Dr. Amen is one of America’s leading psychiatrists and brain health experts. He has authored or coauthored 9 professional book chapters, 85 scientific articles, and more than 40 books, including New York Times mega-bestseller Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. He has appeared on numerous television shows including Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, The Doctors, Today Show, Good Morning America and The View.
Carrie Ann: Welcome to the first ever episode of Carrie Ann Conversations, Journey to Wellness! I’m so excited that you have all joined me here today. If there’s anything that I’ve learned in the past year, it’s that in order to achieve wellness, you have to do the work. That’s why I decided to start this new series, Journey to Wellness, because I wanted to share what I have learned from this experience with you. I have thought leaders, doctors, experts, influencers, and friends. All have helped me on this incredible road to wellness, and the goal is to share it all with you.
I’m kicking things off today with someone that was by my side during my own road to recovery in 2021. He’s a physician, an author, and a brain health specialist who forever changed the way I approach my own health. He has been so important and such a great friend through all of this. Please welcome founder of Amen Clinics and author of the new book, You, Happier: The 7 Neuroscience Secrets of Feeling Good Based on Your Brain Type, Dr. Daniel Amen!
Thank you so much for being my first ever guest on Carrie Ann Conversations Journey to Wellness. And happy 2022! Let’s start with this – what is your goal for 2022?
Dr. Amen: To keep doing what I do. To make a difference in the lives of a lot of people, to love my family, and to live forever. So, to make decisions so that I have clarity and energy.
Carrie Ann: Alright y’all, did you hear that? We are going to get to how we make those things happen in a second. And Dr. Amen, I wish all of that for you. I know you know how to achieve it because you have helped me achieve these goals in my own life as well.
So let’s get started. To get everyone on the same page, I met Dr. Amen last year in May, right when I had taken my hiatus from The Talk because I was very ill. I wasn’t able to go to work and that was the first time in my life that something like that had happened. And when I came to him, I was in the worst flare up of my life. It was terrible. I had been to see all of these specialists, including a craniosacral specialist, gotten 7 MRIs, and did neurological testing, but the pain was still so immense. They were trying to put me on Percocet, and that didn’t even work so I knew I had to make a shift and make a change. Then I remembered a friend of mine who knows Dr. Amen talking about this man who did brain scans. At the time I thought it was so interesting, but I wasn’t in need. But in that moment I remember thinking to myself, I am in need. Because something is wrong, and I’m not okay. So I got your number and I reached out to you, and you were watching Game of Thrones, do you remember?
Dr. Amen: I do, and I was watching it for like the third time so I was like, oh, Carrie Ann Inaba, I’d much rather talk to her.
Carrie Ann: You were so sweet, you took the call and we started talking. And then before we even met, you asked me to go get my brain scan. Which I did, and it’s called a SPECT scan, so let’s start with that. Dr. Amen can you tell everybody about the SPECT scan and why you scan peoples brains?
Dr. Amen: I’m a psychiatrist by training, and most psychiatrists never look at the brain. Which, 30 years ago I thought, well that’s insane because it’s the organ I’m trying to help. So I was introduced to this technology 30 years ago, and now have a database of 200,000 scans of people from 155 countries. And SPECT basically tells us 3 things. Good activity, too little activity, or too much activity. And my job is to balance it. At the time you came to see me you were anxious and you were sad, your life was overwhelmed, and you felt awful. So I wanted to get a look at how your brain worked. You could tell me your symptoms but you couldn’t tell me how your brain was functioning. And we discovered it was hurt. It was really sleepy in activity, and that gave us direction on some of the things we would then do for you.
Carrie Ann: Yeah, I was confused. And I also had COVID brain, and I didn’t know what to do. After we saw my brain scans, I was blown away. I will post them later so you guys can see what we are talking about. You can also watch Dr. Amen’s show, Scan My Brain, which I will be on, and we will be sharing the scans there. So we scanned my brain, and found evidence of a traumatic brain injury – a concussion in the prefrontal cortex. We also found that my frontal lobes, which should look like puffy clouds, looked like little nubs or claws, and that there was not a lot of activity where there should be. Most of my activity was in my limbic brain. So Dr. explain what that means and what you diagnosed me with at that time.
