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There will be no new episodes this summer, but we will return in Fall 2021. Stay tuned!

What Causes Anxiety in the Brain?

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

In Dr. Daniel Amen’s new book “Your Brain is Always Listening” he describes the ‘dragons from the past’ that can breathe fire on your emotional brain. The most common of these is the Anxious Dragon, which has been especially dangerous during this pandemic. In this episode of the podcast, Daniel and Tana Amen discuss what triggers the anxious dragon, and what you can do to tame it.

For more info on Dr. Daniel Amen’s new book, “Your Brain is Always Listening”, visit https://yourbrainisalwayslistening.com/

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.

Daniel Amen, MD:

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, BSN RN:

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.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Hey, everybody. Welcome to a new week of the Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast. We are diving deeply into the dragons from the past in my new book, Your Brain is Always Listening. We have talked about the abandoned, invisible and insignificant dragons. My primary dragon, where it also talked about the inferior and flawed dragon that is driving the epidemic of teenage suicide. Today, we’re going to talk about the most common dragon of all of them. It’s the anxious.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Especially right now.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Dragon that is breathing fire on your emotional brain, and it’s always been the most common dragon, I think, as humans-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right now, they’re having babies, lots and lots of babies, because right now, 2020 was just epic for a little anxious dragons.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Oh, no question. Well, people were-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

They had a baby boom.

Daniel Amen, MD:

At home. They had more time.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

For a baby boom.

Daniel Amen, MD:

The anxious dragon is born whenever you felt the world was dangerous, and so anxiety is actually written in our genetic code because as humans, when we evolve, it was during a time of scarcity. And when, as a species we’re not strong, we’re actually pretty weak as a species-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right. We’re just smart.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Right. We’re smart. But part of being smart is having enough anxiety that you say for the future, that you don’t go up against a lion directly, that you get a herd and then you develop tools and then-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

On walls and right.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And protection. So, but for your life, the anxious dragon, if that’s one of your dragons, you can actually find out your dragons. We have a new questionnaire online. knowyourdragons.com. It’s when you felt afraid, if your childhood was scary, like I was beaten up virtually every day of my life until I was seven, and so it was scary. If your childhood was unpredictable, you certainly know about this.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Scary, unpredictable.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Felt the world was dangerous.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Felt the world was dangerous.

Daniel Amen, MD:

One of your early memories is your uncle being murdered in a drug deal gone wrong.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah. My first three memories, almost drowning, being left alone and having no idea where an adult was when I was two and a half, and my uncle being murdered. First three memories I can remember.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Or if you had undependable or unpredictable caregivers, and you actually had a babysitter that was pretty aggressive-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I had two that were very abusive, that I can remember. I mean, a best case scenario is I remember a couple that were just didn’t really pay attention and care. That was much better. But, I had two that were abusive.

Daniel Amen, MD:

When you were nine, we’ll talk about how this dragon reacts, but you actually had a panic disorder.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Which I never knew.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Separation anxiety disorder. [crosstalk [00:04:26].

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

When you told me that I was like, really? I mean, I think some people don’t even realize it. When, you told me I [inaudible [00:04:34] I didn’t believe that either, but I think when we just, we learn to live with these behaviors and these things that go on in our lives and these patterns. I think when people don’t know, it’s like, you finally put a name to it, it’s like, Oh, now I can do something about it. But I didn’t even realize that that’s what was happening. You know?

Daniel Amen, MD:

So, what triggers this dragon to breathe fire on you, Pandemic will certainly do it. Societal disruption, the political divide, but it’s really any reminders of past fears and anxieties. So if, for example, I talked in the book, and I never talked about it publicly, when I was young, I used to wet my bed and every morning I woke up-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

In a hammock, yeah.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Because you just never knew.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Well, you had a bunch of siblings, so that’s-

Daniel Amen, MD:

Oh, and no one else had this issue, and so I was special in that way. I remember the urologist, so my mom tried to get me help. He basically said, “Make him drink a lot of water, and then make him hold it.”

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Oh my gosh.

Daniel Amen, MD:

It was torture. I just, I still remember how upset that made me feel. I was just chronically in pain. So, as a child psychiatrist, I’m actually really good at treating enuresis or bedwetting, and it’s a little hormone you give people called DDAVP that helps. It’s like, my goodness. But so, anything that reminds you of, oh my goodness, somebody will find me out, that can drive anxiety. So, what are your triggers and how does it cause you to react? Panic attacks, fears, phobias, predicting the worst, nervousness, insomnia, headaches, trouble breathing, worrying about being safe.

