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How To Feel Comfortable With Uncertainty, with Dr. Caroline Leaf

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

Even without a global pandemic, the world is filled with uncertainties. The inability to properly deal with these uncertainties is one of the primary causes of trauma. In this episode, the Amens are once again joined by Dr. Caroline Leaf for a discussion of how thoughts, memories, and emotions interconnect to prepare you for whatever life throws your way.

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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. In 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 amen clinics.com.
Tana Amen:
The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to BrainMD.com.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
Welcome back. We're here with Dr. Caroline Leaf the of Switch On Your Brain, and a number of other books. We're going to talk about trauma, and this is such an important issue now, when you're in a global pandemic. But your early life, in South Africa, there were having societal trauma in many ways, and you helped many people, who not only we're starving, but also had gone through significant trauma. Talk to us about how your work helps that. Be specific with us, so the people who are listening often have had significant trauma in their past.
Tana Amen:
Yeah, it's an emotional trauma, because I mean, I've heard you talk about the physical trauma, but also the emotional trauma.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
It's a great question, and I think that's very relevant. Pretty much my whole career has been involved with working with people in very traumatic situations, and helping them to manage. And then also, I've worked with many other different groups of people and everyone has trauma, so that's the big thing. We've got to level the playing field. We all have trauma, but different. And I always like look at a scale and think, okay, you've got your bell curve and there's the average ups and downs of life in the middle. And maybe you've got outlying situations that happen on the extreme end. But it's pretty much all of us. So one of the first things that I've always tried to address when it comes to trauma is to look within the societal group that you're in. So if I was working in Africa, Rwanda, wherever, it was always, you've got to to look at the case study. You got to look at the individual in their environment. And that's one thing that my clinical trials and things have shown me is that we can never really group people.
And this may sound contradictory, but the first point is that we are currently at the moment facing, as you all know, the global humanity is facing the same issue. So as humanity, we're all globally facing the same enemy. So what's very interesting here is if I brought that down back my work in South Africa, Rwanda, they were a community also facing an enemy. So it's just now translated into a global situation. So it's kind of leveled the playing fields because we all ... there's no selection process in COVID. It gets you with who you are, wherever you are, you're vulnerable. And it's that vulnerability that makes people feel so uncertain.
So I believe that the very first place to address anything in terms of practicality, in terms of trauma is to be comfortable with the uncertainty. And I know that people are talking about this, and how do you do that? I mean, you know from your work in the brain, and that's where we see this. I use QEEGs for the neuroscientific work that we're doing, And we've been really looking at just how the non-conscious mind, which is really what you feel in your truth value. What you really are experiencing is very quickly reflected in a QEEG, for example. And I know in the SPRECT, you're going to see that, too. You're going to see what's really going on.
But our conscious mind, we can often convince ourselves that ... We could try and lie to ourselves, and we can push down the truth, and then that creates tremendous conflict. So I think what a lot of us are doing at the moment is trying to ... are in that context stage where we are fearful of the uncertainty, and what's coming up, and how it's going to change life. But at the same time, we're not really facing it. We are avoiding dealing with it. We're pushing those feelings down, and getting immersed in a toxic bath of just all the problems, as opposed to saying, "Okay, there are these problems. I know that they out there, but I've got to be comfortable with the uncertainty, because no one has really offered a decent solution yet."
So therefore the only way we're going to really be comfortable with this is to be comfortable with the uncertainty, and then come together [collectivistically 00:00:04:48], and resolve this, but we need clear minds. So if we're in a conflict, our brain is going to what I call a red brain, so it's basically, you get too much high beta. You'll see that on the SPECT scan, too, that you're going to just get this kind of thinking where you can't be calm. And while people are not calm, you can't make good decisions. And if people are all in that state, we're all going to be running around with crazy people, chaotic in trying to resolve this issue. So I think as individuals-
Dr. Daniel Amen:
Sort of like Week 1 of the pandemic at the grocery store.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Yes.
Tana Amen:
Oh, and I live in an area where you would not think that would happen, and I think it happened worse than other areas where it was so crazy. People were literally getting in fist fights and singing opera. And it was just the craziest thing I've ever seen, pushing people in the grocery store. What is that?
