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Sep 16, 2022

Sometimes it is important to try and re-focus our perspective. A great deal of anxiety is about the privilege we enjoy because of the place we live. Trying to understand that concept can help us consider how the perspective of the world at large. Refocusing is an essential tool for reducing anxiety.



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here's psychic welcome in Insight with Mike Library this is Dr Michael Mahon and I'm here
with my good friend and colleague Mr Brett Newcombe I love it when you say that which part good friend or colleague
both because it gives me some identity yeah well I I am very aware
um that there was a period of time where I was an experiment for you
Oh I thought I kept that better hidden oh no you used to tell me that all the time I don't know how how you thought it
was hidden when you used to say that you used to say like those words to me well you're just really an experiment well I
mean if if you were feeling anxiety about that it's exactly what I wanted you to feel because anxiety can be a
motivator yeah and I was trying to motivate you well I was if you don't turn your sound machine you're going to
fail I was initially reluctant to believe that you would care enough about
me to want to be my friend well and I understood that and you said well there were reasons why but I'm in a period of
my life where I'm trying to be a better person and I'm using that I can bring
along as an opportunity to try and yeah I promise a turd yeah yeah and I was
like oh no thanks that's wonderful okay now you're making me anxious yeah so so
uh do you get anxious a must it's part of the human condition
yeah but I don't know that anxiety is a part of the human condition and this is why I say that because
where even if there are other uh psychological conditions that may be
actually linked to some kind of chemical imbalance or some neural processing I
don't think things I I've always believed anxiety is a thought disorder and so if you can correct the thought
disorder then you don't have anxiety so what I mean by that is that anxiety generalized anxiety other than the
fear-based anxieties I believe we should make a distinction between fear-based non-fear-based anxieties okay say more
so fear-based anxieties which are like post-traumatic stress disorder things like that those actually are ways in
which the brain processes information incorrectly so instead of the cortex
which is the area of your brain where rational thought lives processing information first and then giving
information to the limbic system which is your emotional Center and then that triggering the
fight-or-flight response when you have post-traumatic stress disorder that's turned upside down you just immediately
get into fight or flight and you don't ever process the information but generalized anxieties which are
situationally based you always process the information first and those are the result of cognitive dissonance so the
inability for the human mind to hold two conflicting thoughts comfortably so I
want to ask a girl out but I'm afraid of rejection right that's that's a that's a
a a a a conflict and the friction of those two ideas rubbing together in our
brains causes what we consider to be anxiety so if you don't have any cognitive dissonance if you don't live
with that and you don't fuel that on a regular basis then you could live fairly
anxiety free my question would be it is The Human Condition such that a person can do that
um I don't think so yeah because I think things happen I mean uh I recently had I was reflecting on your question about
anxiety uh I don't think I'm very situationally anxious uh
I mean it does happen but it's really rare uh if I'm in a dangerous environment and
I see I'm Jesse Jackson talking about walking down the streets of Chicago being followed by a group of young black
males I said made him anxious just because they were there because the reputation of the area and the community
and so on I've had that experience I remember hitchhiking through Hartford
Connecticut in the Spanish section being followed by a bunch of teenagers because
I was obviously an outsider didn't belong in that neighborhood and they wondered who I was and what I was doing there I felt some anxiety while they
followed me to the edge of the boundary and then they went away they didn't do anything they were just there but I felt
anxiety and and was asking myself questions like how'd you get here stupid well it's not where you should be get
out of here uh I had a I had a cancer scare earlier this year
and I had a lot of anxiety about well if I have cancer I'm going to die and do I have cancer am I going to die is it now
time to make my peace with that and figure out you know how to get from here to there to
an acceptable death right uh assuming I have anything to do with that at all or do I and so there's a lot of existential
anxiety uh so I think that may be the two types of
anxiety that you're talking about one one is a situational existential anxiety a baseline level of anxiety one's one is
an immediate reaction to a set of circumstances it could be scary causing you to have a reaction so I
don't think I'm very prone to one but I think I'm prone to both so I don't know
how to answer your question well I originally answered the question because of all of the people that I know
you demonstrate what I would consider observable anxiety
