“The best antidote to anxiety often is information”
Dr. Susan Heitler
Dr. Veronica Anderson, Host, Functional Medicine Specialist and Medical Intuitive interviews Dr. Susan Heitler about self-help therapy for depression, anger, anxiety, and addictions.
Do you want to feel better without taking prescription pills? Dr. Susan Heitler, educated at Harvard and NYU, currently practices as a clinical psychologist in Denver, Colorado turns other’s lives into something wonderful and empowering. Use the prescriptions mentioned on the show on their own or in addition to medications and/or psychotherapy to feel better, now.
In this episode, Dr. Susan shares the upside to anxiety and ways you can heal with the right antidote. Listen to the end, to find methods successfully when you transition off pills and/or reduce medication so you can become a happier and healthier version of yourself today.
Listen to episode 17 on iTunes here or subscribe on your favorite podcast app.
17: Show Notes
Dr. Veronica Anderson’s Links
Dr. Susan Heitler – http://drveronica.com/prescriptionswithoutpills
03:30 – Getting into the Psychology profession
05:45 – Upsides to anxiety
10:00 – Religion, faith and gratitude
15:00 – Anxiety antidote
23:00 – Transitioning off pills
25:00 – Antidepressant medication
Female VO: Welcome to the Wellness Revolution Podcast, the radio show all about wellness in your mind, body, spirit, personal growth, sex, and relationships. Stay tuned for weekly interviews featuring guests that have achieved physical, mental, and spiritual health in their lives.
If you’d like to have access to our entire back catalog visit drveronica.com for instant access. Here’s your host, Dr. Veronica.
Dr. Veronica: Welcome to another episode of Dr. Veronica’s Wellness Revolution. Again, we’re going to talk about an issue that hits practically everybody in life at one time or another. One thing that I know from being a functional medicine specialist is that fear, anger, and sadness overcomes everybody at one time or another in life. Today in the United States there are more prescriptions written for people for anxiety, depression, and all these mental issues than there are actually people in the country. Imagine that.
What does that mean? There are people like me who aren’t on anything. That means somebody else has taken mine. More prescriptions written for anxiety, depression, emotional issues than practically anything else in our country. So what does this mean? We’re all having a little bit of trouble but besides having the trouble and getting the prescription, you get on the prescription, you can’t get off of it, it’s not getting better for whatever you have, and we now know that they cause major side effects and even other health problems.
So they mess up your brain and your neurotransmitters, they put them out of balance. They don’t put them back in balance. So what happens is sometimes you end up with a worst problem than you had before you started the pills. So you’re saying to me, “Dr. Veronica, what do I do about that?” Because what are other answers?
I went and I yacked with somebody. I lay on the couch and I still was walking around between these visits feeling anxious, feeling angry, just depressed, so what do I do? Yes, there are answers and today I bring to you a lady who is a Harvard and NYU graduate, two very prestigious institutions, who is also the psychologist in The Angry Couple, teaching people how to do couple’s therapy, helping other therapists do couple’s therapy so that more couples can stay together and be happy maybe. I bring to you Dr. Susan Heitler.
She’s a clinical psychologist and we’re going to talk today about prescription without pills. That is her book. Her website, prescriptionwithoutpills.com. I want you to see that. And then we’re going to get to see her book but we’re going to talk today about prescription for fear, anger, depression, all these emotional issues without using pills, because I know that’s what you want. Dr. Heitler welcome to Dr. Veronica’s Wellness Revolution.
Dr. Heitler: A pleasure to join you.
Dr. Veronica: First, tell us a little bit about how you got into psychology in the first place.
Dr. Heitler: That’s a great question. My mother would watch me when I would manipulate really my younger sister and brother. And he often said, “Susan, you’re a great psychologist.” So I guess that’s been my identity for a long time.
Dr. Veronica: So you started this as a little kid in elementary school working with people pretty much.
Dr. Heitler: Yes, right.
Dr. Veronica: Okay. Most of the time you have psychologists and you have psychiatrists. And for the general public if you don’t know the different the psychologist usually goes and gets the PhD. They generally don’t prescribe medications. The psychiatrists are the pill pushers usually. They’re MD’s. They’re supposed to do the talking and everything else. But in today’s world of sick care they have seven minutes and they give you a prescription in those seven minutes. And even valid practitioners and interns are writing prescriptions for all these medications. So Dr. Heitler, comment on that.
