Sadness is something that helps us grieve, it helps us to move through things, it helps us to ponder things, and it helps us in a particular way.Dr. Greg Cason
Mental health is the foundation for emotions, thinking, communicating, physical well-being, and self-esteem. Mental health is also key to our relationships – it can fuel or hinder our passions in life.
Keeping ourselves positive, especially during this past year, may have proven to be challenging at times. We all have had different stressors that we may have experienced, and everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. It is normal to experience a wide range of emotions, and finding ways to cope with stress in a healthy way is one of the specialties my guest this episode can help us all with.
On this episode of OWC’s Leaders & Game Changers, Setorii Pond speaks to Dr. Greg Cason. You may have known as the star of the hit TV show on Bravo called LA Shrinks. He will be speaking with us about the effects of the pandemic, the importance of mental health, depression, grief, PTSD, and plastic surgery. We will learn about how important self-care is, some simple steps we can incorporate into our lives, and how taking time for quality moments… can help uplift us all.
Dr. Greg Cason is a licensed psychologist in Beverly Hills specializing in cognitive therapy for individuals and couples, both gay and straight. Dr. Greg combines genuine compassion with well-honed skills to get reliable results.
Welcome to OWC’s Leaders and Game Changers with Setorii Pond, inspiring you one conversation at a time. Each episode, Setorii helps you discover and learn more about thought leaders, trendsetters, risk-takers, and professionals from various industries. She knows how to uncover answers to questions we all want to ask.
Mental health is the foundation for emotions, thinking, communicating, physical well-being, and self-esteem. Mental health is also key to our relationships. It can fuel or hinder our passions in life. Keeping ourselves positive, especially during this past year, may have proven to be challenging at times. We all have different stressors that we may have experienced, and everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. It’s normal to experience a wide range of emotions. Finding ways to cope with stress in a healthy way is one of the specialties my guest this episode can help us all with. His name is Dr. Greg Cason, who you may have known as the star of the hit TV show on Bravo called L.A. Shrinks. He will be speaking with us about the effects of the pandemic, mental health, depression, grief, PTSD, and plastic surgery. We will learn about the importance of self-care, some simple steps we can incorporate into our lives, and how taking time for quality moments can help uplift us all. Please welcome the show, Dr. Greg.
I like to thank you so much, Dr. Greg, for joining us on today’s OWC’s Leaders & Game Changers.
Thank you. It’s good to be here.
I have been so excited for the opportunity to interview you live for a long time. It’s a true honor for me. As I was saying before, thanks to a mutual friend of ours, I feel like I know you.
I feel like I know you as well. It’s nice to see you in person.
I’d love to talk about the psychology behind everything that we’re experiencing today. So many names in the public eye that we all admire have come out. They’ve spoken about therapy and how it has helped them through depression, whether through COVID or their own experiences. People like Jennifer Aniston, Miley Cyrus, Chris Rock like he’s been out there, and he said he can be hard on himself. Selena Gomez. I mean, there are so many notable names. Billie Eilish and all of these people have come out. And they’ve expressed how therapy has helped them through what they’re going through. And I just want to say to people listening that we’re not alone, we’re all going through things, and we all have a lot on our shoulders. That being said, to help us all understand what we may be experiencing through different periods of our lives. Could you explain the difference between sadness and depression?
Can I back up to talk about the plain old COVID situation and how that’s affecting mental health? And then, we will go back to sadness and depression because there’s a point in how they connect. First of all, pandemic, when we knew it was coming down right about March, when they said that they were going to do quarantine, or quasi-quarantine, or whatever you call it and all the different states, it was a patchwork of things. But I looked at research because research is the guide. This is the second SARS pandemic, we had a first SARS pandemic, they looked at people who were quarantined during the first SARS pandemic, which wasn’t as devastating as this one. They looked at the effects, and they found that a good half of the people were affected in some major ways mental healthwise, a third to a half, but the bottom line is that they had one of two big diagnoses. One is post-traumatic stress disorder, and the other was major depressive disorder. And that was a crazy amount of people.
So the question is, was it the quarantine’s fault or something else at work? It seems like what that something else at work was, was it the people who had those effects felt like they were getting inconsistent messaging from health authorities and people who were keeping them inside. And that’s the very description of what happened to all of us. We were all kind of told to stay indoors, one state can do one thing, one state can do something else, this church can do that, blah, blah, blah. Everyone had different viewpoints. What that did is created inconsistent messaging coming from the top political people, etc. People just didn’t know what to believe. It wasn’t, “We’re all in this together, we’re all going to join together and go through this battle like World War II,” it was more like every man for himself. When we have that kind of separation, we go through more trauma reactions and more depressive reactions. So one is just to say that the pandemic itself and all that was happening around the pandemic caused the mental health of this nation and probably around the world, but certainly of the nation to just escalate. So I like to liken it to a flame on a pot; it’s already kind of a low flame that’s boiling. And the pandemic turned up the flame to advance the boiling pot.