the least good yeah good and and I've always and I've always thought that now I've I've been in situations and I've
seen times where I have where I know that you were anxious but that's pretty
rare and so what I wonder is because anxiety is just so ubiquitous now in
society it's actually overtaken depression as the number one diagnosis
diagnosed psychological disorder in the United States and so is that a real
thing has anxiety overtaken it do we see it more and so when we're treating it
are we treating it in a way that is effective and beneficial
thank you I don't know yeah and I I don't know the
answer to the question because I don't have a global map for
society I try to see clients as individuals when somebody comes in and they're struggling
to digest something they want to figure out what that is and and try to find a way to help with that problem
uh now what I'm aware of doing counseling is that we may make progress
on this problem and when we take it off the table another underlying problem or
what we call comorbid problem will surface because it's like cards in a
deck and you play some down but there's still some there and I think life is a statement that there are problems
and you're going to experience having to encounter them and having to manage them
and resolve them to the best of your ability all of your life if you're alive there's going to be something out there
yeah that you need to be dealing with right and
I'm so so being anxious about it just saying oh my God I'm anxious I'm Frozen with
anxiety yeah isn't helpful to me no so so then my question becomes well what
are the things that we can do about the anxiety when I reframe the way you expand define it experience while I was
listening to you talk what I was thinking about was at what point did
things like psychological disorders start to become an actual thing like
when we were hunter-gatherers did we have the ability to experience
depression anxiety bipolar disorder and my guess would be long enough yeah even
if we did it didn't matter because environmental factors were such you had to have the survival skills right right
if they were survival skill enhancing yeah we had them yeah if they weren't no
and and so for me a lot of what we consider
mental disorders are really the luxury of our Advanced Society well I agree
actually okay you do agree with that I do and I also think that a lot of them are artificially created yeah uh by
advertising you know you watch Saturday morning television Sunday morning television every ad is a medical ad yeah
and they don't tell you what the product is for they they show glorious happy uh
sunshiny smiling people because they take this drug and then they and at the
end of the commercial they give don't take this drug if it can cause bleeding it cause heart attacks it can kill you you can't take it with other drugs be
sure to talk to your doctor about it oh and by the way if you have trouble forwarding it we can get it to you too yeah uh and then and then so then I sit
around like do I have that yeah is that do I have that so I don't know just call your doctor and tell them you want the
medicine ah yeah just in case yeah exactly right well you know that's magical thinking
everybody's medicine cabinet is full of drugs they didn't take a full dosage yes especially uh I I remember
20 30 years ago doctors were regularly talking about we don't want to give people penicillin because they're going
to be superbugs that come along that don't respond to those things and uh sure enough there were then there are
and so now they've uh I was in hospital one time because I got bitten by a spider a black widow spider yeah I
remember and I had uh my I think it was a brown recluse yes yes she was I said Black Widow yeah
yeah that was a different issue uh but we're not going to talk about that the doctor told me you're in the hospital
and I was there for a week yeah because we have to put you on this drip antibiotic because we can't give you anything strong enough that isn't coming
through an IV feed in your arm yeah uh to kill this bacteria because it
it'll kill you yeah so I lead in the hospital for a week waiting on the fight to be resolved while I read books no I
remember that and that was terrifying ah so if if
the if a lot of psychological disorders are the result of the luxury we have by
living in such an advanced Society does that matter in the context of doing
Psychotherapy can you say to a client you know a lot of what we suffer from is
the result of how good we have it is that a message that matters doesn't make them feeling better yeah I mean so what
the point is I have it now I'm worried about it I'm upset about it uh I'm in
the hospital with something that's probably going to kill me unless this drug works right so what can I do but
that's now that's an extreme case I mean but I mean that's where you get to well but I mean most of the time we see people in therapy they're not there
because they got bit by a spider and almost died they're there because you know their teenager is back talking them
and they don't have the intestinal fortitude to enforce consequences to make stop
or the societal support system you know I'm a five foot two 35 year old woman
with no husband and a job uh trying to manage a 13 year old who's starting to
feel his oats and get in my face and tell me you can't tell me what to do he's bigger than I am and I'm worried
about okay yeah that that is that is an um yeah that is a situation we I didn't
