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The holidays can be the most difficult time of year, even without a pandemic. This year it’s more important than ever that people take care of their brains and their thoughts in order to avoid the things that pile on the emotional weight. In this fourth and final episode in a series on managing crisis with Dr. Jennifer Love, she and the Amens discuss important strategies for keeping your thoughts under control during the holiday season, especially for those that have recently experienced grief or loss.
For more info on Dr. Love’s new book “When Crisis Strikes: 5 Steps to Heal Your Brain, Body, and Life from Chronic Stress”, visit https://www.amazon.com/When-Crisis-Strikes-Chronic-Stress/dp/0806540818
Daniel Amen, MD:
Welcome to the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen, BSN RN:
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.
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 amenclinics.com.
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Welcome back. We are still here with Dr. Jennifer Love. We’re talking about her new book, When Crisis Strikes and I am just having so much fun with this. I love these steps and I love that they’re on the hand because you just don’t forget it. It just makes it so simple and so easy to remember.
You really like the middle finger.
I do. I love giving crisis the middle finger. I just, I have to tell you so far, it’s my favorite step But they’re all important. But it just makes it so simple to actually grasp what you’re trying to say. And I think this is so practical and so simple. Can you actually walk us through maybe a couple of examples of how this has worked with people you worked with in a clinical setting?
Jennifer Love, MD:
Yeah, and actually, it’s interesting because COVID started after we had written the book. The publishers asked us to write our COVID stories and how we were using the five steps. This first edition of the book has this postscript of our COVID diaries and Kjell and I have done like a three part webinar that will be shown through the Amen Clinics. And at the end we actually read our COVID stories and our step ones and what we did. And it was in that moment I realized how vulnerable it is to write a book and all the, what was I thinking stuff started going off.
Yeah. Oh man, that’s hard now. I got really anxious. The most challenging section for me to write was the section on loss. And because it really hit home. There’s a story of a death of a sibling and it happens to take place over kind of Thanksgiving. It’s so apt for this time of year as families are getting together and there’s that empty chair. And so there’s a sister who has lost her brother and the kids, so they’ve been celebrating their holidays together for a really long time because when they were younger, their parents died.
As they got older and got married and had their kids, they were each other’s family. And the kids all were running around and sisters in the kitchen, the patient’s in the kitchen doing the turkey. And she’s like, “Gosh, this is his job to do this.” She did the pies and the other things and the kids were doing their usual running around, getting leaves and everything to decorate the table and they really wanted to do this memorial for him and get his favorite football jersey and put it on his chair and have the celebration and she was really struggling with that.
And so I talk in that section about how, there’s no like magic cure on the day of Thanksgiving to work through five steps in a day, get through that. But this time of year is particularly challenging for loss. And we have to start thinking about how can we creatively get through this time of year that’s really hard. I’ve been telling people like this is not the year to go through. If you’ve lost someone, don’t open your box of holiday ornaments. Under no circumstances, if you’ve been divorced or lost a spouse or had a family crisis, do something different this year if you’re worried about that spot on the Thanksgiving table, we’re lucky, in California, we have great weather. Load up everyone and go to the park, do a bonfire, give your brain a break from having to think. A friend of mine years ago literally was carrying the Thanksgiving turkey to the table for his family and his elderly mother died right there.
Oh my gosh.
And I don’t have words for this kind of devastation. And the next year as he was approaching the anniversary, he was obviously freaking out so he created a community Thanksgiving at his local church and hundreds of people came and everyone brought food and they signed up for different things and so he was in a different atmosphere, a different location with people who knew and understood and could grieve with him, but also support him. And visually he was in a different space and so that can be really helpful as we’re getting into the holidays, is thinking about we turn down the alarm that our brain is sensing around us, the tension. One of the easiest ways is using our five senses. I light candles and I arrange flowers and I kind of make my own eye candy in my home.
For some people, it may be, you know what? I just can’t bear to go into that dining room for a formal meal this year. My eyes need something different. And giving yourself the freedom to even give up traditions. And I was talking with someone yesterday about doing a tradition swap. Her family always did one thing on the holidays and they didn’t feel like they could do it and her friend was in the same position so they decided to swap traditions. They were doing something new, but each family knew they were carrying on someone else’s tradition and so it felt like they were still part of something, even though they weren’t doing what they usually did.
