How to Tame Anxiety, Panic Attacks, and Obsessive Thoughts with Expert Dr. David Hanscom

IAOL 5 | Controlling Anxiety

If you’re suffering from anxiety, panic attacks, or obsessive thoughts, you’re not alone! Anxiety can get the better of us and lead to downward spirals in mental, emotional, and physical health. In today’s often stressful world, anxiety-related disorders are on the rise, leaving many people feeling overwhelmed and out of control. Dr. David Hanscom, surgeon and anxiety expert, joins Dr. Carla for an empowering look at the root causes of anxiety and how YOU can learn to tame–and take control of–destructive anxiety.

Books by Dr. Carla Manly:

Date Smart: Transform Your Relationships and Love Fearlessly

Joy From Fear: Create the Life of Your Dreams by Making Fear Your Friend

Aging Joyfully: A Woman’s Guide to Optimal Health, Relationships, and Fulfillment for Her 50s and Beyond

The Joy of Imperfect Love: The Art of Creating Healthy, Securely Attached Relationships

Book by Dr. David Hanscom:

Do You Really Need Spine Surgery?: Take Control With a Surgeon’s Advice

Connect with Dr. Carla Manly:








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How to Tame Anxiety, Panic Attacks, and Obsessive Thoughts with Expert Dr. David Hanscom

Join Dr. Carla and Dr. David Hanscom, anxiety expert, for an empowering discussion on how you can control anxiety and obsessive thoughts.

Anxiety can get the better of us. In this often-chaotic world, anxiety-related disorders are on the rise. Obsessive thought patterns often occur with anxiety disorders and can lead to downward spirals that harm emotional, mental, and physical health. As many people reach out to me for help due to anxiety and obsessive thoughts, I felt that this question was one that might resonate with so many readers.

Here’s the question, “My ex was toxic but I can’t get him out of my mind. I’m getting headaches and nausea. I can’t stop the obsessive thoughts. Please give me some strategies for coping with this issue. It’s getting worse.” That question, again, is like so many questions that I hear from clients and readers. We’ll explore this very issue.

IAOL 5 | Controlling Anxiety

I’m joined by a very special guest, Dr. David Hanscom, who will be sharing his expertise on anxiety, obsessive thoughts, and their relationship to chronic disease. Welcome to the show, Dr. David. It’s so lovely to have you with us.

Thank you. I’m excited about being here. This is a super-hot topic for me now. I’m writing a new book on what I call RUTS, Repetitive Unpleasant Thoughts. This is probably the number one factor bothering our society now. This inability to escape our thoughts. Before I get started, I like to define anxiety differently than its normally defined. We keep thinking of anxiety as a psychological disorder, correct?


It is not. It’s the opposite. What do I mean by that? If you’re threatened by anything, your body goes into fight or flight. You feel afraid, anxious, nervous, or whatever you want to call it. Anxiety is the sensation generated by your body’s physiology or fight or flight response. It’s the result of stress. It’s not the cause. We keep treating anxiety psychologically and there are issues that cause anxiety but you have to look at the cause and effect.

The biggest problem is that anxiety is simply a physiological state. When I say physiological is how the body functions, blood pressure, temperature, and heart rate. Physiology, inflammation, and fuel consumption are all physiology. When you’re in fight or flight, you’re consuming fuel, your body’s inflamed, your heart rate’s up, and you’re in a nervous mode. A panic attack is simply a hormone storm of stress, chemicals, and inflammation. That’s, again, physiological. The reason why this is so critical is that this physiological state or your body’s response to stress is 1 million times stronger than your conscious brain, 1 million to 1.

To control it with talk therapy is a complete mismatch. You can’t do it. Anxiety is not a psychological diagnosis. It’s a driving force behind that psychological diagnosis. In other words, this sensation is generated by fight or flight. I’m going to try to substitute the word activated threat physiology instead of the word anxiety. Avoiding the sensation drives all life in every species.