see a lot of people in that situation because we live in a fairly affluent part of St Louis I had a number of
clients that were dealing with that yeah and and that certainly is much more
problematic than the guy who is just so distracted by work that he's not really
active in the daily discipline of the children the mom is just furious because
the dad is checked out I mean that's mostly what I saw in therapy and and uh
to me those situations are the result of
I mean too much affluence I mean you're we're lucky that we have the uh the
luxury of having psychological disorders you whip out a chart of Maslow's
hierarchy I don't explain to them you have meals I mean this is yeah this is more of an uh a kind of a
intellectual argument between you and I as as people who did therapy for a long
time but the goal is to discuss with
clients what their situation is from their perspective in their reality and
I'm aware of that and I try and do that but for myself I see a lot of
psychological disorders as a luxury that we have because of the society that we
live in and that doesn't make them less real to the person I understand that but
I do think that if a individual can put that in context it could make it easier
for them so couple thoughts
when you address let's identify this let's look at other options
other considerations one of the things that
people are regularly told is you uh you can't think your way out of this
it's not an intellectual problem to solve it's not a data-based resolution you know the old Ben Franklin uh
conflict resolution thing pros and cons make a list divided up and weigh them
out I remember when I had a job in sales I used to teach us what they call the Ben Franklin close if you had a client
Mr Prospect who's considering uh because you've been so forceful your product
purchasing your product they're thinking yeah and you say well you know Ben Franklin had a solution for that to take
out a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle of it you say yes and no you see make up all the reasons for why
this is a good decision and then you help them with that he said well look it's cheaper it's affordable and you get
monthly payments it's guaranteed for five years it comes in multiple colors and whatever and then over on the other
side Ben Franklin put all the reasons for not buying it and then you don't say
a damn thing you make them come up with it and so if you're a trained professional you've given them 20 things
for doing it you give them nothing for not doing it they'll come up with two or three but then you're looking at the
balance it's like oh my God that's an obvious decision and that closes the sale right okay let's run to our break
and when we come back we'll pick this up hey everybody Dr Michael Mahon here from
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always if it's Friday it's psych with Mike okay so before the break you had
adroitly refocused us and and on to what we wanted to talk about which was
anxiety and some of the ways in which people ineffectively try and deal with
it and so you're talking about this idea that I can think my way out of something which is the message that we get from
our Protestant upbringing which is hey you know you should be able to think
your way out of this situation and you had given an example of a way that you did that in business so are you saying
that that works in therapy or doesn't uh it does not yeah because it's not you're
dealing with a an affective State not an intellectual problem so it's not a
weights and measures kind of uh problem can we weigh this amount of anxiety and
say well I've got two pounds of anxiety today but tomorrow I'll have one pound yeah yeah
and so but but we are uh conditioned to say we should be able to problem solve
by thinking our way through it well if I just focus on One credit card payment
leave the others alone maximize my payment on the one until I get it paid off then I can roll over what I'm paying
on it into the next one and focus on them one at a time and solve the problem so and then I'll solve all my financial
anxieties over time typically doesn't work that way because other things intervene right uh most
people are not able to do that not able to do that for a long enough time that they have success so somebody comes
along gives them another credit card says I can help you out here there's 500 that you can charge and so they charge
up to the max they have 12 credit cards they're all charged to the max they're making minimum payments and they're
screwed so you got to figure how can I resolve this but it's not as much a
dollars and cents solution as it is an effective solution why do you keep buying stuff you can't afford right
what's the hunger driving the need to possess right you know what are the feelings involved
can we identify them and address the feelings that drive you as opposed to
focusing on the mechanics of operation that are the expression or the outcome
of being driven by those feelings right you know I need to keep up with the Joneses all my neighbors have a newer
car we haven't bought a new car my kids need to go to college and everybody in town is going to this college I got to
at least be able to you know so people get trapped in those binds that
generate anxiety and in fact affective discomfort right but they can't think
their way through it but problem solving we oftentimes talk about emotional economics and so I think what we're