Dr. Amen: The limbic part of your brain is your emotional brain. So it was like the emotional part of your brain was on fire. But your temporal lobes, which control learning, memory, and mood stability, were really low in blood flow and activity. Your frontal lobes were also really low in activity. So then we began to go huh, I wonder if she has ADD? And that actually became very important over time. So you had a concussion, depression, ADD, and COVID brain. And what I’ve seen with COVID brain is it can really fire up your emotional brain. About 20% of the people who have COVID will then develop anxiety or depression, or both. I have before and after scans, before people got COVID and after, and I was shocked that the inflammation actually happens in the emotional part of the brain. So, we had work to do.
Carrie Ann: He’s being kind, we had to pull out the bulldozer and the big guns and get to work! And we did. What you taught me is that the most important thing about what we know as mental health, is actually what you like to call brain health. And focusing on the wellness of your brain. For someone like me and a lot of my followers who have autoimmune conditions – I have Lupus, fibromyalgia, Sjogren’s syndrome, and antiphospholipid syndrome – we tend to try really hard to get well. But we’re going all over the place, we’re reaching for anything that could make us feel better. And what was so powerful is that you helped me to focus all of my efforts in one area. Which was to focus first and foremost on my brain health. In doing that we were able to create a plan to get myself back together, which we can go over because it was so powerful that I want to share it with everybody. It just made it very cohesive for me. And I’m so grateful for that, because I was putting the effort in but was going nowhere. Would you mind sharing how you helped me and the plan you put me on?
Dr. Amen: Well, whenever someone is diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder it tells you what it is, it doesn’t tell you why it is. And I think one of the most important things we did is we got curious about what was happening to you, and not furious. We began to see what triggers it and what settles it down, and for you food was a really big part of what triggers it. I mean obviously all of us during the pandemic were under a lot of stress, but you were in a very stressful time in your life, so it’s not a big surprise that the flare happened. So, our plan was basically 3 things. The first thing was love your brain. So now we could see it, and it’s a concept I call brain envy. Freud was wrong, penis envy is not the cause of anybody’s problems, it’s brain envy! I want you to love your brain. So before you do something, ask yourself, is this good for my brain, or bad for it? Then, you and I spent a lot of time talking about certain things that were not really good for your brain, whether its alcohol, sugar, not sleeping, or believing every negative thought you have. So brain envy was number one. Two was let’s start avoiding anything that hurts our brain, and we talked about that. And then engage in regular brain healthy habits. So looking at what medicines can help, what supplements can help, what’s the right food, the right exercises. For you I think one of the most powerful things we did was go through every year of your life and look at what was stressful, but also what was great, what was awesome. Too often when people do therapy they talk about all the garbage in their life and they end up feeling worse. Well you are so accomplished that it’s critical to not let your mind just go to what’s dark, but also to balance it with the light.
I also figured out that because of the concussion you also had something called Irlen Syndrome, which is a visual processing disorder. We found that certain colors of light would irritate your brain and trigger headaches. And you’re trying to read teleprompters but the lights from the studio were making you miserable. So I sent you to my friend Helen Irlen, and that made a big difference. So as you can see, this is a not well you’re depressed, take an antidepressant approach. It’s like no, no, no, let’s really understand Carrie Ann and get all of these factors working together. With repairing the concussion with hyperbaric oxygen, to treating the depression and the pain, which was really important, to diagnosing and treating Irlen Syndrome. Then you became a master ANT eater, where you learned not to believe every stupid thought that came into your head.
Carrie Ann: Right, and speaking of every stupid thing that came into my head, one of the things you mentioned earlier was making the list of my life. It’s funny because I had mostly focused on the traumas. Which was fascinating to me and I thought that’s what you were looking for, but what you were really trying to teach me was to look at my life in a better, more balanced way, and not be a negative thought queen. I mean Dr. Amen had me name the negative part of my brain, we named her Psycho Sandy. And whenever something came up, I would tend to look for the negative, as a survival instinct, a survival mechanism. I would also be kind of mean to myself when I was talking to myself. So when all of this was happening I was a mess, and when I was considering whether I should go back to The Talk because I was on hiatus when I came to you, we discussed it at great length. I wasn’t treating my brain so I hadn’t been treating the ADD, I hadn’t been doing enough physical exercise to keep my brain balanced, I wasn’t eating well to keep my brain balanced, I wasn’t eating well to keep my inflammation down, and I wasn’t doing anything with discipline for my brain health.
A lot of people have tuned in to find out why I left The Talk, and the reason why I left The Talk was I wanted to focus on my health. I did the math, is there going to be enough hours in the day to focus on what Dr. Amen has taught me to do? Which I had started to do and was having great results with. Could I go back to The Talk in time for the fall season? And I had to decide that I couldn’t. I realized if I wanted to live a great life, the life that we all deserve to live, the life that we all have a right to live, I would have to take the time to focus on my health. With all of your guidance I’ve been able to do that.