Dr. Heitler: Yes, in addition it’s a good description of the difference between psychology and psychiatry. We do it without pills. They’re specializing in pills and there are times where pills are appropriate. In which case I call one of the psychiatrist that I work with and say this fellow needs medication.
In addition though to helping people to go from feeling depressed, anxious, angry, to normal psychologists also specialize in understanding how people function when they’re healthy and how to coach people for instance in better skills as a couple. In the case of my book Prescriptions Without Pills I coach readers in how to handle those normal negative emotions in ways that lead to good outcomes, so they feel better and they solve whatever problem provoked the negative feeling.
Dr. Veronica: You talk about anxiety having an upside. We feel a little bit uncomfortable now, we just want to get rid of the discomfort. We want to numb the feeling. Some people self-medicate with cigarettes, or food, or alcohol. Then the rest of the population says, “I’m not going to go to do any of those things that are illegal. I’m going to go to my doctor and get my prescription for Celexa, or Zoloft, or Prozac, or Lyrica, whatever is the famous drug of the day. But you say there are upsides to anxiety, really?
Dr. Heitler: Yes. There’s upsides for instance to pain. If you get a toothache it really hurts. What is that toothache there for? To tell you you’ve got a serious problem in the tooth. If you take pain medication so you can’t feel that pain that misses the point. You need to go to a dentist and the cavity or whatever is wrong with your tooth fixed.
It’s the same with the pain of anxiety. It’s there to tell you there’s something that’s a problem lying ahead on your life path. You need to pay attention and think about what to do. Once you begin thinking about the problem, problem solving, the anxiety goes away.
Dr. Veronica: Let’s just talk a little bit more present day. Some people will see this video way after the fact, maybe even years after the fact because this is the beauty of the internet. But we’ve just gone to 2016, a tough year we went through an election where it seemed like the whole country no matter what side they were on or even if they weren’t on the side we’re feeling anxious, depressed, angry.
What do you say about those type of emotions that don’t necessarily have something to do with what’s going on directly in your life but are causing…? Psychologists, I don’t know if you did, were seeing an increase of anxiety in their clients during the election.
Dr. Heitler: And after the election even more so for people who are on the side that lost, depression, anxiety, panic. So what can you do about those? Well, in that case it’s a problem that you don’t really control. So there’s really not much you can do to change the outcome of the election. What can you do? One thing you could do is decide, is this a problem that I want to stay focused on or do I need to just switch my attention somewhere else?
For instance when I’m in an elevator I feel anxious. I have the same two choices as someone post-election. I can cope with the anxiety by distracting myself, bring a magazine along with me, or in the case of post-election anxiety, focus in on something else that you do control in your life, your kids, people you love, doing good things for people in your work. That’s distraction.
The alternative to looking away from the anxiety is to just notice the experience. Psychologists call it mindfulness. There’s a funny that happens when you focus on a feeling and just watch it. You don’t judge it, you don’t panic about it, you just observe the feeling within you. There’s a tendency for feelings to be like a wave, they rise and then they dissipate.
Dr. Veronica: You were just going through I assume some of the techniques that people can use to get rid of anxiety but most people say, “How am I supposed to do that? How am I supposed to not focus on it? It’s everywhere. I log on to the computer it’s there. I turn on the TV it’s there. It’s everywhere.” So how can you possibly tell me don’t focus on it?
Dr. Heitler: It’s hard to not do. You have to say, “I will focus somewhere else.” So I will stop playing games with my kids in the evenings and helping them with their homework instead of watching the evening news. Or I will skip the fun page of the newspaper and just go on to read the sports. There are ways that you can distract yourself in that regard.
There’s another technique also that’s kind of interesting. Some are religious and spiritual which is faith. Religion gives us several positive assets. One, religion teaches us to have gratitude. And we know gratitude makes us feel better. And religion is faith.
Gratitude in the context of the election was what makes you something like we are so lucky that we live in a democracy where the rules are very clear. In four years if I’m unhappy with this president I can work to get another president elected. And the people speak, if this president really does not do a good job the people will speak again.