Humans happen to have a word for it called anxiety but we have the survival response. It’s there every second of our lives. You can’t get rid of it. It’s a gift. It’s powerful. It’s a survival reaction that you can’t control. A friend of mine, Bruce Lipton, pointed out so clearly that anxiety is a hardwired automatic survival response that we have no control over.

That’s going to be quite upsetting for our readers who want to get control over their anxiety. I imagine you have a way for us to address it in the body where it’s starting from.

Ready to free yourself from anxiety, obsessive thoughts, or panic attacks with a few simple changes? Dr. Carla is joined by anxiety expert, Dr. David Hanscom, to help you tame the destructive thought and behavioral patterns that harm your mental,… Click To Tweet

First of all, I don’t use the word mind body anymore because the way the body evolved is that your conscious brain evolved last. The nerve system’s a complex communication system between every cell in your body but single-cell organisms know how to survive. As you become more complex, you have more complexity to communication, with the brain being the late evolutionary possibility or response.

It’s a communication center. It’s one unit. We have two imperatives. One of them is to survive and the other one is a pathogen to the next generation. That’s it, biological imperative. I’m going to ask you a rhetorical question before I go into the solution here. Your unconscious brain processes about 40 million bits of information per second. Can you guess how much your conscious brain processes?

I don’t even want to guess that.


40 versus 40 million.

Trying to control anxiety is like trying to stop a dragster, which has 11,000 horsepower with bicycle hand brakes. It’s not going to happen. I’ll ask you a rhetorical question. The anxiety is this massive survivor response. It’s a gift. It’s how we evolve and what keeps us alive. How do you control anxiety? How do you lower anxiety? You answer the question. This is a trick question. I’m not trying to put you on the spot.

Trying to control anxiety is like trying to stop an 11,000-horsepower dragster with bicycle hand brakes. It's not going to happen. Click To Tweet

No worries. I love being put on the spot. Let’s go to the source. Let’s go to the body and get the body to downregulate with breathing and slowing down the central nervous system. That would be my guess. Go ahead. Tell me what I thought.

Most people talk about different ways but the answer I want to get through is a simplistic core concept. Simply lower the stress chemistry. You can’t control it but you can regulate it.

I love that you said that you can’t control it but you can regulate it. For our readers, explain what that means. That might be missed.

I’m going to put a model out there called dynamic healing. I’m going to go right clear down to single-cell bacteria to humans that every living creature survives by understanding their circumstances or their environment or their stresses. The research term is called allostatic load. You have the circumstances that you have to negotiate to survive. You have your nervous system that’s taking input from every direction, your skin, eyes, nose, and everything.

Your brain is processing all the sensory input. It sends out signals to your body’s physiology. Again, how your body functions in your safety for fight or flight. We have to have fight or flight to negotiate any threat. Thoughts are also input that humans have. My cat has consciousness but she doesn’t have language. It turns out that thoughts are input that unpleasant thoughts go to the nervous system. Physical pain and emotional pain are processed in similar circuits. These unpleasant thoughts fire up the physiology. They keep in fight or flight.

With physical pain, we have what’s called a nociceptive pain system. That way, we evolved. Our body has certain limitations. Our sensation is critical for us to survive because if we see the limits of a structure, it breaks down. Whereas people with leprosy have a lack of protective sensation or people with diabetes, their joints fall apart because you can’t protect them.

Pain is a protective mechanism but what people don’t understand about the pain system is it guides you in a manner to avoid pain. They don’t stare at the sun. I don’t walk on hot pavement. I don’t touch a hot stove. My nociceptive system is automatically guiding me to avoid that. We feel physical pain. Your body has an alert system. You’re compelled to change your behavior. It’s called the nociceptive pain system that protects us. Now, emotional pain is processed in similar circuits. We have no protection from emotional pain.