And going back to the automatic negative thoughts, I just wanted to ask you something. When I left The Talk one of the automatic negative thoughts that I had, otherwise known as ANTS, was that it was my fault that the show kind of imploded. And you helped me understand that that was a negative thought. And why does our brain do this? It wasn’t my fault. And after all the therapy I’ve been doing with you – by the way he’s been working with me this whole time, he’s my psychiatrist as well. I want you all to know the real relationship here, it’s been amazing and it’s such a blessing. But why does our brain do this? Why do we have these negative thoughts? Why did I do that to myself instead of just seeing it for what it was?
Dr. Amen: You know thoughts come from all sorts of places. They come from our genes, they actually get transmitted through generations. They come from the news we listen to, they come from voices like our mom, our dad, our friends and foes, etc. And when there is early trauma we develop magical thinking. Like I’m so powerful if something good happens it’s because of me and if something bad happens it’s my fault. Even though if you were talking to a friend about the situation, because you’re a very kind loving person, there’s no way you’d go “You’re right! That was your fault!”. You would help walk them through it in a rational way. But you weren’t able to do that with yourself. And that’s one of the most important strategies. Learn how to step out of yourself. Sandy the Psycho actually comes from a technique I use called Give Your Mind a Name. So you can psychologically distance from the noise in your head, so that you don’t have to believe every stupid thing you think.
How to question your negative thinking is just such an important concept that we should actually teach to children. I actually have a book called Captain Snout and the Superpower Questions and it’s a kids book that teaches them how to question those thoughts. But as you can see we’re working on brain health, we’re working on psychology, social connections, and ultimately spiritual connections like “So why am I on the planet? What’s my sense of purpose?”. And I mean doing this is totally at the center of your purpose because you are a healer and you’re sharing your healing journey with other people.
Carrie Ann: Yes, I am definitely sharing my healing journey with other people. Thank you for all that you just said. Dr. Amen put me to work, I just want to tell you guys. Like he put me to work and offered these things that would be helpful and I chose to do it, and it was amazing. One of the first books he asked me to read – well, first of all I suggest reading all of his books. They’re so much fun, and they’re not difficult reading. Simple solutions to complex problems. One of his books is Your Brain Is Always Listening. And he talks about what we just discussed, which are the dragons and how we have ancestral dragons and all of these different ways that lead to negative thoughts. So, Dr. Amen I just want you to share the 5 questions. When somebody is having a negative thought, you taught me these questions that really help you challenge yourself. Because we have to challenge ourselves when we’re being negative. So what are those questions and how can we avoid a negative thought?
Dr. Amen: So, the thought might be “I made things at The Talk worse”, and the first question is “Is that true?”. So you might say yes because you’re believing Psycho Sandy. The second question is “Is it absolutely true with 100% certainty?”. It just makes you really reflect on it and maybe you’re like no, it’s way more complicated than that. And the third question is “How do I feel when I believe the thought?” and you’d say awful. The fourth question is “How would I feel without the thought” and you would say free. And the fifth question is take the original thought, “I created these problems” turn it to the opposite, which is “I didn’t create these problems” and then look for truth in the opposite of the thought that is actually bothering you.
I got these questions from my friend Byron Katie, they’re so powerful. They’re so good. You know I don’t have any tattoos on my body, but if I got one, I’d get a tattoo of these five questions. Because that gives you happiness, that gives you peace when you don’t have to attach. It’s not the thoughts you have that make you suffer, it’s the thoughts you attach to that make you suffer. And if you can learn not to attach to the lies, you’re just going to be a happier human.
Carrie Ann: I want to move on to your newest book that’s coming out on March 1st, You, Happier – The 7 Neuroscience Secrets of Feeling Good Based on Your Brain Type. I just think about this title and it makes me happy. Because I know you’re going to help so many people with this book and everyone I talk to would love to be happier. We have been through such a difficult two years and some of us have been struggling even longer than that. And the tools you have given me have helped so much. So I want to ask you about this book. First of all, what are some of the warning signs that indicate that your brain health needs attention?
Dr. Amen: Well, if you’re unhappy. Happiness is a brain function. If your memory is worse than it was 10 years ago, if you have low energy, if you’re making bad decisions because ultimately it’s the quality of your decisions that determine your health and happiness. Decision making is a brain function. If you’re not sleeping, if you’re snoring loudly at night, all of those things.
