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    Your Anxiety Questions, Answered | Judson Brewer

    enDecember 05, 2022

    Podcast Summary

    • Overcoming Anxiety with Mindfulness and KindnessAnxiety is a mental habit loop that feeds on uncertainties. Mindfulness and kindness can help short-circuit anxiety. Distress tolerance is essential to overcome anxiety. Differentiating anxiety and excitement can help deal with panic attacks and stage fright.

      Anxiety is an epidemic in our culture, especially after the pandemic. Dr. Judd Brewer, a leading expert on anxiety, explains anxiety as a mental habit loop that feeds on uncertainties, including economic, political, environmental and health. Brewer advises against worrying and recommends mindfulness as a bigger, better offer for the brain. He believes that curiosity and kindness can play a crucial role in short-circuiting anxiety. Brewer treats patients combining cutting edge neuroscientific research with deep Buddhist practice. Distress tolerance is essential and moving away from it is a bad thing, says Brewer. He advises on working with panic attacks and stage fright with differentiated advice on differentiating anxiety and excitement.

    • Understanding the Difference between Anxiety and WorryAnxiety is a helpful response to danger, but worrying only adds stress and feeds into panic. Recognizing this distinction can help manage anxiety and promote clearer thinking for problem-solving.

      While anxiety and fear can serve useful purposes by alerting us to danger and helping us plan for the future, worry is a mental behavior on top of the feeling of anxiety and has not been shown to be helpful. Worrying can lead to a downward spiral where it feeds back and makes us feel more anxious and can even cause panic, which further degrades our capacity to think clearly. Therefore, while planning is helpful to predict and prepare for the future, worrying on top of planning only makes things worse and doesn't solve tomorrow's problems. It's important to recognize the distinction between anxiety and worrying to better manage anxious feelings.

    • Breaking the Habit Loop of Anxiety with Curiosity and KindnessTo overcome anxiety, identify habitual worrying patterns and question their benefits. Replace them with inherent qualities of curiosity and kindness to break the cycle and find relief without relying on medication.

      Anxiety is often driven by habitual worrying, which leads to a feeling of control. To deal with anxiety, map out these habit loops and ask the question, 'What am I getting from this?' Becoming disenchanted with worrying allows the brain to step out of the cycle and towards something better. Practicing inherent qualities of curiosity and kindness can help break the habit loop, as curiosity feels better than worrying. Understanding the habit loop and changing behavior towards curiosity and kindness can help those with anxiety find relief without relying on medication.

    • Using Mindfulness to Break the Mental Habit of AnxietyPracticing mindfulness and tuning into physical sensations can break the cycle of anxiety. Checking for experiential avoidance is important, and a reliable anxiety app can reduce symptoms significantly. Mindfulness empowers people to confront their experiences.

      Anxiety is a mental habit that can be broken by being curious about the present moment and using mindfulness. Mindfulness can cut the cycle of anxiety by tuning into the physical sensations of anxiety, any urges, or emotions. Research has shown a 67% reduction in anxiety in people with generalized anxiety disorder using an unwaning anxiety app. Experiential avoidance can make it really hard to work with one's experience, and it's really helpful for people to check if they're avoiding their experience, especially in a society where we're moving away from distress tolerance with our phones serving as weapons of mass distraction. Mindfulness can help embolden and empower people to move into the process more.

    • Building Resilience through Mindfulness, Curiosity, and Self-CompassionCultivating a curious and compassionate mindset towards ourselves can help in breaking free from habit loops and managing anxiety. Practicing kindness and reflecting on pleasant memories enables us to form new, positive habits.

      Practicing curiosity, mindfulness, self-compassion, and kindness can help us move away from the feeling of anxiety, open up to our experiences, and break free from habit loops. When we recognize a habit loop, we can apply self-compassion by simply reminding ourselves that we are doing the best we can, or doing something kind for ourselves or someone else. Reflecting on memories of kindness can also help us hit the pause button on anxiety and give us space to breathe, bringing our prefrontal cortex back online and allowing us to form new, positive habits.

    • The Power of Loving Kindness and Self-Compassion through Meditation for Reducing AnxietyThe practice of loving kindness and self-compassion through meditation can calm the worrying brain networks, leading to anxiety reduction and positive societal benefits. Acknowledging existential anxieties can also improve mental well-being, especially as we age.

      Research has shown that practicing loving kindness and self-compassion through meditation can quiet down the self-referential brain networks that get activated during worrying. This helps to reduce anxiety and bring about positive benefits for society. The practice involves envisioning a series of beings and systematically sending them good vibes. Additionally, as we age, we may experience existential anxiety related to uncertainty about the future and declining health. Developing the habit of recognizing and acknowledging these anxieties can be helpful in alleviating their effects on our mental well-being.

