We all have past experiences that have influenced how our brain and body react to various situations. This week Dr. Don Wood, PhD joins us to explore how these experiences influence our health and how best to address them.
Episode 67: Emotional Concussions
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Welcome to Supplementing Health, a podcast presented by Advanced Orthomolecular Research. We are all about applying evidence based and effective dietary lifestyle and natural health product strategies for your optimal health. In each episode, we will feature very engaging clinicians and experts from the world of functional and naturopathic medicine to help achieve our mission to empower people to lead their best lives naturally.
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[01:09] Cassy Price: Hello and thank you for tuning in to another episode of Supplementing Health. Today I am joined by Dr. Don Wood developer of the Inspired Performance Program, the author of Emotional Concussions: Understanding How Our Nervous System is Affected by Events and Experiences Throughout our Life. Dr. Wood has built his career around helping people overcome stress and anxiety with cutting edge neuroscience and I am very excited to dive into today’s topic for unresolved trauma and its effects on health. So, without further ado, welcome Dr. Wood. Thank you for joining me today.
[01:39] Dr. Don Wood: Well, thank you very much. I am glad to be here. I love the topic that you are talking about so I am sure we will have some great things to discuss.
[01:46] Cassy Price: I am sure you will too. I have listened to some of your previous podcasts and read through some of your writings that are online, and I think it is a very interesting topic and what you have discovered here. Why don’t we start by talking about what some of the types of health issues you have seen typically resulting from unresolved trauma.
[02:05] Dr. Don Wood: In a lot of cases, one thing that we see a lot are autoimmune issues like Crohn’s, IBS, Hashimoto’s and things like that because what I believe is happening is when there is that unresolved trauma that is creating an ongoing stress response and when we are in that stress response, what happens is that maintenance is minimalised, so the body is not getting the maintenance that it needs. I always explain it this way, if you are being chased by a lion your mind is not going to think about doing maintenance. It is a survival state. So, when people have unresolved trauma, they are constantly living in the stress response which is not going to allow full maintenance to get done. Those are very common things that we see, a lot of autoimmune stuff.
[02:59] Cassy Price: Okay, so how did you discover that link between trauma and auto immune conditions?
[03:04] Dr. Don Wood: It really came because, well first, my wife. When I met my wife, I realised she was living in a very traumatic household with a very angry father so she was living in fear all the time. There was nothing I could do to seem to stop that fear. So, she ended up developing Hashimoto’s, not until she was a little bit older, so the time that I met her she didn’t have it but that ended up becoming the case so even though she was living in a much calmer environment living with me, the trauma and the unresolved trauma from her childhood was continuing to loop and that was affecting her health. She had Hashimoto’s. My daughter when she was fourteen was diagnosed with Crohn’s. So, when she was sixteen, she disclosed to us some trauma that had happened to her between the ages of six and eight that we were unaware of. Then she also developed another autoimmune disorder called Idiopathic Pulmonary Hemosiderosis which is where her lungs would just start to bleed. Again, that is another auto immune issue and only one in 1.2 million people have this disorder. Really what they told us is that with her Crohn’s she would just end up with a colostomy bag and with the Pulmonary Hemosiderosis she would just bleed out, the lungs would fill up with blood and she would choke to death on her blood. So, that is what lead me to start. My wife said to me, “you have got to find an answer to this because we are going to lose our daughter.” That is when I started to do the research and made the connection between unresolved trauma with both my wife and my daughter and so many other people I was meeting.
[04:52] Cassy Price: I am sure that was terrifying too, that would add to the stress that your daughter is already experiencing and even your wife when you have such a frightening experience health wise that has come out of this, I would assume.
[05:07] Dr. Don Wood: Yeah. It really does. Especially the Pulmonary Hemosiderosis, they basically said that five years is basically how long people last with that. So, it is almost a death sentence. It doesn’t mean that everybody did, but a lot of people, I think it was one in every four would die within five years. So, she needed to live near a hospital because if she had it again then she would need to get to a hospital because otherwise her lungs would just fill up with blood and she would choke to death. So, then on top of that you add in the fact that she has the Crohn’s, I mean this poor child really suffered she was constantly in the hospital and the only answer they had for her was steroids. The steroids would try to bring the inflammation down because she would go down to ninety pounds because she just couldn’t eat. She couldn’t pass any food through. So, then for my wife on top of that, she is obviously had her own childhood trauma and now she is dealing with her own child that has had health issues on top of the childhood trauma. So, absolutely. This is now just aggravating and compounding on top of what they were already dealing with.