Pain is a protective mechanism, but what people don't understand about the pain system is that it guides you in a manner to avoid pain. Click To Tweet

I will not walk on hot pavement or touch a hot pan because I know it will burn me. I’ve had that experience, so I know not to do it. What you’re saying is the body knows that on that physical level. That input changes the behavior but what you are saying for, say, the readers who are having these repetitive thoughts about her toxic ex. She is not realizing that the input of the negative thought is going through that same burning sensation pattern. It’s burning her psyche, so to speak, but she doesn’t realize, “Take my hand off that pot.” She continues or her system continues to feed on those negative thoughts. Did I get that right?

Dead on. Remember, though, you don’t have to think about not touching the hot stove. That’s what I’m saying. Nociceptive guides you in a way that you don’t have to think about it. It’s automatic. Again, thoughts are input. Unpleasant thoughts are unpleasant input and emotions are your physiology. It’s what you feel. Let’s get rid of the word psychology for a second. The thoughts are the psyche, I’ll grant you that but psychology is a big word.

Let’s break it down into physiology. You have your thoughts coming in like an abusive spouse or a dog running at you. Your body goes into fight or flight. You have your circumstances. You have your processing center with a central nervous system. The input nervous system and the output, which is the physiology. Let me ask you another rhetorical question. You have unpleasant thoughts. There’s no protective withdrawal response or avoidance response, by the way. What do we do?

What we would do is not suppress the thought but learn to let that thought go.

You suppress the thought. That’s an automatic response. From birth, we have these unpleasant sensations. We suppress them. That’s our instinct.

I have a question for you. There’s research on the white rabbit or the polar bear. The more that we suppress something, the more we’ll be activated by it. The way I work is, this thought’s coming in. It’s negative. Let’s not suppress it. Let’s notice it and let it go. What would you say about that strategy?

That’s part of the strategy. Let me finish up the problem for a second and we’ll go here. Here’s the problem. Your thoughts come in and we suppress them. That’s all we know what to do. The suppression is consciously suppressing the thoughts. Repression is automatic. We don’t even know we’re repressing the thoughts. That’s our only alternative.

The research shows that suppressing thoughts and emotions damages the hippocampus of your brain, the memory center. You have a higher chance of drug abuse with these suppressed thoughts. The suppressed thoughts fire up the thoughts themselves. It’s called the Ironic Effect. You can’t take it personally. It’s just the mental mechanics of the mind. It’s not psychological. The reason for that, we have two parts of our consciousness.

We have a conscious selection process. We call the operative controls. We have the protective controls from the monitoring section, which is the unconscious brain. For instance, if you consciously try to be happy, that’s great but that’s conscious attention, which takes metabolic energy. It’s a fraction of your unconscious brain. Meanwhile, your monitoring system or your unconscious brain is automatically finding ways that you might not be happy.

The research shows if you try to be happy, you end up being sad because the unconscious brain automatically takes no energy and to maintain conscious attention, you can’t do it. That’s why people can’t keep their New Year’s resolutions. Your unconscious brain is doing what it has to do to survive. Your unconscious brain is not geared to have a good time. It isn’t.

Going back to the original problem here of anxiety and panic attacks, avoiding that sensation is the driving force behind every living creature. It’s a driving force. It’s not a diagnosis. Again, it’s 1 million times stronger than a conscious brain. For instance, talk therapy reinforces the circuits. I’m going to put a couple of paradigms out here about how to solve these. Again, remember that what we’re trying to do is simply lower threat physiology. That’s it.

We want the body to get into a calmer state rather than this heightened reactive state.

When you are in a reactive state, something else happens. Your thinking brain goes offline. You cannot think clearly because the blood supply shifts from your thinking brain down to the limbic system. People know when you’re angry and frustrated, you can’t solve anything. You’re not thinking clearly. You’re reacting. You’ve lost awareness. When you’re in a survival reaction, you physiologically cannot think clearly. It’s not possible. The key issue is you’re trying to lower that physiology. We have the input, the nervous system, and the output. Working backward in all three portals count, you get to use these every day. Solving chronic, by the way, anxiety is the pain.