The second, faith, as oppose to gratitude. Faith says you know what it’s going to be okay. I’m going to trust that our system works. And out system’s a complicated one. This is not a tyranny where one person who is elected president has all the power, the president works with a lot of advisers. Anything the president wants to do has to be in association with Congress which has lots of people who think for themselves.
There’s also the Courts. If the president begins to act too tyrannical the Courts will say, “Uh uh uh…” If you have trust in the US and faith that the democratic system works and worst case scenario four years and you can work to get a new president. Those also are active ways you can allay your anxiety.
Dr. Veronica: Okay. When you talk about having faith and trust it seems that at this particular time in history a significant number of people, and maybe it seems different, but a significant number of people seem not to trust and not to have faith. And it seems to be getting worst in that sense that less and less people are trusting and having faith.
When everybody around you is experiencing this lack of trust and faith and anxiety how do you tell people to stay calm? What can they do to stay calm?
Dr. Heitler: The centrally most important way to deal with anxiety is problem solving, doing something. So even today this week with the new president not yet even in office if people really say, “This is a problem, the person who’s in office is not okay by me,” you can begin right away to go to the political party of your choice and begin working toward four years from now having a different set of choices. That’s problem solving. That’s taking action towards getting the outcome you want. Shall I give you a little background? I call it the hand map.
Dr. Veronica: Yes, go ahead.
Dr. Heitler: The hand map ghost is what I call bump theory. As you’re walking along the road of life, see this bump at the beginning of your hand? Life has bumps. It could be someone did something you don’t like. It could be you couldn’t figure out how to do something you wanted to do. Or the bump could be someone was mean to you. The wrong presidential candidate got elected, all kinds of bumps.
Once you hit a bump you have five options, one, two, three, four, five. If you take the problem solving move you’ll end up feeling pretty good. You’ll circle around until you hit the next bump. And if you keep taking the problem route you’ll live mostly in the realm of well-being.
If by contrast you take one of the four-fingered detours, it’s not such a pretty picture. You can get mad to get what you want, it’s often ineffective or you get in the short term what you want but you lose the important relationships.
If you don’t want to get mad the second finger represents giving up. If you give up you feel depressed. So if you don’t want to give up but you don’t want to get mad and you’ve forgotten there’s a problem solving route, the anxious route is to let that problem just hover there. Do nothing about it. So if you’re anxious about the election and haven’t thought about a plan of action where you can do something to make at least a small difference then you’re at risk for staying anxious.
Then the fourth route, because anxiety is so unpleasant, as is anger and depression there’s the escape route, and that’s to addiction. The hand map explains the unfortunate path that people can take in response to a life bump.
Dr. Veronica: You also talked about making anxiety helpful. How do you make your anxiety actually helpful?
Dr. Heitler: I’ll give you an example. One of my favorite cases because it was so dramatic and it actually has a funny ending to this story pointing at me. I saw a woman, she says, “I just feel chronically anxious.” So the appropriate next question is to find out what thoughts provoke the anxiety. “Close your eyes and what thought comes up.” Let’s call that woman Margaret. Margaret said, “I’m afraid to have cancer.” “What have you done about it?” It’s in the lower part of my abdomen so I went to my OB/GYN and I actually really like him. He’s been my doctor for years. And he said, “Stop being such a worrier, you’re fine.” But I’m still anxious about it.
What’s missing? She stayed anxious because she didn’t take enough of the problem solving route. “So why don’t you go see another doctor,” I asked her. She said, “He’s such a nice man. I don’t want to hurt his feelings.” I said, “That’s very generous and you need to find a solution.” “Well, I don’t know who else to go to.” I said, “Just a minute.”
I went to my telephone and made a quick phone call to a physician. I’m at Rose Medical Center so I called a physician I know within the medical center. He said, “Look, just send her over right now. I’ll tell my secretary to put her in right now.” I said, “Let’s get information.” That’s not my phone I assume.
Dr. Veronica: No, it’s my phone of course, my fax machine.
Dr. Heitler: The best antidote to anxiety often is information begins with a problem solving process. So she went down the hall, she saw the OB. The OB called me back and said, “This woman I can feel is still with cancer. I scheduled her already for a 2 o’clock surgery.” Anxiety was her friend.
Dr. Veronica: So she had it.
Dr. Heitler: She did have it. It did save her life. You want the ending? I’m not sure I can tell without becoming emotional.