Before we run out of time, let’s talk about addiction and how this relates because I read one statistic where for every percentage point unemployment goes up, that opiate addiction goes up three and a half percent. And so many people have lost their jobs, lost their businesses, lost loved ones. What are you seeing as an addiction specialist? And what are some strategies people can use to not allow their addiction to get out of control?
Yeah. I’m seeing an increase in addiction where some people have to hide it because they’re with families. Other people don’t have to work so hard to hide it because they’re alone. I see people who don’t want to go into treatment because of COVID. But I think the biggest change I’ve seen is the increase, and studies show this, in daily drinking. There was a study that was done at the beginning, I want to say somewhere around April, I’d have to look. I wrote about it in one of the clinic blogs. They did a national survey looking at alcohol consumption for people who were working from home during work hours. They weren’t even looking at the nighttime. And we all know alcohol became the national joke. We had the quarantini, all the memes on social media, if you have a drink in each hand, you can’t touch your face.
I haven’t heard that.
And people were Zooming cocktail parties. 40% of people in California were drinking during work hours.
And it was 50% in other states. Hawaii actually had the top 67%, but we’re talking about masses of people. And I started asking my patients about their alcohol intake. And I just remember one day, maybe in August or so, I said to them, “Did you ever think that you would be a daily drinker for four to six months?” And it’s just like jaws dropped. Because that’s the biggest change I’m seeing is people who have never had substance use disorders and technically may not have one, have increased alcohol or cannabis consumption, various things because it’s their escape mechanism. And the problem is, as both of you know, alcohol is a depressant. It’s the worst thing to have when you’re stressed or grieving. And it’s I talk about in the book, how it’s really a frenemy of sleep. People say they drink to get sleep and knockout and everything. But the reality is, as soon as your body starts metabolizing that alcohol, you get the opposite effect. Your brain goes into very shallow sleep. You toss and turn, you’re not in the deep restorative sleep wave patterns when you use alcohol.
And so, the rise on daily drinking, I think has been one of the trends that I’ve seen more this year than with my patients who have other addictions. I think there’s been an increase in pornography and online gambling because people are just stuck at home, especially people without jobs, what do all day? They watch porn all day. I think the behavioral eating disorders, all of that stuff has really been a challenge for people this year. And access to treatment is a challenge because of COVID. These tools we talk about it, I think it’s harder for people who were in the addiction to use the tools because their brains have been taken over by this dopamine problem, but for the family members and the loved ones, I think this is a great tool to help them organize their thoughts and feelings around what’s going on in their family.
Yeah, if you’re a family member who is dealing with someone with addiction, it feels like a crisis to you.
It is a crisis.
All the time.
All the time. It’s nonstop surprises.
You know what it’s like to grow up with it.
It’s nonstop surprises, you never know what’s going to happen next. And it’s just, it’s really hard.
Well, we love you and we love your new book, When Crisis Strikes. We’re so proud of you for doing this.
Yeah, it’s fantastic.
It’s going to help so many people, so whatever we can do to support it, we are going to do. You can find Jennifer on Instagram at dr_author_jennifer_love.
Yeah, to differentiate me between all the millions of Jennifer Loves on Instagram.
Well, we’re just so proud of you. You can get When Crisis Strikes at Target, at Barnes and Noble or Amazon, anywhere great books are sold. Get it and give it away to a lot of people because all of us are in a crisis and knowing how to deal with it better, there are going to be less addictions, there are going to be less divorces. There’s going to be less heartache and trouble. Thank you my friend.
Thank you so much. Your encouragement and you’ve been such a good mentor in terms of writing this book and teaching me the process of that. It’s been two years I’ve been working on this book. I really appreciate your support in that and having me on your podcasts.
Yeah, and part of a line we’re doing with Kensington Publishers, which is we have an Amen Clinics line, and our friend Kabran Chapek did Concussion Rescue, which we love. And this is just another one of the great Amen Clinics books. Thank you, everyone. You have been listening to the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast.
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