Anyone who suffers from anxiety knows it, and the panic. That is the pain.

Remember, mental pain and physical pain are processed in similar circuits. The mental pain is worse because, first of all, you can’t escape it and chronic physical pain isn’t great either. The way you find out is you learn to calm down the nervous system, and symptoms resolve. With the repetitive unpleasant thoughts when you’re in fight or flight, your whole body’s inflamed. Half your brain is part of the immune system, so your brain itself is inflamed.

Mental pain and physical pain are processed in similar circuits, but the mental pain is worse because you can't escape it. Click To Tweet

The key issue here is learning self-regulation skills to calm down your survivor’s reaction. You can do that by directly calming the physiological response. You’ve heard of the vagus nerve, which is the tenth cranial nerve. It’s part of those called the parasympathetic nervous system, which is highly anti-inflammatory. You can do breathwork, mindfulness meditation, and relaxation. Humming stimulates the seventh cranial nerve, which stimulates the vagus nerve.

Certain pitches of music stimulate the vagus nerve. Rubbing your forehead stimulates the fifth cranial nerve. Light touch, massage, or any technique to calm down your body’s threat response. Breathing through your nose is highly inflammatory because it stimulates nitric oxide to be released. You end up with all sorts of directly calming the vagus response.

With the processing center, the nervous system, exercise is anti-inflammatory. So is an anti-inflammatory diet. Probably number one in that mode is sleep. Lack of sleep causes chronic pain, not the other way around. The final thing is trauma therapy does come into play here. When you have a nervous system where you were raised in an abusive background, you’re like a feral cat. The cat’s on high alert. It takes very little stress to set up fight or flight because the cat’s almost always in fight or flight anyway. There’s no logic. You have to honestly train the cat to feel safe.

The essence of chronic disease is sustained fight or flight. The essence of healing is maximizing your time and safety. It’s a learned skillset. There are two separate steps. One of those you learn to lower your stress response. It’s always going to be there, and the other skillset is nurturing joy. If you’re nurturing joy to fight the pathways, it’s inflammatory. You have to do two separate skillsets. They’re linked to course but you can’t nurture joy when you’re in fight or flight anyway.

When that barking dog is about to take a chunk out of you or you perceive that there’s an intruder in the home, you’re not working. You’re not going to have the mental capacity or the physical capacity to nurture joy. Your body is in that hypervigilant state.

The final part is the input. There are two types of input to change. We think stress is psychological also. A lot of people think that. Stress is your circumstances and you have a total bodily response. Stress isn’t the problem. Staying alive is stressful. It’s always been stressful. It’s your chemical reaction to it. You can process stress differently with two questions. One is, what are you loading into your nervous system and what are you holding onto?

I call it anger processing. People hold onto the grudges forever. Ninety percent of people suffering from chronic pain are still upset at the person or situation that caused the problem. The person they’re most upset at is themselves. There’s a whole process of anger processing, which is always a tipping point but also, what are you loading into your system?

One of the basic rules in the process I put together is you can never discuss your pain. Medical care is now complaining, gossiping, giving advice, or criticism. Quit watching the news. You have to decide what you want to load into it. Again, it’s simple input-output. If you’re going to load in excitatory stuff, your physiology is going to be up. You’re going to hurt more but I want to go to this. The biggest problem here is what we call RUTS, Repetitive Unpleasant Thoughts.

I’m going to briefly give an overview because each step has steps to it, which again are very self-directed and solvable. By the way, the extreme form of RUTS is OCD, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, which I’ve had for years and I’m fine. I don’t have it but OCD is the extreme form of repetitive thought. People always think about hand washing, etc. I had the internal form, which is incredibly common. We have counter thought. I also had seventeen other mental and physical symptoms like migraines, my ears ringing, burning on my feet, and stomach issues.