[06:22] Cassy Price: So, how severe does a trauma need to be to result in health issues?
[06:28] Dr. Don Wood: Well, it is interesting. That is why I wrote the book Emotional Concussions because I work with a lot of people who have the big T kind of Traumas, the Boston Marathon Bombing, the Vegas shooting, veterans from war. A lot of people haven’t had all of those kinds of experiences. I wrote the book Emotional Concussions, which really refers to those bumps that we get along the way like a teacher that said something or a coach that was mean to you or maybe an alcoholic parent that was dysfunctional. Those are emotional concussions that can accumulate and build up and have an effect on our health as well. Sometimes even with the best of intentions those kinds of things can happen for children growing up because a child doesn’t have enough life experience to understand what they are experiencing. So, they are going to create a meaning to it and those kinds of meanings can also create emotional concussions.
[07:31] Cassy Price: Okay. That makes sense. So, are there differences between childhood trauma and trauma experienced as an adult as far as how it effects the body?
[07:43] Dr. Don Wood: Yes. I believe in particular for children it is even more profound because they are still developing. When a child is experiencing a lot of trauma, their systems are still growing and developing so I think it has an even bigger effect on childhood. There was a study done with Kaiser Permanente in the 90’s talking about what they called ACEs, which are adverse childhood experiences, they made a direct correlation between how many ACEs you have had, the ACEs you’ve had could be obviously from a big T trauma like sexual assault or physical assault and those kinds of ACEs the more they have the more health problems they saw. The study was done with seventeen thousand participants. The study wasn’t necessarily done with just lower income participants. It was actually done in a more middle affluent kind of a neighbourhood. They found a tremendous connection between ACEs from either one, two, three or four or more ACEs to more severe health issues later on in life. Obviously as an adult too, adults can also have traumas that will also affect their health because I believe what happens is that when we have with unresolved trauma it basically is compromising your immune system and compromising your neurotransmitters. That is going to make you sicker, and you are going to feel bad.
[09:13] Cassy Price: So, for those smaller ACEs or less obvious ACEs, like people will definitely think of abuse as trauma but maybe something a coach said to you growing up that maybe hurt your feelings, a lot of those sorts of things we tend to forget or we don’t consciously harbour even though we might have subconsciously harboured them. So, how do you know if you are someone who could benefit from addressing these kinds of traumas through counselling?
[09:48] Dr. Don Wood: Well, what is interesting is like what you just said, you are not consciously thinking about it. I was actually speaking at a group and I was taking through our process in the group and I asked if anybody had any kinds of events that they would like to share with the group that they may have had, not in the big t Traumas but in the emotional concussions. One lady came up and said “I have never really had much of anything, I have had a pretty good childhood” and as she started to talk she started to share one experience of when she was six years old and as she was talking she said “we were in church and I started to talk and my grandmother took out her hairbrush and hit me on the head and told me to stop talking. I was in church.” At this point now, the tears are flowing down her face and she said, “I just realised I lost my voice that day.” She said, “I never speak up for myself.” That was sort of a revelation for her. She made the connection between when she stopped asserting herself. Now, was her grandmother trying to do that? Absolutely not. I think her grandmother was just trying to keep her quiet because she was in church but a six-year-old does not understand what just happened. So, in her mind, in a six-year-olds mind it is that “they don’t want to hear me.” Those can really have a major effect on your later in life if that makes sense.
[11:20] Cassy Price: Yeah, absolutely. I think that totally makes sense. I wonder how, when you think you don’t have any of those, how you start the journey of uncovering them and addressing those issues?