Dr. Veronica: You got to tell me the ending. Yes, of course.
Dr. Heitler: Many years later, just two or three years ago I had a serious physical problem and ended up in the hospital. Everyone took care of me. It was looking like it was great. And one of the nicest of the nurses came up to me and said, “Dr. Heitler, do you know who I am?” That lady, it was that woman.
Dr. Veronica: Wow. How cool was that? It probably changed her whole trajectory on what she’s doing.
Dr. Heitler: It begins with treating anxiety respectfully. It’s your friend. It’s there to tell you there’s a problem. And by her seeking more information we found a solution which was surgery.
Dr. Veronica: This lady, you were there and you go get another opinion. And she did go get another opinion. But today a lot of people chronically worry. They surf on the web and they worry some more. What about those chronic worriers that don’t take action? Or if you’re just built like that, you worry about everything. You were born worrying.
Dr. Heitler: Yes, that’s a funny phenomenon. Some people, instead of being in the present they’re quickly jumping ahead and envisioning worst case scenarios. That’s worrying, or that’s creating issues to worry about. Or once they have seen a bump ahead, again, they don’t move from seeing the bump into problem solving, gathering information, figuring out what they can do. If you’re worrying it means you’re just spinning your wheels on anxiety road instead of addressing the problem of finding a solution.
Sometimes people say, “What’s the difference between worrying and problem solving?” Worrying is just over and over the same thought. Well, what if, what if, what if, just like spinning your wheels. Problem solving involves gathering information, moving forward, thinking of a solution, implementing the solution, very different.
Dr. Veronica: Let’s switch over. You have your lovely book. I’m going to say, “Hold out the book.” Prescriptions Without Pills.
Dr. Heitler: There’s actually about 16 prescriptions in there for depression, anger, anxiety, addictions, relationships, it’s more along the way like well-being.
Dr. Veronica: Give us some example of a prescription without pills.
Dr. Heitler: Okay. Prescription for anxiety. You’re feeling anxious, I’m not sure why you’re so anxious but you know you you’re really anxious. Sit down. Close your eyes. First locate that anxiety within your body. Someone might say… I’m seeing a picture, she said, “It feels like a big fiery ball in my chest.” Okay, As you picture that big fiery ball about how big is it? She said, “The size of a grapefruit. That’s how it feels anyway.
Okay. Next step. What thought would make that grapefruit even bigger? Patricia said, “My mother died recently and the scariest thought for me is that my sister’s going to steal my whole inheritance.” “How big is that grapefruit now?” “It almost doubled in size when I thought about that.” “Okay, close your eyes again. What other thoughts come up?” One of my other sister is probably going to support her.” “Other thoughts?” “I have no idea what to do about the inheritance.” “Any other thoughts?” “My mother would be very unhappy in her grave if she saw this happening.”
Okay. Now we have a list of maybe four, five, or six concerns, all of which expand that grapefruit, that feeling of anxiety. It’s a good idea when you’re doing this on your own, to make an actual list. Write down each concern one by one. When I’m working in my office with clients I’m the secretary that writes down each of the concerns.
Once we have all the concerns, all the thoughts that make the anxiety larger then I say, “Okay, you can open your eyes now. We’re going to go one by one to each of these concerns. We’re going to treat these problems that need solving.”
Let’s start with “my sister’s going to take the inheritance and I’m clueless about what to do?” Who could you go to? Where could you get information about how to handle this situation? We talk through it one by one. By the end Patricia figured out a complete plan of action. She would talk with her sister to try to influence her. She would talk before that with an attorney. She would go to the attorney friend that she had for starters and then rely on that woman to steer her in the right direction for further information.
Now already, Patricia instead of being frozen like a deer in the headlights, anxious and worrying, now she’s beginning to move forward. Did she like the situation? No. Is she still so anxious? Well, let’s ask her how big the grapefruit is. How big is that burning area in your chest right now, I asked Patricia. Patricia said, “It’s more like a ping pong ball. And actually when I picture myself moving ahead without plan it almost shrinks to the size of a pea. I still don’t like the situation. I’m still uncomfortable about what will happen, only it’s a radical difference. I can keep thinking of problem solving and taking action now.
Dr. Veronica: With Prescriptions Without Pills are there any ways that you help people get off of their pills? Can you help people get off of their pills?
