“Unwinding Anxiety” by Judson Brewer: Minding Loops

In Unwinding Anxiety neuroscientist Judson Brewer offers a brilliant breakthrough, brain-based methods for lessening our anxiety-driven habits. And anxiety, after all, is the common cold of our emotional life. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence

Perhaps you already know psychiatrist and neuroscientist Judson Brewer. Before his new book Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind, there was his 2017 The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love – Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits, his popular TED Talk, his highly rated apps for behavior change, and much more.

The concluding remarks from his TED Talk, “A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit,” addresses the idea that everyone has at least one of these and that there’s a way out:

So if you don’t smoke or stress eat, maybe the next time you feel this urge to check your email when you’re bored, or you’re trying to distract yourself from work, or maybe to compulsively respond to that text message when you’re driving, see if you can tap into this natural capacity, just be curiously aware of what’s happening in your body and mind in that moment. It will just be another chance to perpetuate one of our endless and exhaustive habit loops … or step out of it.

Yes, it’s about mindfulness. Brewer runs the Mindfulness Center, in fact, at Brown University.

A 2020 article by Jared Zhang, Brown Daily Herald, quotes Brewer about his 30-day app programs:

Mindfulness is a process that trains people to become aware of their feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations and write them out so they don’t act on them automatically…

Unwinding Anxiety has a three-step approach in reducing anxiety. First, users learn about the habit loop surrounding worry. ‘Negative emotions like fear or anxiety can trigger somebody to worry, and that mental behavior gets stuck in these anxiety habit loops,’ Brewer said. Users of the app can map out their habit loops and identify these behaviors. Second, they ‘hack their reward value system,’ increasing their awareness of the satisfaction gained from behaviors. By doing so, people can see whether their actions are helpful or not. Lastly, the app brings in mindfulness practices so that users’ old, negative behavior is replaced with curiosity and kindness…

Keri Wiginton, Chicago Tribune, writes about her own trial with the Unwinding Anxiety app in order to quit drinking. “It actually worked.”

…(T)hree days into the 30-day Unwinding Anxiety app program, I felt my worries dissipate in a way I’d never experienced before. Brewer’s methods taught me to focus inward on my unease instead of seeking external rewards that aren’t always available.

Some may roll their eyes at mindfulness, but brain scans show that experienced meditators have stronger control over their posterior cingulate cortex – the part of the brain activated by stress and cravings.

Consider checking out Brewer’s resources page on his site and/or buying Unwinding Anxiety today.

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