But the depression and sadness thing. We call sadness a healthy, negative emotion. Sadness is something that helps us to grieve. It helps us to move through things. It helps us to ponder things in the world; it helps us in a particular way. But it’s not a pleasant feeling. It’s a bad feeling. Nonetheless, it doesn’t usually prevent us from working, going to school, or having social interactions. Where depression has a very detrimental effect, we call that an unhealthy negative emotion. And we include sadness as part of it. But it also includes a bunch of other things, like a belief of helplessness – you’re helpless to help your situation, worthlessness – that you’re a worthless person, or hopelessness about the future that you really can’t go forward. And it can even include suicidal ideation or some other kind of self-destructive behavior.
I’ve heard that there are four kinds of depressions. I heard situational depression, biological depressions, psychological depression, and existential depression. Can you explain in a cliff notes version, what the difference is between all of these depression instead of the blanket statement of depression?
We usually don’t differentiate too much in those areas. Situational depression, we usually call an adjustment disorder, adjustment disorder with depression. That’s saying something is going on in your life, causing you to have these depressive symptoms, but we’re expecting that you will work through it. Like a divorce, or loss of a job, or any kind of transition in one’s life can cause a situational or adjustment depression. It could change into a major depressive disorder, which would mean a much more significant syndrome of really negative symptoms that one is having that could extend a minimum of two weeks, but it could extend much longer. We also have something called dysthymia, which is now called persistent depressive disorder. Nobody needs to know this, but I think the public knows it is dysthymia. That’s the old term. And that’s low-grade depression. I always like to say it’s common with men, you know, grumpy old men; it’s like the dysthymia is kind of the thing. But if you’re talking about situational depression is more like an adjustment.
Biological depression may be something we’re more prone to biologically, especially people with more mood fluctuations, such as people who have bipolar disorder. And there are different types of bipolar disorder, but they can have a biologically based depression where depression just comes on willy-nilly. It doesn’t have to be environmentally based, or it may be nothing going on in their lives, yet they feel this depression. A psychological depression, as you pointed out, is usually due to how we’re thinking and our thinking patterns. The psychological depression may come from not only our learning, maybe at home, and how we’re taught to think about ourselves and others and maybe not feeling connected, but also be affected as we move through life. All of these interact with each other. So we can’t say one exists separate from everything else. If you have biological, you can feel psychological, blah, blah, blah. It’s going to interact with each other. The last one is existential. That’s when you’re going through some kind of phase in your life. Change, like you’re turning 40, or you realize you can no longer have children, or you’re at retirement age, “Do I retire? I don’t know.” It’s those phase of life changes that can cause us to kind of freeze in place. And that freeze in place reaction of depression can be helpful at times. But it can also be extremely hurtful because we could not do the necessary movement through the particular phase.
Wow, thank you for breaking that down because not a lot of people talk about that. Especially the differentiation between all the different waves of depression that we all may experience at different times in our life. Do you feel that depression has value?
Yes, so I’ve given this a lot of thought. I’ve had many periods of depression in my life; I have to say. I probably had depression as a child. Why that may have been helpful for me because I sometimes see depression helps you environmentally. We see people in abusive situations, such as an abusive wife or husband, or an abusive family, which I was when I was a kid. I think depression helps you tame your impulses, pull it back, be quiet, and go off into a corner to focus on other things. It could also cause you to go the opposite way and become oppositional. It’s not always going to have a unit directional quality. But I think sometimes depression can help you step back in those things more as a survival mechanism. We often see this in people who are in an oppressed period, that they have more depression in their lives. It’s not just the effects of oppression, which is very depressing, but it also keeps them from being reactive against other people. I don’t know that that’s always a good thing. But we just see it. It’s just something you observe when you look through society.
Sadness, when you’re grieving, going through those feelings is extremely helpful. When we fall in love with somebody, and then we go through that bonding experience, like you can think of nothing else, you’re high forever, you’re on cloud nine, and it goes on for six months, and you’re just completely consumed with the other person. That’s where you’re going through this bonding experience. We often call that limerence in psychology, but then they die. Let’s say you’re with them 20 years and they pass away; you go through just a painful grief process. That grief process is sort of like the mind way of being able to let go, letting that person go in your mind without letting them go in your heart. It’s just sort of understanding they’ve passed, and you’re developing a new understanding of where they are, but you still have that love. So the grief process helps people move through that. It’s an extremely painful process, but it is helpful.