Dr. Heitler: I’m having a little hearing problem [Unintelligible 00:25:56]. Ah, thank you. As people do that kind of problem solving process that I just described where they list all their concerns and then map a point of action they don’t need pills anymore for anxiety. As a result you can skip the pills altogether and just go straight to focusing on the problem in this way that way you break it down into all the specific concerns that you have.
Dr. Veronica: A lot of people want to get off the pills. And do you recommend that people read a book and take themselves off the pills? Because this is the day where everybody’s… I like to joke and say everybody’s got their PhD for WebMD because they’ve read everything. They read Prescriptions Without Pills. Can I just read this and then wean myself off the pills or just stop taking my pills what do you say?
Dr. Heitler: It depends on what kind of pills. One set of pills, the benzodiazepine pills, highly addictive. Speak with your doctor then work with him to get off them. Addictive means the more you’re on them the more you just have to take them or else you’ll feel just terrible.
Dr. Veronica: Can you name some of the common benzodiazepines so people know?
Dr. Heitler: My mind’s going blank because I dislike these drugs so much I try to…
Dr. Veronica: I want to say Xanax.
Dr. Heitler: Exactly.
Dr. Veronica: Ativan.
Dr. Heitler: Right, you got it. By contrast many, many are on antidepressants often because antidepressants also can reduce the anxiety, some of them reduce the anxiety. They slow your whole system down, your nervous system. Those pills have a different problem.
In theory they’re non-addictive. That’s what your doctor will tell you. “There aren’t addictive. What they do is make you drug dependent. What’s the difference between addictive and dependent? When you’re addicted to something you can’t wait to get your next does, you just got to get it.
Like if you’re addicted to work you can’t wait to get back to work. By contrast drug dependent, nobody says, “I love taking my anti-depressants. It doesn’t give an immediate calm or an immediate high. But what happens is your body becomes dependent on it. So if you don’t take your medication then that can trigger you into a deep depression. Even if you were taking the medication basically for anxiety, when you withdraw an anti-depressant, unless you withdraw it very, very slowly, so again, talk with your doctor about how to get off it. Unless you withdraw very slowly getting off the medication will precipitate a depression because your body has forgotten how to just keep normal emotions going.
Dr. Veronica: Okay. You don’t want people to just drop their pills from reading a book.
Dr. Heitler: No. They can work toward getting off them.
Dr. Veronica: It’s nice to know when you have Prescriptions Without Pills that there are ways to manage your emotions that seem really severe without a pill. Because everybody’s on a bunch of pills and most people don’t want to be on the pill. A lot of times people who are even addicted don’t even necessarily want to be that way but you’re scared to admit. Nobody wants to admit that they’re addicted first of all.
Dr. Heitler: You’re drug dependent in the case of the anti-depressant category.
Dr. Veronica: Yes. Prescriptions Without Pills, Dr. Heitler where can we find your book?
Dr. Heitler: Prescriptions Without Pills is either available on the bookshelves of your local bookstore or they can order it. Or just go to the web, write in Prescriptions Without Pills. Or go to my website, prescriptionswithoutpills.com and click there. That hooks you up I think with Amazon. Manage to support your local bookstore.
Dr. Veronica: This book is very timely because America is over-medicated. As I said there are more prescriptions for emotional issues written than there are people in the country. And a lot of people they don’t want any more, they’re fed up. And so Dr. Heitler I thank you so much for writing the book and I thank you for being on Dr. Veronica’s Wellness Revolution. Thank you so much.
Dr. Heitler: Absolutely my pleasure to talk with you.
Female VO: Thank you for listening to the Wellness Revolution Podcast. If you want to hear more on how to bring wellness into your life visit drveronica.com. See you all next week. Take care.
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Dr. Veronica Anderson is an MD, Functional Medicine practitioner, Homeopath. and Medical Intuitive. As a national speaker and designer of the Functional Fix and Rejuvenation Journey programs, she helps people who feel like their doctors have failed them. She advocates science-based natural, holistic, and complementary treatments to address the root cause of disease. Dr. Veronica is a highly-sought guest on national television and syndicated radio and hosts her own radio show, Wellness for the REAL World, on FOX Sports 920 AM “the Jersey” on Mondays at 7:00 pm ET.
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