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Crazy. I mean, grabbing the toilet paper. I mean, going insane over toilet paper. I mean, so people make crazy decisions in that's almost herd mentality. So I believe as individuals, my appeal is that we have a collectivistic mindset, instead of an individualistic mindset that we are individuals, but we have got to go back to the fact that we're facing this together, and we have to stay calm and it is uncertain. So it's a mindset shift, because when our mindset shifts to accepting uncertainty, and accepting that we can do this together, we act like adults. And I mean even the kids. So politicians, I don't believe are acting mostly-
Tana Amen:
No.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
[crosstalk 00:06:12], not at all. The scientists are acting like the big people in the house, and a lot of them are fighting, but the majority of scientists are collectivistically sharing and pooling knowledge, and trying to keep calm. And we all know. We've all faced the situations where a crisis happens in your life, and I'm not talking about COVID. Now I'm talking about just the day to day stuff. And we know that, we say to ourself, "Okay, calm down. You've got to calm down. You can't carry on." So we tell ourselves to do that, to know that we can't handle the next moment, unless we accept the uncertainty of the now. And that's what I really believe is the very first step that we need to do. So, it is uncertain. Let's accept it. Let's not have the conflict. Accept the fear. Get it out. Tell people how you're feeling. Express how you're feeling. Don't lie about this. It is scary, because if you don't get it out, as we know, it's going to be embodied inside of you.
And in that emotionally ... you mentioned the emotional side in the work that I've done, what I did was try and really understand thoughts. What is a thought? What is a memory? Because people use those words very vaguely. And you guys don't, but I know you understand them. But in general, people use the word thoughts, trauma, emotional healing all in one sentence, but they're different things that we're talking about. A thought is a concept like COVID is scary. It's changed my life. We've stepped out of normal. What does the new normal look like? Concept, I'm scared, I could die, my financial, et cetera. So the big thing is COVID is scary. That's the thought. Think of a tree, or if I use my hand as an example, the thought is the whole hand. It looks like a neuron in the brain, which is a little [inaudible 00:07:44] in your cell body, and everyone knows what a neuron looks like, especially if they follow you.
So if you think of a thought looks like a tree, then the thought is the whole concept. The memories are the details of, I haven't got a job, I might get sick, I have already lost a loved one, et cetera, et cetera, the detail of ... so those are the memories. The information are the memories in the big thought. And every memory has an emotion attached to it. So every bit of memory information has emotions. So as I think of, I don't have financial security, is that reaction in your HPA access? You feel fear, and anxiety, and stress, and all those scary feelings come up because the information as it comes up into your conscious mind comes along with the emotion. So here, we've got this COVID thought. It jumps up. I start thinking about the details of the COVID thought. There's the detail, and there's emotion attached to that. And then that links to that. And that links to that. And it's not just five fingers, it's thousands of different things that are interrelated, and we can go down a rabbit hole. What we have to do is capture that.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
That's a forest of anxiety.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Exactly.
Tana Amen:
Yeah, and it's so interesting. You said something interesting. You said the scientists are acting like the big people in the house. And I just wonder, because we were talking about that. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, right?
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Yeah.
Tana Amen:
And I'm very clear that I have a lot of weaknesses, but one thing that both of us are pretty good at, and I've noticed with some of the people I know, is that we're good in crisis. And one of the reasons ... and I was a trauma nurse, but I wonder if that's because that scientific training that you have ... One thing I keep telling the kids, "Relax, calm down, step back, and gather information," and I wonder if that's that scientific training that you have. It's like, "Wait, we need information. Before you freak out, we don't even know what's happening yet." So it's like, we can't freak out until we know what's happening. So, I think I can't make a decision yet, but we've got to gather information, make sure we're safe, and then let's figure out what's happening. But I wonder if that's that scientific training, and if we could somehow access that, because everybody has that ability.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
We've all got that ability. I love what you just said.
Tana Amen:
But how do we access that?
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
That's brilliant. What you said is absolutely spot on. We've got to get the data, and that goes to the people, all the myths that are out there, and all the conspiracy theories.
Tana Amen:
Objective rather than subject.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Exactly. Rather, gather the data and all sides of the data, not just reading it from one perspective.
