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The 5-Step Process To Managing Trauma, with Dr. Caroline Leaf

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

The COVID-19 Pandemic has brought with it a great deal of trauma for many people. Some people haven’t developed the proper coping mechanisms to help them get through these tough times, which can make things even worse. In this final episode of a series with Dr. Caroline Leaf, she illustrates her 5-step process to properly deal with emotional trauma, so you can make it through the difficult times with a healthy perspective.

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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 amenclinics.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 are here with cognitive neuroscientist, Dr. Caroline Leaf, author of Think, Learn, Succeed; Think and Eat Yourself Smart. As everybody knows on the Brain Warrior's Way podcast, we're just a huge fan of food, healthy food. And then, Switch on Your Brain.
Caroline, thank you so much for being with us.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Thank you.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
What are the most practical things people can take away from your work, especially now during a pandemic? And then where can they learn more about you and what you do and the resources you have to offer?
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Wonderful. Thank you.
Well, I think the first thing is the 30 to 60 ... 30 to 90 minute rule. And that's the, as you are hearing something, reading maybe another piece of bad news or someone tells you someone else has died or there's another [inaudible 00:01:47], whatever, whatever news comes in, is not to react immediately to that. As that signal of that intonation is coming in, as you guys know, your brain is adjusting, for the listeners, your brain is adjusting to this information. It's a quantum signal. It's a sound signal. Your brain responds electrochemically and all kinds of things.
While your brain is in that state where it's processing and you're building that information into your brain as a structure, it's not a good time to respond. You're going to react instead of being proactive. Try and use the 30 to 90 second rule where you actually just don't say a word. Just listen. Just read and get to the point where you can calm down and respond.
That works brilliantly as well considering, we're all on top of each other in our homes. A lot of people with ... in small spaces. You're with each other all the time. In terms of, because we get lots of questions, like I'm sure you do, about, "Wow, I love my daughter or my husband or my wife, but we are all getting on each other's nerves. How do we handle toxic words and toxic people?" The 30 to 90 second rule is, and I know it doesn't-
Dr. Daniel Amen:
We haven't been getting on each other's nerves.
Tana Amen:
No. I think out of the whole house, we're the two that didn't.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
There you go. My husband and I are the same. We loved it, but we work together all the time.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
We actually have a rule in our house. "It's a pandemic, you get a tantrum a week."
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
I love that.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
More than a tantrum a week and we have to-
Tana Amen:
We're going to talk.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
... talk about it.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
You have to talk about it. I love it.
Tana Amen:
I threw a tantrum last week. He just looked at me and went, "Okay, honey. I love you." And he walked away. Then I came back 10 minutes later and I'm like, "I'm sorry, I love you. I'm sorry. That was my tantrum. I'm done."
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
I love it. I love it. I love it. That's so practical.
Well, here's another practical one that we've been doing and it works really well, is having a COVID-19 area in your house and that's the only area-
Tana Amen:
That's great.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
... that you can talk about COVID-19. It worked so well. As my youngest daughter was sitting and we're all having these dinners, which had become quite a ritual. They always were, being half Italian. Now with COVID they've become more of a ritual and we were talking about COVID nonstop and my daughter said, "I've had enough." So we have one area in our house, and that's what I recommend people do. One area in your house where you to talk about COVID. And then also in that time, limit the time, and then talk about not just the negative but also the positive. Even if you can't find a positive, there's something, "We've still got each other." There is always something. Always end the conversation on something positive. There's always something positive that we can have, I find.
Tana Amen:
We actually limited it so that we can't talk about COVID at dinner because that's our big gathering time where we all-
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
As well.
Tana Amen:
... sit together. So there's no COVID talk at dinner anymore because initially that's all it was.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
I know. Gosh.
Tana Amen:
It's like, "What is happening? We don't know what's going on." Gathering information, talking about it. Then all of a sudden we realized, "This is really unhealthy. We're not going to do that anymore." We can have our time during the day that we talk about it. We gather, we talk about it, but we're not talking about it at dinner.
Like you said, we talk about the positives. I realized life was moving too fast. I like moving slower. I like the dinners together with my kids. I like all of this stuff.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Yes. Exactly.
Tana Amen:
That's what I'm focusing on.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
I agree with that too. I love that. What you just said, life is based on now in terms of certain things, and that's why I think people think this is going back to normal. I know one of the things you were going to maybe discuss that can be a third practical point is don't ... I don't want to go back. Stop thinking to go back to normal. Cancel that from your mind.
