Dr. Jud Brewer | Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind

Wellness + Wisdom | Episode 388

What do we do with our anxiety? How can loving it, breathing it, and meditating with it transcend our mental health?

Dr. Jud Brewer | Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your MindInternationally known expert in mindfulness training for treating addictions, Executive Medical Director of Behavioral Health at Sharecare, and Author of his latest book, Unwinding Anxiety, Dr. Jud Brewer, returns to explain how worry and anxiety become habits, why we become addicted to stress, and practical strategies to navigate uncertainty.

Listen and discover the new science of breaking the worry and the fear to heal your mind.

“One pragmatic practice is to separate out the worry from the thinking. Fear plus uncertainty equals anxiety but uncertainty can also move us into a growth mindset. When there's a lot of uncertainty and we're really feeling down on our luck or really stressed out because of our finances; in those moments when we're really worried, take a deep breath, step back, and ask yourself if this worrying is helping. Because worrying makes our thinking brain go offline. What do we need to help us move forward? We need our thinking brain.” – Dr. Jud Brewer

In This Episode, Dr. Jud Brewer Uncovers:

[1:30] How Worry & Anxiety Become Habits

[11:30] The Source Of Modern Anxiety

  • Exploring what the source of anxiety actually is for people in our modern-day society.
  • Why fear-based learning is a survival mechanism that humans have wired in their brains.
  • The fact that our cell phones are weapons of mass distraction and anti-survival mechanisms.
  • Breaking down how anxiety is the combination of worry and fear.
  • What happens to our thought process when we don’t have certainty in a situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Exploring why our previous anti-anxiety or anti-habit strategies have failed in the past.
  • How the brain is wired to create and follow habits that free up space for it to do other things.
  • The learning strategy that is set up along with the process of building habit memory.
  • How a reward hierarchy is created based on the habits we learn.
  • The importance of checking in with ourselves to see if those habits are still rewarding to ensure we actually benefit from them.
  • What negative prediction error is and why it happens when there’s a deviation from what we expect

[19:30] Unwinding Anxiety

  • How you can unwind anxiety from specific, delayed gratification by finding out what is driving those behaviors.
  • Why working on anxiety helped one of his clients effortlessly lose 100 pounds because he stopped stress eating.
  • Exploring the fact that there really isn’t any real evidence that willpower exists.
  • How to practice delayed gratification to help you build good habits.
  • 129 Gretchen Rubin
  • Making sense of the connection between addiction and anxiety in order to let go of both and heal.
  • Eric Kandel
  • Breaking down our individual perceptions, illusions, levels of awareness, and the confrontation one must go through during the inner work.

[31:30] Are You Addicted To Your Own Stress?

  • How to transcend addiction, anxiety, and depression so that they no longer rule us anymore.
  • Unpacking the question, “Which mind states are more rewarding?”
  • Exploring how contracted and closed down people felt with each different mind state compared to feeling more open and expanded.
  • Why adults who are addicted to their own stress hormones were once children who lived in unpredictable environments of overreaction, rage spirals, and fear.
  • How Josh’s addiction to stress has impacted his life as an entrepreneur, his new life in Austin, and now with a baby on the way.
  • What steps to take to know if you are addicted to your own stress and then how to break free from it.
  • Why it can feel strange once you break free from anxiety and no longer have anxious thoughts.
  • Carol Dweck
  • The difference between growth vs fixed mindset when it comes to new changes in your life.
  • How you can become comfortable with the uncomfortable as you enter the growth zone.

[40:00] How To Handle Worry & Stress

  • What steps you can take if you’re worried about the “next bad thing” that’s going to happen to you.
  • The power of changing our mindset and how we look at our life.
  • How we use worry as a control mechanism of our lives to help us but it actually goes against our brain’s ability to work well.
  • Why anxiety and bad habits can be teaching tools for greater awareness and how to properly use them.
  • Michael Pollan
  • What happens to the body and mind when we are actually experiencing stress in the present moment.
  • His research of the default mode network and exploring one of the hypotheses out there that this network syncs us with action.
  • The idea out there that conscious awareness might happen a full half-second after our motor action does something.
  • Exploring the contraction and expansion of self when we let go of stress or feel positive emotions such as love.