Everything that your client talked about is all linked by the same process, by sustained fight or flight. There’s a term in medicine called medically unexplained symptoms, which means we know you hurt. We don’t know the problem but have a good life but it should be medically explained symptom because when your body’s in fight or flight. Every cell in your body’s bathed in stress chemistry. Everything’s wrong.

All these symptoms have resolved. I don’t have migraines. My ears don’t ring, my feet don’t burn, and my scalp doesn’t itch. I don’t have skin rashes. All these things were popping up all over my body because my body was in fight or flight. They’re gone. The obsessive thought patterns. OCD is considered unsolvable. It is solvable. I helped dozens of people out of this, including myself. I had a pain psychologist approach me months ago.

What I’m super excited about, it usually takes me about a year to get people out of this. In twelve weeks, he was fine. I have another gentleman who I’ve been working with panic attacks. He had so many panic attacks. One day, he was driving across the bridge in New York City. He had a call the tow truck because he had a panic attack in the middle of the bridge and had to be towed off the bridge. Again, it took more time with him but he now drives across the bridge and drives through the tunnel. A panic attack is this big release of chemistry. It is not psychological.

It is that physiological response to all of that negative input that has nowhere to go or the person doesn’t know what to do with it, so continue.

The idea isn’t to analyze your trauma. The goal is to learn skills to lower fight or flight. Skills that nurture joy get separate skillsets. Let’s talk about the RUTS for a second. We know if you suppress them, they get worse. We experience and they’re problematic. People feel very trapped, which keeps them in a high fight or flight.

The idea isn't to analyze your trauma. The goal is to learn skills to lower fight-or-flight. Click To Tweet

There are four parts to healing. With the number one part being what we call Thought Diversion. You cannot control your thoughts but you can divert them and reframe them. That’s where cognitive behavioral therapy comes into play. Mindfulness is a big deal because you’re going from racing thoughts to different sensory inputs.

I have a form called Active Meditation, where you sit down in a chair for a second. You go from raising thoughts to a physical sensation. The most powerful one I’m going to hold a book up called Expressive Writing, started in 1986. You simply write down the thoughts that are following you. The more emotional expression you can get on a piece of paper, the better. It’s a thought separation exercise. You write down your thoughts and you care off the piece of paper.

That book was opened up by writing it down.

He doesn’t talk about the techniques. They have a PDF explaining how to do it but we interviewed him on our scientific roundtable. There are over 2,200 papers now documenting the effectiveness of expressive writing. It’s the first thing after many years of chronic pain, including OCD, that started breaking up the cycle.

It’s a thought-separation exercise. You tear them up for two reasons. You’re not trying to get rid of them but you want to write with freedom because the thoughts you’re suppressing are disgusting and disturbing thoughts. The second thing is you don’t want to analyze them because as you’re writing all these, issues come up. They’re not issues. They’re just thoughts. The first step is, we call it Thought Diversion.

The most important part of this thing and reasons why medicine has missed it, including psychiatry and psychology, is the nervous system. We do know that these unpleasant thoughts become more persistent with more stress. If you’re not stressed, you have some control over regulating your thoughts and regulating your reactivity. As long as you have the mental capacity to do that, life is good.

A lot of us are stressed or overwhelmed. These thoughts fire up like crazy. What happens is your brain self becomes inflamed. When your brain’s inflamed, these thoughts come out like crazy. My hypothesis is that thoughts are probably the main driver of all chronic diseases because they maintain fight or flight. There are other things that cause your brain to fire up. You have to calm down the physiology. That’s a very specific learned skillset. Forgiveness is a word I don’t like anymore because it’s too big of a word. There are lots of ways of regulating your intense angry fight or flight response short of forgiveness. Forgiveness is great if you can pull it off. For a lot of people, it’s an obstacle.

The first step is Thought Diversion. The second thing is you have to turn down the heat. With kids particularly, they get anxious and frustrated. We use behavioral interventions instead of teaching them to calm down. The third step, which is key, is that you start redirecting your brain to where you want it to go. That’s where the healing occurs. It’s nurturing joy. It’s like learning a new language. You’re not going to learn French by trying to fix your English.