How does the immobilization response have an important role in protecting us when we or animals, let’s say, are kind of under duress or experiencing traumatic events?
Yeah, this is the model of learned helplessness. We’re getting very highfalutin in talking about this stuff. I’m not meaning to.
No, I love it.
If people know learned helplessness, if anyone took a beginning psych course and learned about this, they probably sat down with dogs. That’s the saddest picture you’ve ever seen. I tried to explain it to patients to understand that sometimes you can learn to be helpless because you’ve just been shocked so often that you finally give up. That’s learned helplessness; the brain is trying to help you to process this. And to be able to say, “Okay, if you step over there, you’re going to get shot, so don’t even try.” But that impulse to try and break free of whatever situation we’re in is the very thing we need to do. We have to risk being shocked, if you will, to break through learned helplessness. But learned helplessness, I truly see it as the brain just accommodating to a situation where it sees no out. That’s why people with suicidal ideation will often say they see no other options because they don’t. You can’t just convince them that there are other options; you have to approach it differently to help them. But often, they truly don’t see any other options because it’s just like the little dogs in the experiments that we saw in our beginning side classes, the dog believes if it goes over to the other side of the cage, it’ll get shocked. So it stays on one side.
I’ve personally been through a lot of trauma, and I’ve lived through a lot, especially in the last 13 years. It’s interesting what you’re sharing about that. On a personal level for myself, I’m sure there are many people out there listening right now that have had maybe different cases of this, where they’ve experienced it. But I have had this resistance to go out, experience life, and push past any limitations that I have kind of put up for myself, whether I feel vulnerable or just don’t have the zest for life, so to say. So I feel more comfortable staying home, staying in this pattern. Have you experienced many people who have been going through this during COVID and now that you’re helping?
One, we could just talk about the abstract, what that is, you want to stay home because going out, you just see it in your mind is something that’s going to be aversive in some way. It’s not fun; it’s not pleasurable, it’s a pain in the ass to have to go out and talk to people or get out and do something. And then your brain thinks of staying home, putting a warm blanket on and putting on a good TV show or music and lighting a candle, and all of a sudden, that sounds like an amazing option. You just want to stay there. And that process, though, does something kind of interesting. We call that negative reinforcement. What a negative reinforcement, a lot of people think that’s when you slap someone or spank them; that’s a punishment. Negative reinforcement is when you take away something bad, and the person reinforces their behavior. So what you’re taking away is the prospect of a bad time when you leave the house. And if you stay in, you can avoid that bad thing. And all of a sudden, the house seems even better and more pleasant. And you just want to be there. So that process is what we say; it’s highly reinforcing. So what it does is it causes you to want to stay in the next night, even more than the next night even more. To say, “Oh, Setorii, just go outside. Just take a walk.” Great advice, but probably not so easy to do.
You know how many people have told me that—so many. Just come to this event, just come out. Honestly, for years now, I have completely removed myself in a way. I love people, and I love meeting people, and I love my friends, and I love having new experiences. But I’ve been through a lot, just as everybody else has been. And the way that I don’t understand why I’ve been like this, I have stopped myself from wanting to do things just because I don’t have the desire.
It is good to be with other people, though, when you feel depressed and alone. Even if they’re annoying people, it still helps us. Believe it or not.
COVID has led a lot of people to experience stress. I’ve heard, as we’ve all heard, that stress can be a killer. How does stress affect humans in their bodies and minds? What are the natural tips that people can do at home? Because I know you give a lot of amazing tips on your YouTube that they can do to help minimize the stress they experience.
Okay, so stress is such a weird thing. We don’t know how to conceptualize stress. It’s very funny; I give a screening tool to people in therapy. And one indicator is called anxiety, and the other one is called stress. And how I have to explain it to people is like, when I’m explaining the results, I have to say, anxiety is more like fear-based things. Anxiety is like panic. It doesn’t say panic; it just says anxiety. And then stress is more like generalized anxiety. It’s this constant worry about things and stress. As a way to put it, when we look at anxiety or generalized anxiety, it’s when we believe our coping is not commensurate with the situation at hand or at least as we imagined it. So we see our coping cannot handle everything or possibly won’t be able to handle everything. When we think of anxiety, we’re often thinking about the future. And stress is more present-oriented. Nonetheless, we can say that we’re just not able to handle things. Now, that’s a belief usually because I’m blown away by how resilient people are. If you look around in the world, if you look at Texas, what they just went through. Unbelievable. It’s amazing what the people just walked through; they just dealt with it, each on an individual basis. It was scary. It was unknown; you didn’t know what the future held, you didn’t know when the lights were coming back on, or when you were getting heat again. It could be three days; it could be two weeks; it could have been months, according to what we’re now understanding. But the people of Texas, they may have been pissed, but they got through it.
