How to Step Out of the Anxiety Loop
This Week from the Book Dreams Podcast
Book Dreams is a podcast for everyone who loves books and misses English class. Co-hosted by Julie Sternberg and Eve Yohalem, Book Dreams releases new episodes every Thursday. Each episode explores book-related topics you can’t stop thinking about—whether you know it yet or not.
Need help easing anxieties? Or resisting your cravings for sugar? Book Dreams co-host Julie Sternberg does. For this week’s episode, she sought help from neuroscientist Judson Brewer, author of Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind as well as The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Cellphones to Love—Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits. The Director of Research and Innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center, Dr. Brewer offers guidance for breaking bad habits—including spirals of worrying—using mindfulness and other brain-based practices. Have his strategies worked for Julie? Take a listen to her conversation with Book Dreams co-host Eve Yohalem and find out!
From the episode:
Julie: This is a really useful tip actually: You know how long it can take to try to reason someone out of worrying about something? People who are actually deeply worrying and anxious about something don’t necessarily respond to your reasoning with them, because [the worrying is] not actually about often the topic that they have front of mind; it’s about something else.
I’ve tried this with other friends who are anxious since hearing the Ezra Klein interview [with Dr. Brewer] and I have tried it on myself. It is true that if someone is really feeling anxious about a mistake that he or she made on a test or what have you, saying, “Look, it doesn’t really matter; it’s only one problem, in the grand scheme of things, blah blah blah.” That may or may not work. It often doesn’t work.
But if you were just to say to them, “Oh, I’m curious. Where are you feeling the anxiety in your body right now? Are you feeling it on the left side or the right side? And does it feel different on the left side or the right side? Is it lodged in your chest? Do you feel a little tightness in your chest?” Once you get the mind to be curious about the way the body is feeling, you get out of the brain spinning on anxious thoughts much faster, and you’re much more able to see reasoning.
Eve: Okay, this is really interesting. And it reminds me of how you parent a two-year-old. When the child’s all worked up, you try to help them identify the feelings they’re having, and then you try to distract.
Julie: Distract, distract, distract. I think with older folks, you can’t so easily distract the brain. You can’t just say, “Okay, yes, I understand, you’re worried about that test. Let’s go get some ice cream.” It just doesn’t work as well. But focusing on feeling, and curiosity about feeling, turns out to be weirdly effective.
Dr. Judson Brewer is the Director of Research and Innovation at the Mindfulness Center and associate professor in psychiatry at the School of Medicine at Brown University, as well as a research affiliate at MIT. He is also the author of the books Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind and The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Cellphones to Love–Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits.