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Today’s podcast has been a huge help to me. Recording the interview was a powerful experience, but listening again–and typing out the notes below–helped me even further. I hope that these ideas are a support to you, as well!
We talk a lot about organization and creating a solid Command Central here at LearnDoBecome, but today we’re going deeper–with Dr. Don Wood, an expert in neuroscience, an amazing mentor and friend, and the creator of the TIPP program (more about that below!) who is going to show us how to get to the root of what’s causing our frustration and anxiety.
When you think your goal is “cleaning the house” or “getting organized,” there’s often a LOT more going on under the surface. According to Dr. Wood, most of us learn how to “cope” with trauma–and manage the effects on a day-to-day basis. His goal is to help us heal from the trauma and reprogram our brains so we don’t have to resort to coping mechanisms to feel that peace we’re all craving.
A clean office and an organized home can get us pretty far. But if we’re still dealing with traumatic experiences (large or small), we’re never going to feel totally at ease.
Here are some key points from the podcast!
- “There’s nothing wrong with you.” If you’re feeling tense, overwhelmed, nervous, afraid, angry, etc., there’s a reason for that. You’re not broken.
- You don’t “have” anxiety or “have” depression. Those are symptoms of something else. Your mind is disregulated, and your unique set of “atmospheric conditions”/circumstances/trauma causes your mind to produce thoughts differently.
- A little bit about my story: I started feeling anxious around the age of 9. I wanted to get straight A’s, I wanted to excel, I wanted to do well. But I started getting stress rashes around the age of 16, and when I got married and became a mother, I really started feeling overwhelmed. Dr. Wood’s TIPP program has been a HUGE help when it comes to understanding how I feel, getting rid of the stress rashes, and moving forward with peace and clarity.
- First question from our community: What about when it’s not a “past trauma”? It’s great to get over a specific traumatic incident, but what if you’re living with an emotionally abusive spouse, and you don’t want to leave because you feel that you need to protect your children? Or what if you’re in financial distress? Or what if you have a child with special needs or issues that need to be monitored 24 hours a day? Or what if the political climate is difficult in an ongoing way? Or what if you have a really hard job that is creating lots of stress for you?
- Dr. Wood’s response: Current stresses activate past traumas. You may not be able to resolve the current situation you’re in, but if your mind is also looping through the old trauma, it drains energy that you could otherwise use to be present and in the moment–so you can manage the difficulties facing you at the moment. Current therapy (like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or reading great books, for example) is great for managing things you’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis.
- If there is “no answer,” that’s what creates the anxiety. The number one fear humans have is uncertainty.
- Here’s how you can deal with it: Record what you’re worried about and then write down the things you could do to address that concern and get more support. You may need to reach out for help–so you know you’re not alone. There are a lot of people dealing with similar stresses, and there are support groups available. The problem is that if you try to vent to people who don’t understand what you’re dealing with, they’ll stop taking your calls…. They don’t know how to help.
- “Emotional Concussions” is Dr. Wood’s term for “little T traumas.” These are challenges from the past that show up in your life right now. For example, if you tend to procrastinate a lot, there’s probably some kind of emotional concussion from your past that is impacting that. Maybe you had a parent who was a perfectionist or a very critical mentor/relative. That may cause you to procrastinate because you’re always afraid that you’ll get it wrong.
- Other things that will show up as a result of emotional concussions are temper flares and blaming other people.
- If you are living with someone who is hard to be around–because of procrastination, narcissism, anger, etc., you have to create boundaries. You first want to have the understanding that their behavior is not about you. Their atmospheric conditions are causing them to create some specific thoughts–which lead to their behaviors. But in addition to understanding where they’re coming from, you also need to protect yourself. You don’t have to be “okay” with someone’s behavior–or let them off the hook–because they are still responsible, but it is helpful to understand that due to their atmospheric conditions, they couldn’t be any different. (That’s not to say they can’t change….)
- If your spouse/child/friend/associate is behaving in a way that is challenging, you can say, “I can see you’re really upset. Can you help me understand if there’s anything I can do to help you right now? Or would you prefer to have some time on your own?” (The key words are “understand” and “right now.”)
- If someone is yelling at you, etc., you can ask that question, and if they don’t want to have a heart-to-heart at the time, you can take a break and come back to discuss it later.
- Financial challenges: What if your spouse earns an income, but won’t let you have any decision-making around how to spend that income? Or what if you want to earn money, but you’re afraid your spouse will feel threatened by your success? And sometimes a spouse puts pressure on the other spouse to take a certain job/earn a certain income–even though that isn’t what the other spouse wants.
- Dr. Wood suggests that you have honest communication and ask for your spouse’s perspective–in a way that helps you truly understand him/her. “Help me understand what I could do…”
- I referenced Dr. David Burns’ books, Feeling Great, Feeling Good, and When Panic Attacks. Those books feature “mood logs,” and Eric will sit down with me while I go through them, occasionally, to help me find the root of my challenges. Those conversations open up some great opportunities for understanding.
- Dr. Wood suggests we can say back to the person, “What I’m hearing you tell me is ______. Did I get that right?” That helps open the doors for further clarification.
- The Mumbai Tribe has an interesting greeting. They don’t say, “Hello.” They say, “I see you.” We each need to know that we are seen and heard.
- Next question: Let’s say you have a child who has had past trauma–and you see negative behaviors, but your child doesn’t want to get therapy or talk about it. What do you suggest for parents whose hearts are aching because they don’t know what to DO for their children?
- Dr. Wood suggests we share similar experiences we had and what solutions we found, personally. You could also say, “I’ve found this therapy I believe could be helpful for you. Could you please help me understand if there’s any reason you think this wouldn’t be a good idea?” You could also say, “I may not have the best perspective on how to help you, and I can admit that. Perhaps I’m part of the challenging situation for you.”
- Language and tone are so powerful.
- Children may sound frustrated, but at the same time, they want to be heard and understood.
- Regarding addiction, Dr. Wood has an amazing audio series about overcoming addiction inside his TIPP program. (I went through this series with the idea that perhaps I could be “addicted” to anxiety and putting myself in the middle of any challenge…making myself responsible.)
- Dr. Wood believes that people aren’t broken. They are designed to heal. They don’t have to be labeled an “addict” for the rest of their lives. He once worked with a woman who had been addicted to heroin for 7 years. She was convinced that she was “self-destructive,” but Dr. Wood told her that he didn’t believe she was self-destructive. He believed she was trying to feel better, and when she put the needle in her arm, it made her feel better. She was simply trying to stop the pain. Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol often “stop the pain,” but they’re not a permanent solution–they simply present a temporary solution to stop the pain “now.”
- Our explicit memory system stores all the memories of our lifetime. If your “survival brain” is accessing memories from 10 years ago, it thinks that the trauma is happening right now, and it wants a solution right now. People don’t self-sabotage. Their behavior is survival-based. That’s why healing past trauma is so important.
- Dr. Wood worked with an entrepreneur who consistently stopped his success at the two million dollar mark. He had watched his father go through a lot of financial ups and downs, and he didn’t want to go through that, as well, so he stopped himself from moving forward in an attempt to avoid the pain he’d seen his parents go through.
- What if you have a spouse who is addicted to something and doesn’t want to stop because the addiction is alleviating some kind of pain?
- Dr. Wood suggests getting to “what started the pain.” You can change your behavior and lifestyle, but if you haven’t fixed what created the reason you started your addiction in the first place, that fuel is burning on the sideline. Everyone wants to “work on the behaviors,” but that’s really tough to do. You need to get to the root. Of course you’re going to do something to alleviate the pain if your’e feeling bad…
- Dr. Wood also shares a story about the Russian army in WWII–and how the soldiers were more afraid of pain than of dying.
- On social media, we often think, “Everyone else is fine, but I’m the only one suffering with xyz…” But as you talk with people and actually discover what is going on behind the scenes, you learn that everyone is struggling with something.
- I’ve also found that I don’t want to label myself as something like an “anxious person.” Just because I feel anxious sometimes, it doesn’t mean that that needs to be my identity.
- One thing I learned from Dr. Burns was that “there’s no such thing as stress.” There are thoughts that contribute to our negative feelings, but there is a cause for any emotion we experience.
- According to Dr. Wood, any time you have an emotion, the purpose of that emotion is to cause you to take an action. That’s why it is helpful to write down what you need to do and when you need to do it. That removes the anxiety.
- Dr. Wood had a deposition that could have been very stressful, but because he knew there was nothing he could do about it the night before, he was able to relax. You can ask, “What is it my mind wants me to do?” and then follow up with “Is that possible?”
- You only want to think of things that are beneficial, appealing, and possible. You can’t have 2 of 3. Any time you’re feeling an emotion or thinking about something, you have to ask yourself if that thought fits into those three categories. Your mind is trying to protect you, and you need to train your mind to work in this optimal way.
- Here’s a technique you can practice if you feel anxiety in your chest. You say to yourself, “Right now, I am aware of a sensation in my chest.” Then you finish with, “So what?” You then ask if there’s something you can DO about that. If it’s something you can’t manage until you get to that event/have that meeting/experience that moment, then you tell yourself that you can’t worry about that right now.
- Dr. Wood has a very well regulated nervous system, and he helped his wife to do the same. She’d previously had constant chatter in her brain, and she didn’t feel that the world was a safe place. She always thought, “Something is going to go wrong.” That thought was from her childhood because there had been several traumatic experiences in her family.
- Dr. Wood’s 10-picture reframe also helped me a lot. (We discussed that in the previous podcast we recorded together…episode 79 linked at the bottom of the page.)
- The best way to diffuse that feeling that “there is so much to do and I am so overwhelmed” is with indifference. For example, if a child is having a tantrum, the best way to manage it is with a “so what” attitude/indifference. If you give IN to a child having a tantrum, you’re only encouraging him or her to have more tantrums. If you give in to your mind’s “tantrum”–telling you that you have so much weighing on you, etc., you’re only encouraging yourself to have more tantrums.
- I shared a bit of my story from high school (and onward) where I struggled with achievement addiction–always wanting to reach goals and get the most points and receive the awards that were available for me.
- Dr. Wood encouraged me (and all of us) to learn how to really assess our thoughts with those three criteria whenever that stress comes up: Is this beneficial, appealing, and possible? If it’s not possible to do something in that moment that will move you forward, you can say, “So what! It doesn’t make a difference. I can’t do anything about it. I’ll deal with it when the time is right.”
- For more support, Dr. Wood’s TIPP program is amazing. He encourages people to check out the testimonials on the program information page because it’s often really helpful to see people are struggling with similar issues. Many people think they are alone–but it feels so great to know that there ARE solutions, and there IS support.