Tana Amen:
What's normal?
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
And what was it? It wasn't very nice anyway. Yes, the financial and the health-wise we're going to move forward. We can't go backwards because backwards didn't help us now, we have to move forward. That's something is to think, don't try and go back, but go forward. Then you don't look for what's the new normal, just look for, how can we creatively re-conceptualize what we're doing right now?
Then a fourth thing is I would recommend that people understand in terms of trauma, because you are going to have trauma, accept it, embrace it, celebrate it. As soon as you embrace and celebrate, you're not celebrating the pain of what you've gone through, you're celebrating the fact that you're awake. From the research that I've done on the conscious and an unconscious mind and the neuroscience stuff is this, you can't change something if it's shoved down into an unconscious mind. That is shortening your lifespan. That is causing all kinds of chaos and damage. You need to embrace how you feel and you need to not stay stuck in just embracing.
People are quite good at saying, "I feel scared." [inaudible 00:06:04] encouraged. A lot of psychologists and a lt of mental health experts have been advising people to express how they feel. I'm saying, express how you feel, and process it. Go through it. Go through the detailed steps of, what does this mean? Process through not just, "I feel scared," but be very specific. And then re-conceptualize, which means, redesign. Look at it differently, "I can't do what I used to do. I can cry over spilled milk and throw endless tantrums," or you can throw one tantrum a week and move forward and re-conceptualize and design.
What I did with all that over the years, all these techniques I developed I've put into the main technique that is ... that really drives the mind to drive the brain to rewire. It's a five step process that I've developed that's based on the neurophysiology of how thoughts form inside the brain that's called, The Five Step Process, very simplistically.
You were asking me if people can get their hands on that sort of thing. I can show you. We've got an app called, SWITCH. I don't know if you can see this. We can send you the details but I've put the five steps and I can tell you what the five steps are.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
The app is called SWITCH?
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Called SWITCH and it's available-
Tana Amen:
I like that.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
... wherever Google, iTunes ... The normal place. It's an audio-driven 63 day program. You keep doing it, it works in cycles of 21. Changes in your brain happen in cycles of 21. What [inaudible 00:07:24] a lot of work on, how does a habit form and cycles of neuroplasticity. If you're going to really change something, it's not going to change overnight. We all know that. We all know little habits. We all know that. How long does it really take? Which has been 38 years of my work. It's cycles of 21 days.
It takes 21 days to build a longterm memory but it takes 63 to build a habit. Therefore, I've taken that concept and put that into, if you're learning for school, you're going to have to work in those cycles to really build knowledge that is going to stay in you that you can actually use. I used to train medical students for years. For 25 years I'd go in and teach medical students how to learn all the information, just as a side note, but you've been in the medical field.
Then also, if you're detoxing a trauma, it's going to not take four days, where people give up mostly after four days. It's going to take three, at least 63 days to heal a trauma. These things that we're going through now, as we transition, we're in the initial stage. We've been in it now for almost six weeks, we've built a longterm memory. We've almost habituated. We've almost automatized this way of functioning so we've actually already entered, which is good news, entered into a new way of thinking. Now we have to just unpack what that looks like in each of our lives, and that takes that 63 days.
In terms cycles of, in terms of what I teach in here and also in, Switch on Your Brain, is the version that's these ... descriptive version of what's in the books. This book I teach how to learn. These five steps are in different versions in the book. The app is easiest because it's audio-driven. Essentially it's, the first thing is you've got to be aware. You've got to gather awareness. The second thing is you've got to really focus your reflection on finding ... you've got to dig deep into the non-conscious mind to find out what you need to process. We've got to write things down. Your brain writes genetically. When you write things down, it does all kinds of things to, as you know, to bring things out of your brain. You've got to re-check, you've got to work on re-conceptualizing, which is redesigning. Seeing it differently. And then you've got to practice doing that.
These five steps can be done in as short as ... Research I've done shows in short as seven to 16 minutes a day over cycles of 21 days. That's how you can really practically learn to deal with the trauma that we're going through in this current time and any traumas from any stage. That's what I did with my patients for years. When I used to go into the township areas, into Rwanda, I would teach these five steps. How to learn same five steps, slightly differently, how to build your brain, and in the same five steps, how to detox your brain. Using our mind to fix our mind. To fix our brain.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
Let's use a practical example. Me. The pandemic has been a wild ride for me. I have eight clinics around the country, one in New York that we actually had to close for two weeks because one of our employees ended up on a ventilator with COVID-19.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Oh my goodness.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
And then my parents got sick and ended-
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
I remember this.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
... up in the hospital together. And then they came out. My dad really never got completely well because he had other medical things and last week, he died.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Oh no, I'm so sorry. My condolences.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
I've been teaching people about grief and how to manage it and how to manage my thoughts.