I can tell you firsthand that neighbors were helping neighbors; it was the most bonding experience because we didn’t see any real help directly from the government out here. And I can tell you that so many people were trying to figure out how to get water here, how to help people, and they still are; they’re still doing that. It’s amazing how it was such a unifying experience to help people.
Isn’t that tremendous? Whenever we see any kind of natural disaster, even man-made disasters, When I went through the L.A. riots here, or when we had the recent protests, but then some of them turned quite violent, right by my house. The next day, all the neighbors were out helping repair the shops, cleaning up the mess, painting, doing whatever they could. During the first L.A. riots here in L.A., I was just a kid. I wasn’t that much of a kid; I was like 20. We had a bucket brigade to help put out the fires because they couldn’t get water to the street. The closest water was a block away. All the neighbors have gotten a huge line and just pushed buckets down to put out the fire. I’ve never been impressed with people as much as when disaster hits. People come together and come through.
People have turned to a lot of apps during COVID. We’re at home, and they’ve turned to a lot of apps like Headspace, meditation apps, Apple has been implementing this. Meditation and breathwork are natural things that people can just do. There’s yoga and other things. How does it work? How does it affect the brain, both meditation and breathwork?
Let’s just think about meditation in a concrete way. We have too many thoughts coming at us. We’re like an intersection with all these crazy intersections, with a five-way intersection, and all the cars are coming, and the lights are out. There’s no red light, green light. All the thoughts are like competing for space and going in there. Meditation helps us to quiet everything, like put stop lights up. If we’re going to have a thought come through, it’ll just allow it through, give it space and let it leave. In a certain way, meditation can help us to deal with all of these thoughts coming together. It can help quiet our mind so that we can help to direct things. In the highest way, we could clear our minds which is beautiful. But not everyone can do that; they’ll continue to have these thoughts emerge. I use a lot of different analogies to help people, like a leaf on a stream. To see if the thought is a leaf on a stream or see it as a balloon floating by.
I even like to use an I Love Lucy metaphor for anyone who’s seen I Love Lucy because I think it’s brilliant. When she had the candies going down because she mishandled them. I talked about what we do with thoughts when you mishandle them, your brain will go speed up and put even more into you. You have to learn to deal with your thoughts as they come without trying to be superhuman about it. By the way, this isn’t meditation, but I resist the whole notion of multitasking. I know everyone says how amazing it is. It’s a superpower, this and that. Great. But what it does do is it keeps us out of this focus that can help us be more super performers. Multitasking, it’s having all these cars coming in, and you deal with them. And yeah, your light system is working, but eventually, that thing is going to crash. What is better is just to have one at a time or focus on one lane at a time. So meditations and breathing are great. By the way, with meditation, a lot of people I work with say they can’t meditate because sitting there being quiet brings up too much for them. I’m completely cool with that. I try to help people that they can do meditative activities in their everyday lives.
There was a great Vietnamese monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. He wrote several books; he wrote a book called Anger. He’s quite a big meditator. I went to see him here in Beverly Hills. It was a three-hour presentation, where we meditated for two hours and 45 minutes. Which was tough for me, I have to say, but the thing that was amazing about him is he talks about how you can meditate by just doing the dishes. If you just focus on the dish in front of you and just wash the dish, every time a thought comes in, allow it to pass through. And just to focus on the dish. And just going through this process, a very orderly process of washing the dishes, can help you meditate and order your mind. We don’t have to think. There doesn’t have to be any magic to it. You don’t even have to do an app or anything. Listening to a classical music song, listening to every note with your eyes closed, and focusing on every note can help put you into a meditative process. There are also active meditations such as walking. Just being very focused in your walking, especially walking through nature, or sometimes doing an intense sports activity, where you have to have hyper-focus, can function in much the same way.
During COVID, a lot of people did things to enhance themselves. This is nothing new, of course, but maybe they took that time to do a little chemical peel, or a little nip and tuck, or they made time to use that app and lose a little bit of weight. So beauty is in the eye of the beholder, some say. In today’s society, and everybody has these perfect filters, everything makes you look perfect. How, in your opinion, can a chemical peel or a Botox injection, kind of keeping it simple, not crazy surgery, but just minimal, how can those be beneficial and help with people’s anxiety or depressions?