    • Approaching Life with Curiosity and a Growth Mindset to Break Free from Anxiety Habit LoopsBringing lightness and curiosity to natural processes like aging and practicing self-compassion through positive self-talk can help us navigate life's changes with more ease and less heaviness, guided by the experts like Kristen Neff, Chris Germer, and Ethan Cross.

      Approaching life with curiosity and a growth mindset can help us break free from anxiety habit loops and approach change in a more useful and joyful way. We can recognize the optional second and third arrows of worry and rumination and choose not to get stuck in those habit loops. Instead, we can bring lightness and curiosity to natural processes like aging and practice self-compassion through positive self-talk. These practices, influenced by the work of experts like Kristen Neff, Chris Germer, and Ethan Cross, can help us navigate life's changes with more ease and less heaviness.

    • Practicing Self-Compassion and Finding Grounding Practices for Anxiety and Negative Emotions.When experiencing anxiety or negative emotions, practicing self-compassion and finding grounding practices can help. Meditation and connecting with others can offer support and bring a sense of compassion and connection. We're all in this journey together.

      When dealing with anxiety or negative emotions, it's important to practice self-compassion, talk to ourselves in a supportive way, and recognize our common humanity. Meditation can be a helpful tool for understanding how our minds work, but it's also important to find grounding practices in the moment of intense anxiety or sadness, such as looking around the room or nature. Connecting with others and offering help or receiving help can also bring a sense of compassion and connection. We are all on this journey together and can support each other along the way.

    • Grounding techniques for managing anxietyFocus on anxiety-free zones in the body, approach experiences with self-compassion, and stay present by noting physical sensations.

      To ground ourselves during anxiety, we can focus on an anxiety-free zone in our body like our hands and feet. This invites awareness outside of the spinning habit loop in our head, drawing down anxiety and allowing us to become curious about our experience. Resistance to anxiety or discomfort can fuel mental commentary and prevent us from gaining insight. Instead, we can approach our experience with self-compassion and counterprogram negative thoughts with positive self-talk. During acute anxiety or panic attacks, we can practice noting our experience and the physical sensations in our body, rather than getting caught up in our thoughts. This can help us stay present and grounded in the moment.

    • Using mindfulness and exposure therapy to overcome panic attacks.Embrace the fear, gradually expose yourself to triggers and trust your mindfulness practices to cope with panic attacks.

      Noting practice can be a game changer in dealing with panic attacks. It helps in observing but not being caught up in our experience. Embracing panic attacks and holding oneself in a loving kind embrace can be empowering. Panic disorder is not about the act of having a panic attack but the fear and worry of having one in the future. Exposure therapy can be a positive experience for panic attack. It is important to not push oneself too hard in this process and gradually expose oneself to the things that cause panic. Trusting the ingrained mindfulness practices can help in dealing with tough situations like panic attacks.

    • Prioritizing self-care for anxiety managementBalancing pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones with prioritizing mental and emotional health is key. Being curious about our sensations and practicing self-talk helps in exposure therapy. Asking ourselves what we need, not just what we want, and taking care of ourselves in anxious situations is crucial for well-being.

      Self-care is important when dealing with panic or anxiety. While it's essential to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, we also need to know our limits and prioritize our mental and emotional health. Being curious about our sensations and doing positive self-talk help us in exposure therapy. Forcing ourselves in these practices is antithetical to their purpose, as curiosity and kindness can't be forced. When faced with situations that cause panic or anxiety, we should ask ourselves what we need, and not just what we want. Taking care of ourselves in those times is essential for our well-being, even if it means pulling ourselves out of the situation.

    • Overcoming Anxiety with Compassionate MindfulnessUse grounding techniques and mindful practices to overcome stage fright. Build confidence and trust in oneself. Let go of expectations and approach situations with self-compassion. It is okay to use props like a written-out speech.

      Approach meditation with curiosity and kindness, not with striving. When dealing with stage fright, grounding techniques and mindful practices can help to overcome anxiety. It is important to build confidence and trust in oneself to work with anxiety in different situations, including speaking in public. However, it is also okay to use props like a written-out speech to feel more comfortable. It is crucial to let go of expectations and destinations that hinder progress and approach situations with self-compassion, which involves asking oneself what is needed right now.

    • Managing Anxiety Through Mind-Body ConnectionUnderstanding the link between thoughts and physiological responses and utilizing tools like cognitive reframing, beta blockers, preparation, and training can help manage anxiety symptoms during public speaking and distinguish between anxiety and excitement.

