(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)
Dr. Kenner: Tracy, you’re having some difficulty with depression?
Tracy: I’m not sure. I think it’s mostly anxiety and that’s what I kind of wanted to clear up. There is so much detail to my story. I used to get panic attacks driving, but I’ve had it well under control for a long time. I kind of lost my appetite – it’s kind of silly – but my boyfriend got food poisoning so I kind of stopped eating certain foods, it kind of messed with my appetite so I kind of lost my appetite because of it and I’m slowly getting it back. Because of my, I think, lack of nutrition, my anxiety kind of came back a little bit and I’d be getting nervous a lot. Kind of made me feel down, thinking how am I going to take my family places? I’m studying in criminal justice and how am I going to get a job doing this if I’m so nervous? So it kind of made me feel down when I had thoughts like that. But if I’d get my mind on other things, I’m fine. Now I’m left with this fear because I’ve always had this kind of fear of being depressed even though I haven’t really been depressed except for baby blues after I had my kids. Now I’m kind of thinking, does this mean I’m depressed or am I just anxious or what? It only happens if I sit there and think about all these problems and I’m under a lot of stress and everything. But if I get my mind off of it and do other things, then I feel fine.
Dr. Kenner: When you engage in what we call stinkin’ thinkin’, when you indulge those thoughts, you are going to suffer the consequences. You’ve got a nice cause and effect link there. And that’s exactly what we call it in cognitive therapy, although they would probably put the Gs at the end – stinking thinking. It’s negative thoughts that we just churn, we recycle them in our minds, over and over. “Oh my God, what if.” It’s such a common phrase for anxiety that on my whiteboard, if you were here, I would put OMGWI. Because everybody says that to themselves when they’re anxious. “Oh my God, what if,” and we don’t ever say, “Oh my God, what if I have a wonderful day today.” It’s always something negative, and we’re always predicting a negative future and that is a logical fallacy. If you don’t have it founded in fact, and so there are a couple of things. You need the owner’s manual of how to understand your own mind, and none of us are born with this manual. And the owner’s manual is how to understand your own emotions. You’re talking about multiple emotions. You’re talking about anxiety, you’re talking about depression, probably why not throw in some guilt, right? Some frustration with yourself. But if we focus on the two that you’re naming, depression and anxiety, let me give you just a sampler of this.
Anxiety has, each emotion has a theme behind it. Let’s just say I’m happy-go-lucky and things are going well in my life, and then I learn that a loved one, someone I dearly love, maybe a family member, just died. What emotion am I going to feel?
Tracy: Well, you know what? That’s what I’m going through. I normally am happy-go-lucky and a positive thinker and everything else, and then my aunt died of cancer and my uncle, they think he has MS and I’ve been really stressed out over that, and it made me think of my own mortality and made think of, “When I’m older,” I’m the sole caregiver of my kids and so a lot of pressure is on me and I’m in school for something I don’t even know if I want to do, so it’s so much stress on me all the sudden. Normally I can handle stress pretty well, and lately it’s been just really getting to me. Now I’m stuck with, by the time of the end of the day, I feel great – I’m fine, I’m strong. I wake up in the morning and I’m afraid I’m going to feel that anxiety again.
Dr. Kenner: That’s called a secondary fear. If you have a fear about an emotion, if I’m anxious because I’m afraid of spiders, let’s say, and I have a panic attack because I think I see a spider or oh my God, what if it’s in the room and I’m laying in the dark and oh my God, what if there’s a spider, and then I have a panic attack. You know what they feel like. Your thoughts are releasing adrenaline and cortisol and they’re making you feel, your heart is beating rapidly, you’re breathing heavily, you’re sweating. It feels awful to go through a panic attack. So now watch what happens. Now I say to myself, oh my God, what if I have another panic attack? What happens to the spiders? Spiders drop out of the picture and now I have a secondary fear of panic attack. You can do the same with depression. Oh my God, I never want to feel depressed again. You’re going to end up feeling depressed because you just opened up a file folder in your mind of anything that could make you feel depressed.
What I’m hearing, number one I would absolutely recommend cognitive therapy for you. Or cognitive therapy workbooks. You can go to my website DrKenner.com, and there’s a book Mind Over Mood, that is a very good introductory book. There’s another book by David Burns, When Panic Attacks. I don’t know if that’s at my website, but it’s a hard title to forget. And you can learn the thinking skills that I wish I could give you all in the minute we have left. I can’t.
But one of the things I would recommend is, as you’ve been talking, I hear you come through with confidence. Even though you’re talking about anxiety and depression and different problems, I hear you say, “I usually handle stress well.” You want to capture those wonderful thoughts, because you want to grow not your anxiety, but you want to strengthen basically the neurochemical pathways in your mind that underscore your strengths. And if you do things well, do it. If you don’t know if you want to be in the career you’re in, that’s a major consideration. So don’t beat up on yourself, but take a look at it closely. My gosh, I can’t tell you how many times I changed majors in college. It was a lot. From a French major to an art major to a biology major to a psych major, and I ended up in biology, but you’re shopping around. And my son was in a career that he didn’t like, he changed and he’s much happier now. Give yourself permission to look at that carefully, maybe even with a cognitive therapist if you have one in your neck of the woods.
Thank you so much, I hope you learn to read your mind so you’re in command and focus on your strengths.
Male 1: I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed an exhibit more. The artist’s choice to make that a monochrome was a stroke of genius. Conveyed such despair.
Male 2: Yes, it was so refreshing to see a sad peach.
Dr. Kenner: Have you ever been to an art museum and you look at the stuff on the wall and you say to yourself, my kids would do much better than that! Or this is such a sham. This is disgusting. Why would they put on streaks, black streaks on a white canvas and call it something like the depth of the universe. If you’ve been taking in by modern art, think again. They are trying to do something to you. You want to be able to look at something like a Michelangelo’s David or the Sistine Chapel if you want. You want to be able to look at people who have talent, who are able to see the world in the way that you want to see it. If you want to see it as a fuzzy peach, if you want to see it as a white on white or black streaks on canvas and say, oh my, that’s great – what is it doing to your mind? Art can fuel you. It can inspire you. Whether it’s a painting, whether it’s statues that you enjoy, whether it could be literature, very good literature. Art can inspire you and art can also bring you down. So you want to be very selective in what you enjoy in art and know why you enjoy it and if you find yourself enjoying nihilistic art, you want to kind of question your premises. What’s up here? What’s up with me and why aren’t I attracted to art that is inspiring?