saying is you may not be able to think your way intellectually out of a problem
but you can consider what is the cost liability
or the the liability benefits of my emotions of my ethics so when you have
to feel the feelings first okay you have to feel you have to label you have to externalize them then you can process
them if you just stay in your head and don't feel any of that stuff you'll come up with logical Solutions right that
don't solve anything yeah because you aren't dealing with the affect right which is the argument that's made in the
article that you have listed about thinking your way through anxiety the other thing that people get bound up in
with regard to anxiety is thinking that they have to find a perfect solution camp and that's Sometimes the best
solution is to throw a whole bunch of crap on the wall see what sticks and then among the things that stick which one is a more attractive piece and can
you get there but if you're invested in thinking there is a perfect
solution I'm going to not take a vacation until I get all my
bills paid off right I can go and pay cash for my vacation you may work your entire working life and never take a
vacation so then you say well the alternative is I can go on vacation but then I'll just
go deeper in debt right well but you know I think that the the
intellectual exercise oh yeah butt thing is a way of
restricting yourself to an action yes or from an action because you think oh I'm
investing all of this energy in trying to think about this problem so I'm doing something when in reality you're not
doing anything because all you're doing is sitting there thinking about the problem and sometimes all you just have to take in action even if it isn't
beneficial just to get mobile my father used to say on a regular basis to me son
you have to do what the fighter pilot does yeah uh that's what I don't know what that means because I'm not a fighter pilot and neither you did uh but
it would be lead follower get out of the way do something he could have been a fire pilot
no uh yeah because they say when the plane's
gonna crash yeah you got to do something even if it's wrong it doesn't at that point it doesn't matter what he was
riding on the plane right you're gonna die anyway yeah so you might as well do something even if you don't think it's
gonna help do something don't just sit there immobile so I was raised in an era
uh where the lesson that I learned is whenever you get in financial trouble
go get another job yeah get an additional job work a second job work a third job bring in more income
pay these so that you don't negatively impact your standard living so I became
a workaholic and I spent most of my adult life being a workaholic working two and three jobs working 70 80 hours a
week making good money but for much of my life didn't manage my
money just no matter how much I made it all went out the other end and it wasn't even better
so that was a real mental adjustment to
recognize that solution wasn't a solution and that other things had to be
dealt with that I won't deal with they hurt and going to work didn't hurt right and
so do you is that an example of trying to think your way out of a problem yeah
yeah I'll just go get another job yeah absolutely yeah which then actually kind
of I'll see five more clients this week right that brings in money it kind of feels like that's a solution because
you're doing something but then it really isn't solving the problem you're
not changing anything right right and then you kind of touched on the third one which is to think that you have to
pause everything to and tell you in 2010 right yeah and you were talking about
not taking a vacation and you know a lot of times that feels like good
advice stop doing everything else and just focus on this problem right and that I even argue that might be good
advice if you were actually going to do something about the problem but if you're gonna pause everything else and
just sit and focus on the problem and not do anything then that's not really helpful so as a
therapist when you look at suggesting behavioral interventions behavioral changes
one of the things that you can suggest that your client initially will think you're really stupid I'm paying you
money for this and you're saying this to me you have to challenge habituated automation
so an example that I would give to people most of you get up in the morning
and get dressed in the exact same way right every day if you put your pants on first you put your left leg in first
then your right leg then you pass your pants then you put your t-shirt on then you put your shirt on you put your socks
on what order do you do that well I don't know well think about it pay attention just watch yourself because
you'll do it and you'll do it the same way every day so do it differently what do you mean I said well for instance lay
your clothes out tonight that you're going to wear tomorrow and when you wake up in the morning go take a shower brush your teeth do whatever you need to do
without opening your eyes come back in and get dressed without opening your eyes
you always put your wallet in your left Hip Pocket put your right hip pocket do something different and be aware that
you're doing something different notice the difference and how uncomfortable it makes you how comforting it is to have
an automated ritual because we have to break the rhythm of the automated ritual