The default language in your body is survival. The language you want to learn is an enjoyable life. You’re not going to learn that life unless you learn how to live it. Fixing your old life is not going to work. I wrote a website post called Quit Fighting Darkness; It Vanishes in Light. You want to learn the new language of living a good life. It takes practice.

Again, you can’t do that until you’ve learned to process your adversity. It happens every day. There’s no beginning or end to this. You learn to use the skillset. The final step is existential in a different conversation. What drives these thoughts is your ego. We have these stories about ourselves. They’re conscious constructs. We’re using conscious constructs to counteract these survival reactions and it’s a mismatch.

As you realize that you’re trying to use self-esteem or ego to feel better about yourself, your ego starts to dissolve because you don’t need it anymore. You don’t learn to regulate your physiology. You depersonalize the process and then you get to live the life that you want. There’s a reason I quit my surgical practice because I was crippled with anxiety. I thought it was psychological. I went to psychotherapy for thirteen solid years. It got worse.

What I didn’t realize with talk therapy from a neuroplasticity standpoint is you’re focusing on the problem, not the solution. The answer is releasing from the problem and then going towards the solution. It flat-out changes your brain. It’s very solvable. What I’m excited about is not only people’s mental anxiety drop. Their physical symptoms resolve. I’ve had one woman with 24 symptoms all gone. Your body’s full of stress chemistry. Everything goes haywire. It’s incredibly rewarding to see people trapped and have no place to go.

The way out is not very hard by the way because once you understand the problem, the solution’s fairly easy. People come out of this deep dark hole that I call the abyss. They never only come out but they thrive at a level they never comprehend possible. A quick review, you have dynamic healing, the input nervous system, and the output. You’re trying to regulate your body’s physiology and with repetitive unpleasant thoughts, probably the biggest problem. Divert the thoughts, learn to calm down the nervous system, learn to nurture joy, and then let your ego dissolve.

IAOL 5 | Controlling Anxiety

We are so much on the same page. What you are talking about is essentially the foundation of my first book, Joy From Fear, which is all about the fact that we do have a flight-or-fight response for a reason. It’s meant to be in that emergency case of running from the tiger or something like that. In our everyday life, it has taken us over. Many of us live without realizing it in that chronic state of fight, flight, freeze, or appease. One of those variations.

We are bathed in adrenaline, cortisol, and inflammation results. I am so appreciative of your high-level expertise on this subject and how you’re able to break it down into very doable steps. For the person with the question about, “I don’t know the history,” because it was a writing question but about the toxic relationship and the trauma from that. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s also childhood trauma and if this individual is now getting activated with not only the unprocessed trauma from childhood but the relationship and now having obsessive thought patterns and physical symptoms.

What you are saying is, “Let’s break this down.” This is, by the way, how I work as a psychologist. It’s much how you work. It’s in the body. We need to get the body. We want some understanding but we also want to get it out of the body and have the body have a way to cope in the here and now. You would tell this person and every reader who’s battling with something similar, “Learn to divert your thoughts.”

Let me put it this way. It’s a learned skill. There’s something right there. Use the tools that are there. It’s a learned skill to learn how to regulate physiology. That’s a little bit trickier but the thought diversion is very impaired. You write them down and tear them up.

Write down the thought and tear it up in a journal or on a piece of scrap paper. Also, it is the very important part and I’m with you, the mindfulness, the breathing techniques, the meditation, and learning to self-regulate. It’s a skill that we can learn ourselves. Also, if we have children, we can teach them how to self-regulate.

That’s my dream. I have a research paper in my hand where 90.1% of children have obsessive thought patterns. Safety is the main one at that age and they don’t get better with time. You get worse because you’re being programmed. It’s a universal problem. It’s a trick of the mental connection of the mind. It’s not psychological. It’s the way the brain’s consciousness works. Again, it’s the conscious versus the unconscious brain. The unconscious brain wins. By understanding the problem, there’s a solution. The issue is, as far as getting better, first, I always tell people it’s like homework. Look at the homework and understand the problem. Don’t try to fix anything.

