Anxiety is a complex, deeply rooted emotion that exerts a stronger force in our lives than we ever imagined. Anxiety drives anxiety, and is often masked by addictions and bad habits that we cannot break. The brain gets stuck in anxiety habit loops: we continue to procrastinate, we eat the extra cookie, we binge watch Netflix. And it goes without saying that in the year of COVID our anxieties have played a starring role.
Renowned psychiatrist and neuroscientist Judson Brewer MD, PhD (Jud), Associate Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences in the Brown University School of Public Health, has researched anxiety and the addictive behaviors it drives for two decades. Now in Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind (March 9, 2021) he gives us a new, solution-oriented way to calm our agitated brains and regain our focus.
Our best attempts to break anxiety loops using willpower or change our mindset ultimately fail because anxiety lives in a deeper part of the brain than rational thinking and decision making – what Brewer calls the “old brain.” It has an unconscious power over our actions. You cannot consciously think your way out of anxiety any more than you can wish away a bad habit. Willpower is just not that strong. The only antidote to anxiety is offering the brain a bigger, better alternative to the way it currently feels.
In Unwinding Anxiety, Brewer teaches readers how to deal with anxieties head on. Distilling more than 20 years of research and hands-on work with thousands of patients, including Olympic athletes and coaches and leaders in government and business, Jud explains how to take simple steps to uproot anxiety at its source using brain-based techniques and small hacks accessible to all.
- Curiosity! Curiosity is the bigger, better offer your brain craves. It just feels good and opens the mind to a myriad of possibilities and new behavior modifications.
- Mindfulness hacks. Brewer’s team found that while meditation can stop these loops, it is not critical to the process. Through key mindful actions—“short moments, many times”—individuals can tap into habit-forming brain circuits to achieve the same effect as experienced mediators. Unwinding Anxiety pinpoints key elements of mindfulness that can … at the deepest level … help sufferers of anxiety feel better.
- Kindness. Brewer’s lab has studied the brain mechanisms that link habit loops such as self-judgment with mindfulness practices that support kindness. Jud teaches the reader to identify self-judgment habit loops and shame spirals, and unwind them by replacing them with the more rewarding practice of self-kindness (another bigger better offer for the brain).
- Tricks as simple as opening the eyes WIDE. Like, really wide. This action tricks the brain out of fearful mode and into a “curious” mode.
Ultimately, Unwinding Anxiety shows us how to stop letting anxiety run our lives and start living the lives we choose.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judson Brewer MD, PhD, is an internationally renowned addiction psychiatrist and neuroscientist. He is an associate professor in the School of Public Health, and Medical School at Brown University. His 2016 TED talk, "A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit," has been viewed over 14 million times. He has trained Olympic athletes and coaches, government ministers and business leaders. His first book, The Craving Mind: from cigarettes to smartphones to love, why we get hooked and how we can break bad habits, was published in over 16 languages.