thing that makes sense is you being happy again." And I'm like, how does a 13 year-old come up with that? It's crazy.
Daniel Amen: I really like that. What would that person-
Tana Amen: Think about what they would want for you.
Daniel Amen: Want for you.
Tana Amen: Would they want you to spend your life being miserable, and angry, and seeking revenge? Or would they want you to find peace. Would they want you to find love and peace. That just blew my mind. Apparently, I'm not allowed to seek revenge. I've been ordered, I'm like, "Take it back right now."
Daniel Amen: What are some examples of grief?
Tana Amen: Oh, dear Lord, I've got two that are just terrible. Just so painful. One of my best friends, who I was just with, just minutes before I came here, Sandra. She actually now has a very large woman's ministry at Saddleback Church. She's an amazing person. She's one of the reasons I chose her as a mentor is, because she's what I'm not. She's one of those people, you know, we choose people to help us become better at the things we're not good at.
Her daughter was killed by a drunk driver and this person, ... I'm thinking all along that, oh, it's probably someone older. Turns out, this was a 21 year-old kid, but he had been arrested multiple times for various things and didn't show a lot of remorse. Sandra, rather than being really angry, she was really, really depressed and didn't even come out of her house for three months.
She had a friend who helped her through this time and finally said, "Okay, today we're walking outside." A couple days later, "Today, we're gonna get in the car and go for a drive." Then it was, she just helped her. She just sat with her in quiet for months. Just helped her sort through it, then she said today, "We're going to the store." She just kinda helped her through that grief.
But what I thought was so interesting, Sandra ended up pleading for mercy for this kid. Now, they threw the book at the kid, the judge did, because he already had priors. It was, you know, three strikes. She ended up saying, "There's no reason to ruin another life. Let's figure out a way to rehabilitate him." I thought that was amazing. Talk about grace. That was incredible.
Daniel Amen: Losing someone you love ...
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Daniel Amen: ... animals.
Tana Amen: Animals, oh my gosh.
Daniel Amen: It's a big deal for a lot of people. My dad lost his dog that he had for eight years, completely attached to Vinny. He was actually very sad after that. Losing your job. Losing your marriage to divorce.
Tana Amen: Yeah. That's actually ... I think people don't put enough stock in that. That's a massive change.
Daniel Amen: I mean, not for everybody. Some people are-
Tana Amen: Some people celebrate. For most normal people even if you know it's not a healthy relationship, it's still a big loss of what you dreamed you would have, of what you expected it to be.
Daniel Amen: Having a child with a disability.
Tana Amen: Oh yes.
Daniel Amen: Like autism. Or my granddaughter, who was born with a genetic microdeletion syndrome that's involved with seizures and developmental delays. We've seen that, thank God for my daughter and her husband, but 85% of couples that have a sick child like that, end up getting divorced because you lose the idea of what you thought would happen. It's very hard and is often the cause of sadness and depression. Really, what it is, it's grief.
Tana Amen: Right. If you are the family member of someone trying to support someone going through a major loss or your friend, and you're trying to support someone going through a major loss, let's talk about what that looks like. Maybe you're also experiencing it. Say it's the child, and you've lost a parent, but you've lost one of your parents and the other parent is going through this horrible grief. What can you do to support them?
Daniel Amen: We should write an article, 10 things you should never do when someone's going through grief. Tell them not to feel that way.
Tana Amen: Or they're in a better place. That's not what they really wanna hear at the time. Usually just being there with them is a lot more helpful.
Daniel Amen: Don't go get drunk with them.
Tana Amen: One thing that I noticed ... So, my mom recently went through terrible grief a couple years ago. She was very much in love and her husband died. They did everything together, they were really, really close. When he died, she just went through a terrible, terrible grief. I noticed something. She was so lonely that her ... Do you remember that? Her depression was overwhelming for her.
Daniel Amen: I do.
Tana Amen: She began to scare me, that she went into this deep depression and just didn't really care about much. Her business, nothing. I noticed this and I could tell that she was really lonely. I knew she wanted to do something to sort of change this feeling. It's really interesting, she started thinking about going on to some online sort of dating site, not so much to date, just to meet someone to hang out with.
She was so worried about what everyone was going to think. She was really worried about what I was going to think or what other people were going to think and if you were in that position ... I remember stepping back and thinking, well, number one, what I really think and what I care about is that my mom is healthy. I want my mom to stay with us for as long as possible. Depression is not how it's going to happen. She's more likely to get really sick.