It’s like learning how to play the piano or any skill. It takes repetition. You can read my book. You can do whatever you want to do but you’ll start using the tools on a daily basis. Again, this is not work. It takes a commitment. It’s not even discipline. You learn tools that become habitual. It’s not like you have to work this every day. We have these automatic survival patterns. Why not program in automatic enjoyment patterns?

Again, it’s homework, learning the basic skills, and using them. The other key issue is that the overall goal is to lower threat physiology. Mindfulness works. Expressive writing works, etc. Nothing works by itself. It’s a total body process. Everybody does it differently. Some tools resonate with people and some don’t. It’s not a fixing process because if you’re trying to fix your intentions on the problem, not the solution.

I don’t spend any time anymore going back into trauma history at all. I want people to acknowledge the trauma. If you’re triggered now or something in the past triggered you, it could be one of the quadrillions of trigger points that could trigger me now. It was the time that my mother abused me. That’s being set off. Everybody has trauma to some degree. With the trauma history, no question. Your brain is more reactive. It’s like the feral cat analogy. Going back and analyzing the trauma puts your brain in the wrong direction.

The key is I’m triggered now. Something triggered it. It’s fine to be aware of the trauma story once. I spent years in psychotherapy trying to understand my trauma in detail. I thought if I understood it deeply enough, it would heal me. I blocked the psychology now and one of the editors myself. I’m not negative in trauma therapy but you can get a trauma story that becomes an anchor. It’s critical to be aware of the trauma but you have to let it go.

It’s mind over manner because your unconscious brain is so powerful. That’s why there’s a sequence of steps. I put together a process called the DOC Journey, Direct your Own Care Journey. We have a choice of a computer-based program or an app. I did write a book called Back in Control: A Surgeon’s Roadmap Out of Chronic Pain.

It's critical to be aware of the trauma, but you have to let it go with mind over matter because your unconscious brain is so powerful. Click To Tweet

I put a series of four videos together with Bruce Lipton on the overall process of consciousness versus your body’s physiology. He is brilliant in his concepts. The DOC Journey is more of a practical way to get there. I also blog for Psychology Today, which is on my website. It has 1.3 million views now and it’s called Anxiety: Another Name for Pain. It’s been quite a journey for me being a spine surgeon. Thinking things are structural to realize I was operating on people’s anxiety. It’s been a huge full circle.

What a novel and much-needed look at pain and the genesis of pain. I could talk to you for hours about this. I love this. I love how the other piece of your process is leaning into joy because we often forget that. We get on a happiness pursuit and joy is very different from happiness. We can talk about that too for hours but lean into the joy. Remember, readers, lean into the joy as part of this process. If you are like me, I’ll probably read this episode quite a few times because it’s so yummy and deep. It’s something that we can all process but it’s worth a few reads. Dr. David, I thank you so much for your time but before we close, where can our readers find you?

My main website is called You’ll see a resources page that hooks up to everything with the app, the computer-based course. The computer-based course or the app is about 10 or 15 minutes a day. That’s it. Remember, it takes repetition, so people that rush through the courses get frustrated and it makes them inflamed. It makes things worse.

It’s going to take 3 or 4 months to learn the skills. It’s like taking piano lessons. I also point out that once people learn how to lower their anxiety, they’ve started the journey. You learn to connect and deal with adversity but it’s nurturing joy away from the pain circuits. That’s the ongoing process. That’s also a learned skillset.

Not many of us were taught to nurture joy in school. Certainly, it didn’t happen in life later. It’s not a skill that we think about very much. Again, it’s on It’s the headquarters of all sorts of things that I do. I would encourage you, again, to look at the Psychology Today blog link. There are, again, 1.3 million views on it and climbing and it’s around repetitive thoughts. It’s about anxiety, almost everything except spine surgery.