Carrie Ann: Wait, why snoring?
Dr. Amen: Because sleep apnea actually triples the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Carrie Ann: Oh wow, so basically you’re saying if you snore a lot you might want to go get that checked.
Dr. Amen: You might want to get it checked, it’s very important.
Carrie Ann: Okay, so what can someone do today to start being happier?
Dr. Amen: In the book I talk about 7 things. The most important of all of them, the foundational secret of happiness that virtually none of the happiness books, because there are a lot of happiness books out there, talk about is brain health. I actually did a study of 500 consecutive patients, and I gave them my Oxford Happiness Questionnaire and I compared the high happiness people with the low happiness people. And the low happiness people had low activity in their frontal lobe. Sort of like you when I first met you. What people don’t realize is if I get my brain better, well, I’m happier. And happiness is a moral obligation. It’s not a nice thing to do. It’s a moral obligation because of how you impact other people. Just ask anybody who was raised by an unhappy parent, or married to an unhappy spouse, whether or not happiness is a moral obligation and I guarantee you they will say yes. This is not about selfishness, it’s about altruism because of how we impact other people.
Carrie Ann: Oh I love that, I so agree with that. When you’re happy, you spread happiness! It’s contagious. If you want to be a good person in this world start with you. Start with you. You’ve really taught me that. I thought I was dealing with me but I think I was making everybody else first in line, and I was actually back of the bus thinking I was taking care of myself. Let’s do a rating thing, on a scale of one to ten, where was my happiness when I first met you, before the work?
Dr. Amen: 2. Yeah, it was pretty bad.
Carrie Ann: Yes, I filled out all the forms and did the happiness challenge which we’ll talk about, and yeah I was about a 2. So where do you think I am now after 8 months of working together?
Dr. Amen: I think you’re an 8. I mean ultimately you should say it, but you know, there’s still ups and downs. But every time there’s a down we investigate it. We’re like detectives on Carrie Ann. You are such a good patient, I mean I adore you for so many reasons, but you do what I ask you to do. And you know that’s what I tell my patients it’s like just do it, because you know I have 40 years of experience so if you do this we’re going to make progress. And you do it, which just makes my work so much easier.
Carrie Ann: Thank you, so what grade level do I get, or on a scale how do you rate me as a patient?
Dr. Amen: Oh you get an A, you’re a 10.
Carrie Ann: Bruno, Len, watch out I got a 10! Thank you for that. And I will tell you that Dr. Amen was incorrect about one thing though. He said I’m about an 8, but the truth is I feel a 10 right now. And that’s because I’m doing this interview with you right now and we’re getting to share all of these amazing things. Ok, I know you’re short on time so we’re going to end with a viewer question. Here it is, from Melanie: “My thought patterns and therefore actions have been described to me by people more than once as all over the place. I’m not sure why I am this way, but I would like to understand it better and fix it”. What do you say to that Dr. Amen?
Dr. Amen: Well, Carrie Ann you understand about having your thoughts all over the place, it’s a common symptom of ADD. So I’d get that checked. And it could also be from a potential head injury. So one of the things you can do, a simple thing, is go to youhappier.com and pre-order the book and get a whole bunch of immediate benefits. Including my wife’s new cookbook, the You, Happier Cookbook. And get enrolled into our 30 day challenge, which you have done Carrie Ann. And I saw one question in the feed, it was “Did you get your brain scanned again?” and the answer was yes, and hopefully you’ll post the before and after, which are amazing. As your brain heals, your mind heals as well.
Carrie Ann: Yes, my brain is so much better you guys and you’ll see the scans right after this. I want to remind everyone that Dr. Amen’s new book comes out in March and is currently available for pre-order. Dr. Amen, I just want to thank you so much. You’ve helped me immensely and I do believe that with this Carrie Ann Conversation today you’ll be helping many more people. And I wish you the best 2022 and thank you so much for all that you’ve done for me, I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
Dr. Amen: You’re so welcome, and I look forward to seeing you soon.
Carrie Ann: Dr. Amen is fantastic, don’t you think? I want to thank you all for joining me on my first ever episode of Carrie Ann Conversations Journey to Wellness. This has been an exciting day for me and I really appreciate that you all tuned in. Dr. Amen was fantastic, I hope you all gained something and learned something for your own journey of wellness. And I hope that you will continue the dialogue. I wish you all a wonderful 2022! Stay well, and be kind to yourselves.
You can find Dr. Amen’s social media, resources, books, and more information on his SPECT scans at these links:
Pre-order his new book here