What we see on scans is their limbic or emotional brain works too hard. It’s like it gets reset, so we call it limbic hyperactivity, and the treatment is to calm it down, and you can do it with diaphragmatic breathing. I teach my patients three seconds in, six seconds out. If you take twice as long to breathe out, as you breathe in, it’ll actually trigger a parasympathetic or relaxation response. I mean, it’s like super simple. Do that 10 times, it’s actually one of the things I do a lot that just settle things down.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Meditation, which you do a lot, and you find it incredibly helpful. Hypnosis is, I gravitated toward hypnosis when I was a young psychiatrist. So, I took a month elective in it and I just always felt calmer.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah. You actually did scans and studies on people praying and meditating. I think of them very similarly, but you’ve done studies on them, and it actually does settle down the emotional brain.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And it activates the thoughtful brain, which is like the perfect balancing act. Now, with all the dragons, there are good things about the anxious dragon.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right.

Daniel Amen, MD:

If you have low levels of anxiety, you actually die early from accidents and preventable illnesses. I was talking yesterday about the movie Free Solo, who is this guy that climbed [inaudible [00:08:42]-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Oh, yeah.

Daniel Amen, MD:

His anxiety center, the amygdala, he had no activity there.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Oh, interesting.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So, he had no fear.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Oh, interesting.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Which is why he could do that. For me, not in your lifetime-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

But, see-

Daniel Amen, MD:

… am I going to climb the Black Face of [inaudible [00:09:04] in Yosemite.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

But see, the funny thing is I have a lot of anxiety over certain things, especially childhood triggers from things that felt unsafe to me. It’s part of what, whenever I feel that anxiety, I want to challenge myself to do it, to get over the fear. So, I mean, anxiety can drive you to do those things too. It’s like, “No, I need to overcome this fear.”

Daniel Amen, MD:

Well, one of my patients, actually, the opening story in Your Brain is Always Listening, jimmy, his father was the leader of the Mexican mafia and he had this term, test your metal.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Test your metal.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

That’s kind of me. I don’t want it to rule me. So, it’s like, I want to challenge it. I know that there are a lot of people who do that.

Daniel Amen, MD:

For each of the dragons, oh, you can also use your five senses to calm your limbic hyperactivity. So, whether it’s music to settle things down, lavender as your sense of smell, massage, nature, and nutmeg of all things, helps to decrease anxiety. The movies the anxious dragons like, well, they hate horror movies.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I despise horror movies. My mother used to take me to see horror movies when I was a little kid. I never, I still to this day, why would you take a nine-year old to see Hills Have Eyes, especially when I already had a panic disorder. So, to this day I despise-

Daniel Amen, MD:

They tend to love funny, uplifting movies like Mrs. Doubtfire, Big, Shrek, I love Shrek or the Disney movie, Pollyanna.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Oh my gosh. If I have to watch Pollyanna, one more time. Everyone in the house has boycotted Pollyanna.

Daniel Amen, MD:

You have to do it. If you’re new to my [crosstalk [00:10:51]

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah. But, you don’t need to watch it over and over and over.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Then the affirmations to say, if you have the anxious dragon, “I am safe. I am secure. I am calm. I am protected. I focus on my breathing and centering myself.” So, [crosstalk [00:11:15] during COVID, you have the anxious dragon.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

So, one thing I tell myself, when I don’t feel those things is “I’ve got this. I’ve got this.” It’s like, “Okay, I’ve got this.” You know? So, it’s one of the reasons I take Chloe out and we do a, it’s like survival training where you sleep out in the wilderness and build your own shelter and stuff like that because it scares me. Right? So, because it’s like if this happened, what if I ever had to do this? What if, like, I always have these thoughts in my head, and I’m afraid of sleeping out in the wilderness. So, I still do that. It’s like the whole time I was, I couldn’t … “Well, okay, I’ve got this. You’ve got this.” I just keep telling myself that, and-

Daniel Amen, MD:

Yeah. No, I did that in the army for 10 years, so I’m not-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

But, I didn’t have army with me. I was just [inaudible [00:12:00].

Daniel Amen, MD:

All right. What did you learn? Do you have the anxious dragon? Write it down. Post it on any of your social media sites, and I would really love if you would pre-order, if you’re listening to this after the book is out March 2nd, copy of Your Brain is Always Listening. If you go to yourbrainisalwayslistening.com and you pre-order the book you can actually download some really great gifts, including a coupon for a free bottle of [inaudible [00:12:36] . Stay with us.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

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 five-star rating as that helps others find the podcast.

Daniel Amen, MD:

If you’re interested in coming to Amen Clinics, use the code Podcast10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at amenclinics.com. For more information, give us a call at (855) 978-1363.