Well, it’s a really good point. By the way, I have to hand it to anyone who’s lost weight during the pandemic, and I’ve certainly met them, but I have an extra few patents that I’d like to donate. But actually, it’s really interesting. It’s funny; you bring that up because I’ve talked to plastic surgeons, and they said this had been the best year they’ve ever had. And that’s across the industry. So we’re seeing that it’s soaring. But one thing we know about non-invasive procedures like the ones you’re speaking about, which are Botox, tattoo removal, laser, liposuction, the more surface things, filler. There are minimally invasive or non-invasive procedures; 70% of people who get them do it for wellbeing reasons, to feel better about themselves, not just to look better, to feel better. A whole 50%, that includes the 70% good, so half the group overall gets it because it’s not just feeling better about themselves, but to feel better in concert with others. So in the social situation or work that they feel better, they’re not doing it for the spouse or the work or anything like that. They’re doing it so that they feel better at work or with the spouse.
Because we hear so much negative stuff, but there is a lot of positive with moderation. It can be beneficial, and it can help with people’s self-esteem. And it can help with a little bit of quality of life or maybe someone’s shyness.
The psychologist in me wants to teach self-acceptance. It’s not real that we are completely divorced from our outsides. It’s not real that’s ever going to be, at least not in our world today. We could talk about all the sociological reasons and interpersonal reasons, but we’re concerned about that. What we do see is that procedures like these non-invasive or minimally invasive procedures do have good effects. There is such a thing called body dysmorphic disorder. That’s about 2% of the population who have these invasive thoughts. They’ve got this obsession with usually one part of their body. It’s usually a hair loss with men, or it could be a nose, or it could be different things. People look at their hips, and they’re focused on it, just different things. But what we see within that group is that plastic surgery usually doesn’t help the issue.
A good example of a good invasive plastic surgery is something like breast augmentation. This is interesting because when we think of breast augmentation, we think of women getting larger breasts, but the more common one is to reduce large breasts. Most women who have that issue have many back problems and psychological problems; they have unwanted attention, etc. That surgery helps their well-being years down the line; they feel much better about it. We can see boys with gynecomastia, that’s having enlarged breasts when you’re a man. Or there are different people who are born with congenitally different size breasts, breast asymmetry. Again, all these plastic surgeries have an incredibly positive effect on people’s well-being. So we can’t just say, just accept yourself. We do know that sometimes surgeries and procedures can be helpful. And research shows it.
For people that have been through traumatic experiences, if you lose your breasts, or maybe they’ve been a burn victim. How can the procedures and the technology that is here today can help them?
If the trauma is very real. It’s interesting; I used to work at Disneyland back when I was a kid. And one thing we had, I don’t think people knew Disney had special nights for people with special needs. These were not publicly known. But one of our nights we did once a year, which I worked through many people who had been victims of some kind of burn, children and sometimes adults, but a lot of children. Sometimes people were quite disfigured. In that particular regard, it was so nice that people could be treated normally and have fun and not have someone point and say things to them. People who have these kinds of traumatic things happen to them, especially if they’re disfigured, often have to deal not only with their view of themselves but have to deal with other people’s view of them. That can be quite horrific.
So getting any kind of improvement procedure can also be very helpful. I’ve worked with a few people who’ve gone through different things, who do it. A person was very happy with just getting small improvements because she had to deal with such difficult things in the past. Angelina Jolie, one thing is interesting about her, she had a gene that would predispose her to breast cancer. So she had a double mastectomy, if I remember the story correctly, which she did to prevent going through that process, and that it was very relieving to her. She had a big worry about getting breast cancer that she was able to relieve by getting plastic surgery. Once again, we can’t always say there’s one reason, there are many reasons, and it can be very helpful.
Some of the advice that you’ve shared today and of course, there’s so much more advice that you can listen to Dr. Greg on his YouTube, and I would love for you if you don’t mind sharing where people can learn more about some of the information that you can share with them.
I appreciate all the time you gave me today. I just like to end with one more question. What is success to you?
I want to say it’s just extreme life satisfaction. That’s what popped into my head first. It’s just being very satisfied with life, with yourself, others, and life itself that would be a success.
Thank you again for all of your time and everyone listening, and I will look forward to hopefully interviewing you again. Dr. Greg. Have a wonderful day.
You, too. Bye.
Bye. Thank you for joining us on this episode of OWC’s Leaders & Game Changers. My name is Setorii Pond. Please like and subscribe to the podcast. And if you have any questions, please let me know. Bye.