Daniel Amen: Right. Depression, social isolation, they all negatively affect your immune system, making it more likely you're gonna get sick.
Tana Amen: Right. If you've lost a parent, that could be really painful, but do you wanna lose the other parent? I just want you to think about that.
Daniel Amen: As you're judging.
Tana Amen: As you're judging, it's like, "You can't go out with someone else.", or, "You can't meet someone else.", or even be friends with the opposite sex. Just stop and think for a minute, because it's so lonely for someone who's older to be alone and isolated. You're likely to take years off of their life. It's just something to think about.
I'm not saying, you're gonna have to process it your own way, but I selfishly want to keep my mom here. I actually helped her. I helped her figure out how to ... She actually has someone who's a friend. They're mostly just friends. They hand out, they do things together, I mean, it's amazing. It works out really well. He had lost his wife, and so, was going through something very similar. I don't wanna lose her because of grief.
Daniel Amen: Don't engage in bad behaviors with them. Connected, stay connected. You don't have to talk, but sending a text,-
Tana Amen: Like send as friend.
Daniel Amen: ... sending an email, be-
Tana Amen: Just sit with them.
Daniel Amen: Yes. Connected. It's okay to talk about when you lost someone that's important, just so you have that common bond.
Tana Amen: I think some of the things that are helpful are, "I'm here for you. I'm sorry." As opposed to, "They're in a better place." Or, something like that, that is really hard for people to hear. Mostly, people mean well. I know when my aunt lost, oh, it was just so awful. My 20 year-old cousin, this is years ago, but, my 20 year-old cousin was in a military accident, he was killed in the military. It was just awful. His two best friends, same thing, she didn't get out of bed for a long time. She was just devastated.
I remember her on the phone saying, "I just don't know if I can take my next breath. It's everything I can do to take my next breath." His friends came over and didn't say one word. They went into her dark room, where she had everything blacked out and was just, laid in bed for months actually. They just went in her room and just laid down on the bed next to her. Didn't say a word. She, to this day, remembers that being the thing that probably was the most supportive. Just being with her.
Daniel Amen: Be with them. Bring them healthy food.
Daniel Amen: It's really trying to engage in those brain-healthy habits that help you feel the most. One of the things my good friend [Biron Katy 00:20:12] told me is, "Don't block your feelings." I think it was actually when you were torturing me. The beginning of our relationship, Tana tortured me a lot. She comes, she goes-
Tana Amen: I did not torture him. I want it to be clear, okay?
Daniel Amen: Oh no, it's clear, she tortured me a lot. One of those times, you had left, and I just adored you.
Tana Amen: He cannot say that without explaining. I had been through a really bad divorce and I needed to know that ... I wasn't gonna pretend and commit to something before I knew, that I didn't trust my own judgment. Now, can we move on?
Daniel Amen: There's a point to this besides torturing you. The point is, the most important she said to me is, "Don't block your feelings. Feel what you're feeling. If you cry, cry as much as you need to." So, feel what you feel, don't block it. Don't try to push it away and then confront whatever thoughts are there. Which is why journaling is such an important thing to do.
Tana Amen: Yeah. I love one of her lines are, "Argue with reality and welcome to hell."
Daniel Amen: Argue with reality and welcome to hell.
Tana Amen: When you block it, that's really what you're doing, is you're arguing with reality. So, argue with reality, welcome to hell, and so the journaling can be so helpful. The other thing is, the other reason I like journaling is because, you want to acknowledge the truth of the feelings and the truth of what happened, you don't want to make it worse than it was. You don't want to minimize it and you don't want to make it worse than it was. We can sometimes do that as well.
Daniel Amen: The most important thing, I mean, there is a cycle of life. One of the most beautiful parts of life is being able to breath, and being connected, and being in love. And, all of us die.
Tana Amen: Right. We're all dying, just at different rates.
Daniel Amen: Just at different rates. It helps-
Tana Amen: Cherish each moment, each day.
Daniel Amen: ... that when something like this happens, that it just is a reminder to cherish each moment you have and not take each other for granted. Stay with us. You're listening to the Brain Warrior's Way.
Tana Amen: Thank you for listening to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. We have a special gift for you. It's an opportunity to win an evaluation at the Amen Clinics. All you have to do is subscribe to this podcast, leave a review, and rate us on iTunes.
Daniel Amen: To learn more about Amen Clinics and the work we do, go to amenclinics.com. You can also learn about our new nutraceutical products at brainmdhealth.com. Thanks for listening.