[11:35] Dr. Don Wood: Well, that is what the book Emotional Concussions was written for. I say what happens is that they will show up as symptoms. So, for example, if you are the type of person who procrastinates all the time that is probably coming from one of those emotional concussions earlier in your life. I give ten examples. Another example is if you blame everybody else, it is never your fault, or you know somebody who does that. So, every time something goes wrong it is never my fault it’s their fault, those are the kinds of emotional concussions that will show up. I describe ten kinds of things that if you see that you do are probably coming from something like that.
[12:22] Cassy Price: Interesting. So, is it ever too late to address a trauma?
[12:27] Dr. Don Wood: Never. The mind and body are designed to heal. That is what I have always said. All we have to do is reset it. What I mean by that is, if you read all of the self help books, they will tell you to stay present and be in the moment however our minds don’t work like that all the time because we store explicit details or events and experiences, that interferes with our ability to stay present and in the moment. What we are able to do is to get that reset so that you can stay more present and, in the moment, and that improves not only how we feel but also how you heal.
[13:10] Cassy Price: Awesome. So, when you are working through past traumas, how can you know when a trauma has been addressed and cured so that you no longer have to worry about that particular trauma?
[13:23] Dr. Don Wood: Great question. Basically, here is what it boils down to. Anytime you have an emotion, your mind is calling for an action. It wants you to do something. The purpose of fear is to escape a treat. The purpose of anger is to attack a threat. So, when you think about something that happened to you five years ago and your heart starts pounding and you start to feel angry, then that means it’s active. Your mind is actually calling for an action however there is no action possible. That is how you know. When that stops. For example, I have worked with people who have had really serious traumas who could never talk about their trauma without shaking and crying and now they are able to talk about it and they don’t have that same emotional response.
[14:17] Cassy Price: Okay, cool. So, what makes Inspired Performance Program that you have developed revolutionary in this area?
[14:30] Dr. Don Wood: Well, what we are able to do, this is really cutting-edge neuroscience, we are able to take events and experiences that you have had in your life and we are able within a four hour process be able to get your mind that start that reprocessing for you. So, people who have come in from the Boston Marathon, for example Rebekah Gregory, within four hours we had her that whole event updated for her, so she stopped having nightmares. So post traumatic stress, terror, nightmares, things that people are experiencing like anxiety and panic attacks within a four-hour process we can get your mind to start updating all of that. When people come in and tell me they have anxiety, depression and all this, I say “those are symptoms, that is not what you have.” Your mind is responding to something. We have to figure out what it is that your mind is trying to get your to do. Then once we reboot that. Basically, your brain is a giant computer, so we are going to reset it. It is always funny, what do we do when our phones don’t work? We power it off and power it back on. It is almost the same kind of thing. We just need to power it back up and get it to process some of that old data.
[15:52] Cassy Price: So, the techniques that you use, do they require one on one coaching or can people use them on their own time as well?
[16:01] Dr. Don Wood: Yeah, we actually have two different ways. One is that somebody can come and see me, and I take them through the techniques one on one. We also developed it digitally so you can actually do the whole four-hour program that you would do with me online through a digital process. It is the exact same program, except without me being there you are guiding yourself. I guide you through it, but you follow it along with the videos.
[16:27] Cassy Price: Okay. Cool. So, if you have a health condition as a result of past traumas can that condition be cured once the trauma is addressed then?
[16:37] Dr. Don Wood: Yeah, we always have to be careful about saying the word cured because cure is a powerful word. I do know that if that nervous system comes back into regulation then you can see improvements in health because the maintenance gets done. I can tell you for a fact that with my own daughter, who has Crohn’s, she had four resections done so four major operations to take our pieces of her intestines because they basically just atrophied, she hasn’t had a Crohn’s flareup after going through the program. So, she is the proof that I have for sure. I have heard that other people say that other things have improved after they go through the program.
[17:22] Cassy Price: That’s fantastic. So, I guess one of the things that we think of a lot being tied to trauma would be substance abuse. That in itself is a health issue but isn’t always thought of as a health issue. Do you find that a lot of people that you work with have substance abuse issues and that those get addressed through your program as well?