[49:00] Practical Strategies To Navigate Uncertainty

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Power Quotes From The Show

Learn From Anxiety

“‘What can you learn from anxiety? If you lean into your hardships and challenges to get something out of them, they can actually be quite rewarding in the sense that you've grown and become more resilient.' – Dr. Jud Brewer

How The Brain Builds New Habits

“Remember our old brain is set up to help us survive. In addition to reward-based learning, it has another trick up his sleeve. It takes what it learns and moves the learning into muscle memory as soon as it can. In other words, our brains are set up to form habits so we can free up brain space to learn new things.” Unwinding Anxiety by Dr. Jud Brewer

Why Worry Can Be A Powerful Teacher

“Inevitably life goes on and things are constantly changing and we have no control over the future. So, those feelings of uncertainty and wondering when the shoe is going to drop have been described as ways that make us feel like we're in control because at least we're doing something about it by worrying.

However, worrying doesn't help and it actually makes our brain work less well. Try to see anything that isn't going well or isn't perfect as a learning experience. When your anxiety comes back up, what can you learn from it? If you lean into your hardships and challenges to get something out of them, they can actually be quite rewarding in the sense that you've grown and become more resilient.” – Dr. Jud Brewer

Moving Into A Growth Mindset

“What do we need to do in today's age? We need to be able to think beyond our narrow sense because the world has changed a lot. It has had this seismic shift that's never going to go back and we don't even know what that's going to look like. So, ask yourself, what I am I getting from worrying? See if you can step out of the worry and lean into that challenge. I'm not saying this is easy but I'm saying this is what we can do, right? Lean into this and ask yourself how you can move into your growth mindset and what's possible for you right now.”  – Dr. Jud Brewer

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About Dr. Jud Brewer

Dr. Jud Brewer | Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your MindDr. Jud is the Executive Medical Director of Behavioral Health at Sharecare, 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. Before that, he held research and teaching positions at Yale University and the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Mindfulness. Read more about his research here.
As an addiction psychiatrist and internationally known expert in mindfulness training for treating addictions, Dr. Jud has developed and tested novel mindfulness programs for habit change, including both in-person and app-based treatments for smoking, emotional eating, and anxiety (Eat Right Now, Unwinding Anxiety and Craving to Quit).
Based on the success of these programs in the lab, he co-founded MindSciences, Inc. to create app-based digital therapeutic versions of these programs for a wider audience, working with individuals, corporations, and hospital systems to put effective, evidence-based behavior change guidance in the hands of people struggling with unwanted behaviors and “everyday addictions.”

Modern Science, Ancient Wisdom

Dr. Jud has also studied the underlying neural mechanisms of mindfulness using standard and real-time fMRI and EEG neurofeedback, adding to the understanding of the brain’s “Default Mode Network” and the role of the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) in self-referential thinking.  He regularly gives talks on the intersection of modern science and ancient meditative practices, helping to expose a modern audience to specific techniques and insights first discovered 2,500 years ago.
He has published numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, trained US Olympic coaches, and his work has been featured on 60 Minutes, TED (4th most viewed talk of 2016, with 10+ Million views), Time magazine (top 100 new health discoveries of 2013), Forbes, BBC, NPR, Al Jazeera (documentary about his research), Businessweek and others.
His work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and American Heart Association, among others.
He is the author of The Craving Mind: from cigarettes to smartphones to love, why we get hooked and how we can break bad habits (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017).
Dr. Jud and his wife Mahri live in Massachusetts where they enjoy biking, hiking, and meditating with their two cats, Ananda and Julian of Norwich.

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About Josh Trent

Josh Trent lives in Austin, Texas with his love Carrie Michelle, son Novah, daughter Nayah + a cat named Cleo. He is the host of the Wellness + Wisdom Podcast and the creator of the BREATHE: Breath + Wellness Program. Josh has spent the past 20+ years as a trainer, researcher + facilitator discovering the physical and emotional intelligence for humans to thrive in our modern world. Helping humans LIBERATE their mental, emotional, physical, spiritual + financial self through podcasts, programs + global community that believe in optimizing our potential to live life well.

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