and so even stupid little things like put your wallet in a different pocket give you an opportunity to say well I'm
going to do that differently uh so you challenge them to do little things that are under their control you
can decide this morning not to have four cups of coffee you can decide to have three glasses of water
oh that's stupid well no it's really not if you make it as a proactive choice
and then we can decide and it's really an exercise in being able to get out of
the comfort zone yes people don't recognize automated if it's anxiety yes
that's your comfort zone people say well I'm I'm uncomfortable with my anxiety no
you're not yeah because if you were uncomfortable with an old friend right
you would not live in the anxiety and so that's something that I think people get
stuck with is that they assume that because they say to themselves I feel
uncomfortable with my anxiety that that means that they're out of their comfort zone no that's what you know well and so
then there are classic defenses resistance as we call them against
challenging the anxiety provoking situation yeah one is well wait a minute that's not logical I have to think my
way through it one is I have to find the perfect solution because let lesson that
will solve the problem so it's got to be perfect and the third one is I can't do anything else until I find this right
solution right so those mental traps are defenses that preserve the anxiety right
exactly yeah they stop you from being able to work your way through the
anxiety to an actual resolution yeah and
you know that touches on this fifth one which is people believe that if they didn't have
anxiety their lives would be better and that's just not true because as you
and I started this discussion just have different anxiety exactly you're going to having having anxiety is an artifact
of the society that we live in and now if you know the world Goes to Hell and we have a nuclear Holocaust and
everybody's living in survival mode people are going to have less anxiety that's why millions are going to be
living in survival would that be better no that wouldn't be better millionaires can never have enough money
right they have to have a billion and billionaires can never have to have money they have to have more because you've always got to have more because
enough is Never Enough right even if you have more money than Jesus
you still have to have more because well if somebody took some away from you right well if somebody used uh control
of the state to limit what you could do with your money you know like the Jerry Reed song you know uh
it's a song You country singer I had a song about playing dice in the alley and
they're going to put him in jail and he said who's going to collect my welfare check who's going to pay for my Cadillac
if I'm in jail I can't do those things rich people have the same issues you
know it's not so much I got to pay rent it's like I got to pay fifty thousand dollars in Property
Maintenance right for all my houses right you know and so I have to make more money
and that's the Trap of anxiety that those individuals live with right and so the
question is if you gave all that up yeah and said okay I'm just gonna live on the
beach and you know not worry about making money well you we did a podcast a
few weeks back and you spent a considerable amount of time talking about messages from the Buddha about not
being invested in things owning things having things doing
things but just being uh as a goal for life
in which you didn't experience anxiety and so I am not
capable of citing the references that you decided but you were making the point that your understanding of the
message of the Buddha was the less invested we are in things attachments
relationships the less anxiety we will experience the less suffering we will experience the
more at one with the universe will become and that that was a goal of life
so so do you agree with that do you think that's no I'm not smart enough to know I
just we were talking about someone who's negatively and adversely impacted by anxieties to the point that they're
crippling how do they deal with them one of the ways if you could get the perfect
Buddhist solution you wouldn't feel them because you wouldn't have right investment in those things those agendas
those needs those goals those desires but being a normal person
which is a given uh I got them you got them everybody I know has them how much do they interfere how
much of a problem are they that's what brings some people to therapy so and
we'll go out on this question but uh if we're
correct and what we're saying that anxiety is a part of the human existence there's no
way to separate that out then control the volume yeah physical can can a can
an individual monitor their own anxiety or do you think that it is
necessary for someone to get some outside perspective
I don't think there's a I don't have a single answer that to me it depends on how much distress are you in do you have
the resources to moderate it yourself or do you need help yeah yeah it's my old
adage about no one goes to therapy because they have a problem they go to therapy because a problem they have
causes them emotional dysregulation right yeah
so the message is be less anxious
yeah as as Nancy Reagan used to say just say no just say no just say no but don't
just say no to contacting us if you have a question or reaction to today's podcast and would like to be involved in
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