[17:43] Dr. Don Wood: No, actually we do a lot with addiction because that is a very common issue. I treat addiction completely different. What I say to somebody is that there is nothing wrong with you and there is nothing wrong with your mind. You have had traumas and you have found a resource that temporarily helped you deal with that trauma. So, what drugs and alcohol are doing, in particular, if I use those as the addictions, drugs and alcohol are basically helping you feel better. So, the reason people use them is that they are not trying to hurt themselves. They are not trying to damage themselves they are really trying to feel better. I had a lady who had come to me, she had been on heroin and she said, “I told my therapist that I was coming to see you and he told me that I have to be upfront and honest and let you know I have self-destructive behaviour.” I smiled and I said “really? Why would you think you are self-destructive?” This surprised her because she said, “I am sticking a needle in my arm with heroin, don’t you think that’s self-destructive?” I said, “no, I don’t I think you are tyring to feel better. I bet when you stuck the needle in your arm you felt better? Now, the substance that you are using is destructive, however you are not destructive. I know why you are doing this. It is because you are in pain, either physical or emotional pain. When you took the drug or the substance, it stopped temporarily the pain. That is why you were doing it. That has nothing to do with your character or your morals or your will power or ethics, that is human behaviour.”
[19:22] Cassy Price: That is definitely a novel way of looking at it. Often, I think as outsiders, if you are not someone dealing with that particular addiction or whatever it is that is at the root cause of the addiction, you do see it as destructive. You feel, why are they doing this to themselves? They have so much to live for or feel happy about or whatever because you are not dealing with this mental loop that they are trying to escape, right?
[19:49] Dr. Don Wood: Exactly. So, what happens is that because they had the pain, they found a resource. When they used that resource it temporarily stopped the pain. The problem was that they repeated it. The more they repeated it, they were building a code. The code was “this is how we stop pain.” Your subconscious mind, your survival brain is literal so it doesn’t see things as good or bad or right or wrong. It basically says, “that substance stops the pain” and its goal is to keep you out of pain and to keep you out of danger and keep you alive. So, that is what happens. They got stuck in a loop of trauma which got them stuck in a loop of resolving the trauma which is through drugs or alcohol. Like I said, I used to feel the same way because I have never had a drink in my life, I have never touched a drug in my life, so I used to see it the same way, “what is wrong with these people? Why would they do that? They have all these things going for them.” Now I understand much differently. It is all coming from a subconscious survival brain trying to protect you from pain.
[21:02] Cassy Price: So, then from the biochemical level where some of these substances actually do impact your biochemistry and change the different levels of serotonin or dopamine or whatever it is within your body, how does that get addressed by dealing with the trauma because obviously the trauma is on the emotional level. I don’t know if it also has an impact on that biochemical level as well or if there are two pieces to this puzzle.
[21:31] Dr. Don Wood: Well there actually are two pieces. That is such a great question. What happens is that the emotional side is going to put the system into a pause because it is not going to be doing as much maintenance, so we are going to get sicker because not as much maintenance is getting done. Then when you start taking, let’s say alcohol for example, if you are drinking alcohol you are going to zap a lot of your B vitamins and so if your B vitamins are depleted you are going to start feeling bad and it is going to affect your gut. There are all kinds of things. The majority of your serotonin and dopamine are produced in the gut so if the gut is out of balance it is not going to producing the nutrients and producing those neurotransmitters that you need to feel better. So, both that combination. So, when we have somebody go through our addiction program, we also make sure that they are supplemented with some of the vitamins and nutrients that they need that have been zapped during their addiction time.
[22:37] Cassy Price: Okay. Then so on the flip side, we don’t often think of high performers as having any issues, right? Yet you have worked with athletes on their performance as well as high power professionals. So, how does one change patterns to help improve those kinds of performances?
