Facing Anxieties Head On

Jud Brewer MD, Ph.D., associate professor of behavioral and social sciences, takes on coronavirus anxiety with a new book

In the year of COVID, anxiety, depression, and insomnia have taken center stage. Judson Brewer MD, Ph.D., associate professor of behavioral and social sciences and director of research and innovation at Brown’s Mindfulness Center, is here to help with a new book, Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind. The New York Times bestseller offers solution-oriented ways to calm our agitated brains and regain our focus.

According to Brewer, anxiety exerts a stronger force in our lives than we imagine and is often masked by addictions or bad habits that we struggle to break. The brain becomes stuck in what Brewer calls anxiety habit loops: we continue to worry, to procrastinate, we eat the extra cookie.

Our best attempts to break anxiety loops using willpower ultimately fail because anxiety lives in a deeper part of the brain than rational thinking and decision making and exerts 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 not that strong, Brewer says. The antidote to anxiety is to offer the brain a bigger, better alternative to the way it currently feels.

In Unwinding Anxiety, Brewer teaches readers to face anxieties head on. “We all get anxious,” Brewer says, “it’s a part of life. Yet how we deal with it is critical.” Distilling more than 20 years of research and work with thousands of patients, including Olympic athletes and coaches and leaders in government and business, Brewer explains how to take simple steps to uproot anxiety at its source using brain-based techniques and small hacks accessible to all.

Health Hack

Five Finger Breathing

Hand with fingers spreadUnwinding Anxiety offers many free and simple ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life. One easy exercise that Brewer says can help kids and adults cut through anxiety by harnessing the senses is called five finger breathing. Give it a try the next time you need to calm your mind and regain focus!

  1. Stretch the fingers of one hand out.
  2. Starting at the bottom of your thumb, trace up the outside of your thumb using the pointer finger of your other hand.
  3. Slowly breath in through your mouth as you trace up.
  4. When you get to the top of your thumb, slowly breath out through your nose while tracing down the other side of your thumb.
  5. Repeat for all five fingers, slowly inhaling and exhaling as you trace up and down, until you are back in the present moment.