Tana Amen:
No.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
But looking at multiple sources, because I get emails all the time. I get family member sending me, "Oh, have you seen this conspiracy theory?" And it's some crazy person on YouTube.
Tana Amen:
I stopped watching the news.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
The same thing, exactly. Yeah, exactly. I'd rather go straight to [crosstalk 00:10:29].
Dr. Daniel Amen:
Caroline, let me just interject a little bit, because Edward Snowden made it really hard for me as a psychiatrist, because I'd have paranoid patients come in and go, "The NSA is listening to my phone calls," and I would go, "Oh, no." And then it turned out, "Oh yes, they are listening to your phone call."
Tana Amen:
Yeah, it's okay to be informed. It's okay to be informed.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
And so, it's this balance.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Yeah, it's a balance, yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
[crosstalk 00:10:58] psychiatrist for 10 years. And so, the conspiracy theories around the pandemic have really elevated anxiety.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Oh my goodness, yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
You can't always trust-
Tana Amen:
And you can't always ignore it.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
... the reputable sources. Because initially China came out and said, "It was the wet market," and everybody went, "Oh, it's the wet market, except they don't sell bats in the wet market."
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Exactly.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
It's a bat virus.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Exactly.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
And then, the Secretary of State goes, "No, it came from a lab."
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
A lab, yeah.
Tana Amen:
But we can teach kids this. If kids understand it, then adults certainly can. And this is what I mean by gather information.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Yeah, I agree with you.
Tana Amen:
We don't want to be in the dark. We don't want to be sheep, and just following people around.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
No.
Tana Amen:
Gather the information, and I told the kids, I'm like, "Just gather information. We're rational enough that if we have all of the information, and you research it, and you actually fact check it, we can figure out what's what."
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Exactly, that's learning.
Tana Amen:
Rather than just accepting what people are telling you, and panicking.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Exactly. I totally agree with you. So the first thing is accept the uncertainty. And the second thing is to build your brain. And that's what I would literally would do with my patients. I will literally say, "Okay, let's get all these ... let's accept we don't know what we're doing. We don't know what's going on. I don't know why you had ... Why would someone rape you? Who knows why someone kills someone? Who knows why that ... We've got to be comfortable with the uncertainty. Now, let's get the facts."
And also, sometimes we use facts not a distraction, but as a way of building resilience, because what my research is showing, and I really think this confirms what you guys are doing is as a scientist, both of you being scientists, when you gather data, when you distract ... not distract, that's the wrong word. When you go and study a whole lot of different sources, and you do it objectively where you keep your emotions under check, so you're not getting mad, "I hate this one thing." You just get this one sees this, this one sees this, like you would do if you're preparing for an exam, and you're getting different points of view that you have to present. And preparing for a medical exam, doing grand rounds, you have to get different perspectives in order to get the big picture.
When you do that, it calms people down. I always found my patients that came in that were collapsing with anxiety, couldn't focus. I'd say, "Okay, what are you interested in? Let's learn some new information. Let's study something. Let's gather some facts." and immediately that changed the brain. If you look at the QEEG, it changes, calms the brain down, and gets it into more of a flow state, and then you can actually think straight.
Tana Amen:
And we have to go to the next episode in a second, but I want to just confirm what you said. That even works, yes, that's true in a scientific setting, but I'm actually writing a memoir right now, and it's about overcoming trauma. And that is true, even in that situation.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Of course.
Tana Amen:
Because I've had to do a bunch of research.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Exactly.
Tana Amen:
And I've had all family members for situations that were really hard. It's hard to write.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Oh, yes.
Tana Amen:
And in doing so, I got a very balanced perspective, and went, "Huh? Okay. It was hard." But you all of a sudden realize there were reasons that people did what they did. I might not agree with them, but everyone was doing the best they could.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Exactly.
Tana Amen:
And so, with the resources they had, and all of a sudden it sort of balances everything out.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Balances everything out.
Tana Amen:
It makes it easier to move on. So gathering that information and being objective is really important.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
It's so important.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
When we come back, we're going to continue to talk about pharma, the pandemic, but specifically, what you can do to manage the anxiety, and trauma in your life. Stay with us.
Tana Amen:
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. And while you're at it, feel free to give us a review, or a five-star rating, as that helps others find the podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
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