Tana Amen:
I love what you've been calling it. He's doing a series called, Good Grief. It's been really interesting.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
That's good.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
It's not funny but it's odd, when I'd post, because I've been posting almost every day, if my siblings hear me say something not complimentary about my dad, because he was brutal [inaudible 00:11:07].
Tana Amen:
He was a very powerful man.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
He was a very powerful person.
Tana Amen:
Powerful men don't get to be [inaudible 00:11:11] by always being kind.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
But they get upset and I'm like, "No, good grief is telling the truth."
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
That is so good.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
His last years he was one of my best friends. It was Tana and my dad. But I would love your thoughts having done a lot of your early work in South Africa. Obviously grief is a part-
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Huge.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
... of what you've done to help people. What are some of the strategies you use to help people process grief? I imagine it's very similar to that five step process, you just don't-
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Yeah, definitely. Excuse me. The first thing is, I'm sorry. I really am sorry for what-
Dr. Daniel Amen:
Thank you.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
The last time we spoke you were telling me about your mom and dad and how they-
Dr. Daniel Amen:
How they beat it.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
That's still an incredible story. So there's the first part, is gathering awareness. The fact that you actually are not pushing it down, you're going through, you're getting it out. The stages of grief that people talk about, they aren't actually linear. They don't happen in that nice little neat package. It isn't actually how the lady who developed it, her name's gone out, it's actually a much more fluid process.
That's the first thing is we've got to get it out in our time that we're ready. Not all of us are going to be able to talk about it straight away. Some people, maybe siblings, some of them are not dealing with it as ... like you are. You're talking, somebody might push it down a little bit for a while, but at some point we do have to get it out. That's the gathering awareness of, where am I at? Do I want to talk about this now or in a months time or in two weeks time? Do I want to talk to who? Do I want to tell everyone?"
Part of what you're doing is you are gathering your awareness by translating it into what you actually do, which is teach people. You transfer your knowledge and that's how you process, which is brilliant. Your reflection, the second step is, you've taken this grief and this death and you've turned it into lessons. You're processing. You're processing by teaching people. It's almost like the steps you're going through.
The second step, that you reflected on your pain and you've turned that into step three which is like a set series of lessons. As you are teaching them, you're kind of in that fourth step, with [inaudible 00:13:27] as you're teaching them a bit, as you talk you learn more and more and more and you're getting healing coming. And then the actual teaching that you're doing would be the five step. That's your active reach. You're doing something.
Before you started your teaching process of these series of grief, you would have gone through those five steps. You literally go through them ... These numbers are insane. On an unconscious level you go through those five steps of 400 billion actions per second. Just before you consciously awake, you're going through them just 10 seconds before you're aware of doing something. You literally, it speeds. It slows down a little bit. By the time you're conscious, you're actually going through those five steps 40 times a second, but you're only aware of it every 10 seconds.
That means that when we go into this five step process, we start training ourselves to become very aware of the every ten second moment, which is living a very self-regulated life. Translated, the most simple basic thing is being self-aware. All those numbers simply translate into being self-awake. Self-awareness enables you to bring healing between the non-conscious and the conscious mind. The non-conscious mind is your truth value. The pain of losing a loved one creates tremendous confusion of energy, and energy is not something weird. Energy is what keeps us alive. The zoom is energy. The zoom technology is energy.
In an unconscious mind, energy needs to be balanced. Part of balance is expressing your grief, acknowledging, recognizing it will never leave you. That's another big thing with grief, it's never going to get better. The worst thing I could tell you is time will heal. It won't heal.
Tana Amen:
No.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
What you will simply do over time is you learn to manage the pain. That keeps balance in the energy in your brain. If you, in an unconscious level, if you start denying and pushing down, your non-conscious, it forms little, I'm just giving you simple analogies, little knots. When you overdo exercise and you don't ... and you get knots in your muscles. If you don't deal with grief, if you don't process it, if you don't go through it in some way, all the stages, anger, denial, in whatever order, there's no order, you can do it in whatever way and it's going to be up and down.