      The mind-body connection highlights how thoughts and physiological responses feed on each other, and pharmacological interventions can help break the link between the two as a temporary measure. Practicing public speaking and using cognitive reframing can also be really helpful in managing anxiety and panic symptoms. Beta blockers like propranolol can limit the rapidity with which our heart can beat, precluding the amount of panic symptoms we may feel in public speaking situations. Preparation and training are also great ways to manage this balance of anxiety and excitement. It's important to differentiate between anxiety and excitement so that one can use cognitive reframing to positively manage the situation.

    • Excitement vs. Anxiety: Understanding the DifferenceExcitement and anxiety can feel similar, but it's important to note the associated thoughts and emotions. Don't mistake excitement for true happiness, and instead prioritize self-care to avoid burnout.

      The feeling of anxiety and excitement can be very similar and share common characteristics. While excitement says 'go do something', anxiety says 'go do something' due to uncertainty. The difference between the two is often simply the thoughts associated with the feeling. The good news is that we can work with both feelings the same way by noting the thoughts and emotions associated with them and bringing in curiosity. While excitement may give us an exciting rush, it doesn't actually feel that good and may lead to burnout. We should check with our brains to see which is the bigger, better offer and not mistake excitement for happiness.

    • Understanding and Dealing with Different Emotions.Instead of suppressing or fighting our emotions, learning to accept and allow them can help us avoid feeding them and see them as mere thoughts and feelings.

      There are different types of emotions with distinct characteristics and evolutionary origins. Excitement from buying a lottery ticket or achieving something great produces a headlong rush, which is different from the feeling of hugging a loved one or experiencing an inexplicable sense of peace from meditation. Anxiety levels can become overwhelming, and trying to force it away through various activities can sometimes make it persist. Resisting anxiety only strengthens it. Instead, a way out is to learn to open up, to allow and accept our thoughts, emotions, and sensations instead of fighting them. Through acceptance, we can avoid feeding them and start seeing them as mere feelings and thoughts.

    • Embracing Anxiety as a Gift for Growth.Instead of resisting our anxiety, we must open up to it and learn from it. Treating anxiety as a teacher can help us grow stronger, be with difficulty, and live an overall better life.

      Trying to make our unpleasant experiences go away does not help, instead it feeds our resistance. It's important to open up to the obstacles and realize that the only way out is through it. We should start approaching anxiety as a teacher and ask ourselves how we can learn from it, using it as a gift to grow stronger and be with difficulty. We must be careful not to push ourselves too hard while opening up to anxiety. Working with this natural phenomenon can help us live an overall better life, and even turn into a gift like how Dave, a former patient, talks about his anxiety as a gift that helped him learn so much about himself and work through it.

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    If you ever feel anxious, whether that’s a low-level worry, a sudden fear, or full-on panic, can you sense where it’s coming from in your body? Perhaps your chest feels tight, or your gut feels uneasy. Or, perhaps, you have no idea. My guest on this episode, believes that understanding where this feeling lives inside your body is the key to treating anxiety – for good.


    Dr Russell Kennedy is a medical doctor, neuroscientist, and someone who suffered with crippling anxiety for over 30 years. He is the author of Anxiety RX: A New Prescription For Anxiety From The Doctor Who Created It and has recently launched MBRX, an online course to help people permanently heal their anxiety.


    Russell insists anxiety isn’t a disorder of the mind. Our worries are merely a symptom that keeps us in our heads and away from the real problem. He favours the term ‘alarm’ and says we need to find where the alarm is in our bodies. This alarm is a physiological pattern that’s been left by events in our past, usually in early childhood. It signals to our brain that we aren’t safe – and so our mind gets to work trying to think us out of danger.


    Russell shares his own journey through anxiety. He talks about how growing up with a father who was schizophrenic and bipolar, left alarm signals, imprinted in his body. And, for over 30 years he searched for relief from his anxiety. But nothing worked.

     

    In Russell’s view, most treatments for anxiety, including medication and CBT, fail in the long term because they don’t address the root cause. For Russell, healing starts by finding out where anxiety lives inside your body and he walks you through how exactly you can start doing that.

     

    We also discuss the simple things that parents can do to help their kids grow up feeling ‘seen, heard, loved and protected’. And, we also discuss the value of activities like breathwork, meditation and yoga, and also some promising therapies such as Internal Family Systems and Somatic Experiencing.

     

    Russell’s core message has the potential to be transformative - that it’s more effective to use the body to calm the mind, than the mind to calm the body. Given how prevalent anxiety is now across society, I think this is a profoundly important conversation. I hope you enjoy listening.


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    Show notes https://drchatterjee.com/370


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