[23:02] Dr. Don Wood: Same kind of thing. Again, it is one of the things that when we look at people, you look at somebody and you say “they are a famous athlete and they’ve got money and they’ve got fame and all these different things.” They are still dealing with some of the same things that we are they just happen to be able to perform at a fairly high level at whatever particular field they are in. It doesn’t mean that they are not struggling. I think we are now starting to hear a lot more about the professional athletes coming out and talking about their anxiety and their panic attacks. The young girl that withdrew out of the French Open because she wouldn’t do media. She is one of the best players in the world, but she gets so anxious if she has to go and speak to the media that she had to withdraw. There is a professional basketball player that shared the news that he was having panic attacks. You would look at it and go “what could possibly be creating that? They’ve got everything. They’ve got money. They’ve got fame. They’ve got success.”
[24:01] Dr. Don Wood: Again, the brain doesn’t know any of that. It is still dealing with wat it is dealing with. Again, this is why we called this a performance program and not trauma therapy because I don’t believe there is anything wrong with everybody. Everybody’s mind works perfectly fine however there have been events and experiences that have been interfering with your ability to stay present and in the moment. So, what I find is that when I work with an executive, I had a guy just in here last week that came in and the guy is making about two million dollars a year so he’s very successful by a lot of standards of what people would think but his anxiety is going through the roof. He was really struggling. Not only did that affect his performance in his work, even though he was still pretty good at it, it was affecting his enjoyment of life. So, once we get the nervous system regulated there were things that were coming in and interfering with his ability to so that. Once we get that path regulated, he can then go into feeling that sense of peace. His performance is going to go up and his enjoyment of life will go up.
[25:13] Cassy Price: That is really cool. I was just thinking about athletes and in general the ones that do make a professional level or a higher calibre within their preferred sport they have started at a young age and some of them have experienced a lot of pressures in trying to get to the level that they are at. Can those kinds of pressures and those performance expectations and learning and training play into the traumas that are building to create performance anxiety or whatever other symptoms they are experiencing?
[25:50] Dr. Don Wood: Yes absolutely. Another great question. I worked with probably in the last month, two athletes, one a female and one male. One is already in college and nationally ranked in their sport and the other is going into college and probably going to be nationally ranked as a junior and will be nationally ranked in college. Both of them, again have dealt with loving nurturing parents who put so much pressure on them that they actually, the guy in particular, had serious injuries and health problems. Those injuries, I believe, were coming from the fact that he was constantly under stress, so he wasn’t getting the maintenance done that he needed to get done. Not only were his parents in particular putting a lot of pressure, but they also hired a coach that was one of these yellers and screamers who made him feel bad all the time. What was interesting is that his parents realised and recognised that maybe they put too much stress, they recognised that his coach was also doing that, so the parents really did a great job on trying to modify the way they were responding and putting the pressure on him. They got rid of that coach. When we were talking about it, his health had actually improved over the last two years and there was a direct correlation between the time when his parents went for some counselling to help with their stress that they were putting him under and they got rid of that coach. There was no question in my mind that there was a direct line between that.
[27:41] Cassy Price: Is there are particular age where people should start working on their psyche and any traumas that they have experienced?
[27:51] Dr. Don Wood: I worked with children as young as seven or eight, that is about the youngest I have worked with because before that it is really hard to get them to comprehend. It doesn’t mean that they couldn’t. we are working on trying to develop a program for younger children. If I do work with a child I would have them see me one on one as supposed to our digital program because I think the digital would be a little harder for them to go through on their own. One on one I can tailor a little bit better for them.
[28:24] Cassy Price: Fair enough.
[28:25] Dr. Don Wood: I am actually working on a digital program for kids too. The reason it would be a little different is that the material would sort of be the same, but the presentation would be a little bit different. I would do it more in an entertaining fashion as supposed to a more scientific response.
[28:47] Cassy Price: Cool. So, if listeners were interested in your program, would your website be the best place for them to start?
[28:56] Dr. Don Wood: Yes. They can go to that or they can go to www.gettipp.com. That is where they are going to get the best information so if people want to sign up to the program through your show, they offer a discount or something for your show.
[29:19] Cassy Price: well, I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with me today. It is such a fascinating topic that obviously can impact everyone and anyone so it is really great to start exploring some of this cutting edge neuroscience that you have created and developed and discovered and get it out to those that need it most.
[29:40] Dr. Don Wood: I have enjoyed speaking with you as well.
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