It’s been fascinating for me. I talked about that. I also wrote another book called Do You Really Need Spine Surgery? I quit my practice because it turns out, we were seeing hundreds of patients go to pain-free, anxiety drops, people go back to work, and they thrive with minimal resources and no risk. In spine surgery, the success rate of doing effusion for back pain is about 20% and it’s damaging. I was watching so many successes with simple tolls and so much suffering caused by aggressive spine surgery.

I quit in 2019. I’ve been doing this for a few years, trying to get the message out. I appreciate being on your program, ensuring the message I’m trying to get out. My personal vision is to connect medicine to science. There’s nothing on my project that’s new. It’s all science-based. It’s puzzling to me why we come so far away from the science about the physiology of disease but also, at the forefront of that as a doctor-patient relationship because it’s about feeling safe.

If you don’t feel safe with your doctor, then the rest of it doesn’t matter. The business of medicine kidnapped us. It has. We’re not talking to our patients. I don’t know you, I don’t know your coping skills, so I don’t know what’s driving the physiology but we’re only treating symptoms. We’re not dealing with any other issue in your care.

It’s heartbreaking. Docs have ten minutes, if that, to get you in the scene and write the script, which is their most cost-effective way of doing it. Don’t get me going on this. You’re out the door. You go feeling unheard, unseen, and unwell. That makes me upset, to say the least.

I quit my practice because of this. I have a legally signed document from my hospital saying, “Quit talking to your patients.” I have all sorts of colleagues fired for talking to their patients. We’re trying to figure out what to do. I’m not sure what to do next.

You are doing it by getting the word out there and by offering an alternative and a common-sense piece because so many people who get into the system feel broken. They feel, “I’m imperfect because I am having these symptoms. No one can fix them. It must be me. I’m broken.” You are not broken. The system is broken. You can learn these tools and coping strategies to bring balance into your life.

IAOL 5 | Controlling Anxiety

MUS, Medically Unexplained Symptoms should be MES. It’s Medically Explained Symptoms. I’m a physician. I had all sorts of resources available. I suffered seventeen different physical and mental symptoms for years. Nobody could help me. I came out of the process by accident. It took me another ten years to figure out the science behind this and it’s not very hard.

The clinicians that I’m involved with are flabbergasted that we weren’t taught this in medical school. It’s such deep basic science research. It’s all right there. It turns out chronic disease, not just chronic pain. Chronic diseases, mental and physical, are all solvable problems but we have to connect to science and we’re in a nightmare. We can talk about that for a long time.

Chronic, mental, and physical disease are all solvable problems, but we have to connect to the science. Click To Tweet

Thank you, Dr. David, for joining me. It has been such a pleasure and a delight. I wanted to share one quote from you with our readers. It’s simple and lovely. It says, “We struggle with being imperfect because of our programming.” Take that nugget of truth with you and maybe think about how you might reprogram yourself so that you don’t struggle with being imperfect in this very busy chaotic world. Thanks so much again, Dr. David. It’s been a joy.

Thank you very much. I enjoyed this.


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About David Hanscom

IAOL 5 | Controlling AnxietyDavid Hanscom, MD practiced complex orthopedic spine surgery for 32 years. He quit his practice in Seattle, WA to present his insights into solving chronic pain, which evolved from with his own 15-year battle with it. He eventually escaped from the ordeal and discovered that mental pain is the biggest issue. Anxiety is the pain.

His book, Back in Control: A Surgeon’s Roadmap Out of Chronic Pain systematically presents established treatments for chronic mental and physical pain, which the current medical establishment is overlooking. The self-directed action plan is available at It reflects the approaches of hundreds of patients who have escaped from chronic pain.

He recently launched a movement called, “Dynamic Healing” that recognizes the interaction between stress and one’s coping capacity. An overwhelmed person subjected to sustained levels of flight or fight hormones will develop unpleasant symptoms and serious illnesses.

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