In six months time you'll have a bad day and then it'll be fine for six months. Then three years later it could come back. If we don't allow ourselves to process it, we build up these clumps of energy and they send little warning signals through your subconscious, into your conscious mind, and every 10 seconds or so you'll be aware of, "I feel anxious. I feel edgy. There's something not quite right." This is what trauma does. Any kind of trauma. Grief is a trauma. If we become self-aware and train ourselves to become self-aware, we can listen to those messages of the subconscious mind which has been telling us the root of the issue that we need to just unwind. And part of grief is not, "I have to get over it. I have to just go beyond." It is accepting it's always going to be with you.
Great techniques for grief are remembering the good times. When you're feeling really sad, cry when you need a cry. Feel the sadness. You're human. It's beautiful to feel the sadness of grief, it shows you what relationship you had. We're scared of grief but we must embrace grief because it shows the beauty of the relationship that you had with that person. When you feel that sadness you can also, just to balance and help yourself, think of a really fun time or a really good example of just a great memory. Especially around Christmas and birthdays when it's really hard, is just express the emotion and then grab onto some happy memory which can just bring that balance back in.
Tana Amen:
That's pretty amazing.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Which is really nice.
The other thing is, is to allow space. My dad died in actually 9/11. Literally a month after. They were in New York when 9/11 happened, went back to South Africa, and he died a month later which was a total shock to everyone. My mom remarried and I know when she remarried a few years later, she said to me the one day, "I really battled with ... I still have Dad. I still love your dad." I said, "Mom, it's okay. You've got space for both." That's what we need to understand with grief. If you remarry or if you find that you ... find now you transfer that need or that ... what your dad meant to you, you might have a mentor or friend who seems to be fulfilling it. It's not replacing, it's just, you've got another space so you can-
Tana Amen:
You're not being disloyal.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Exactly, you're not being disloyal. You can hold two people in. You can love two people at the same time. You can love the person who's died and you can love the new husband or the new mentor, whatever it is, holding them in those spaces. That's a couple of things that I would recommend.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
Thank you so much.
I found, because good grief you do cry because you're sad. I have his voicemail saved on my phone so when I need to cry-
Tana Amen:
I come into his office and he's listening to his dad's voicemail.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Daniel, I did that with my dad when he died. I've still got it now. It's how many years later and I still have that recording. And it did, it was such comfort. For years I did, I listened to it.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
I'm doing his memorial service and so I've written a poem-
Tana Amen:
It's so sweet and so sad.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
... that I'm really excited about because it's really how he continues to live.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
Even though he died, he continues to live not only through me, I have six siblings and 50 nieces, nephews-
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Incredible.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
... grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Tana Amen:
I think it's really special because your early years with your dad were more difficult. To see that you have resolved that and-
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
So beautiful.
Tana Amen:
Yeah. And this grief process is one where you're realistic about your relationship with your dad, but it's also with fondness that you're able to do that. It's interesting.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
In fact, the last line-
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
I love the realistic but that's great Tana, that being realistic, being honest. We talk about the bad times too. You don't just suddenly have to pretend everything was great.
Tana Amen:
No.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Because not everyone is great all the time.
Tana Amen:
You can validate your own feelings.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
The last line in the poem, it is, "And he was perfect for me," because I really like how my life turned out.
Tana Amen:
You have so much of your dad in you. Sometimes I laugh because his dad is very strong. He's an overcomer.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Awesome.
Tana Amen:
He's a powerful man. Sometimes he would say these things, why his dad annoyed him when he was young and I'm like, "Really? Because I see that in you."
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Mirror imaging. Mirror image happening.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
[inaudible 00:00:19:57]. We have to stop.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Okay, stop. Now you just [inaudible 00:20:00] over some things that they have no idea what you're saying.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
Caroline, we're so grateful for you and for your time. I'm glad that we have been able to get to know each other.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
I am too. I'm so excited. I hope we can keep connected. It's just lovely talking to you and I just love what you're doing and collectively trying to help everyone which is so great. You're doing a great, great job so thank you.
Tana Amen:
Thank you.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
I'm so excited to connect with you finally.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
Well, we will post these links and Dr. Caroline Leaf, author of, Switch on Your Brain. You can also get the app at the app store called SWITCH. She's also the author of Think, Learn, Succeed. Think and Eat Yourself Smart. We are grateful to you. Stay safe.
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. 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:
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