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February 07, 2024

Episode 20: Book Club – Unwinding Anxiety by Dr. Jud Brewer

In this conversation, Pam and Sarah discuss anxiety through the lens of the book ‘Unwinding Anxiety’ by Dr. Jud Brewer. They share their personal experiences with anxiety and how it affects their lives. They explore the concept of anxiety as a habit and the habit loop that reinforces anxious behaviors. They discuss the physical manifestations of anxiety and the role of self-judgment in perpetuating anxiety. They delve into the process of retraining the brain, including awareness, identifying the reward, and practicing mindfulness and curiosity. They explore the concept of interest curiosity and how it can be fostered to reduce anxiety. Takeaways
  • Anxiety is a common experience that affects everyone to some degree.
  • Anxiety is a habit that is reinforced by the habit loop of trigger, behavior, and result.
  • Self-judgment and feelings of guilt can reinforce anxiety habits.
  • Retraining the brain involves awareness, identifying the reward, and practicing mindfulness and curiosity.
  • Interest curiosity can help reduce anxiety and foster a sense of openness and enjoyment.
  • Practicing curiosity and using physical actions like opening the eyes wide can help break the anxiety habit loop.
  • Anxiety is a part of life, and it is important to accept and navigate it rather than seeking an anxiety-free utopia.

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This transcript was generated by AI so please ignore any weird errors. If there is anything really terrible, let us know.


[00:00:08] Pam: Today we are talking about anxiety and specifically we’re talking about it through the lens of a book called Unwinding Anxiety by Dr. Jud Brewer.

[00:00:18] Sarah: Here she is. {Shows book cover}

[00:00:21] Pam: It’s a book that was really helpful to me a couple of years ago for some just kind of general day to day anxiety that at the time I wouldn’t have actually even called it anxiety.

I like to say that I am an optimist who worries a lot. So that worry I just thought was like, that’s who I am, I worry a lot. But now I realize that was a form of anxiety. That by, worrying about things as an attempt to control them, it was giving me anxiety. Because you can’t control things, right?

So I talk about this book all the time. Everyone who even like mentions anxiety, I’m like, you have to read this book. And so I was really happy that Sarah was interested in reading it and discussing it. And I hope that everyone listening, gets a benefit out of it and, reads the book if this is something that affects you, which I think it probably does, anxiety affects everyone to some degree.

[00:01:24] Sarah: 100%. And, to build on that, you, I don’t know if you remember this, but it was actually in between us working together in the capacity when I was your coach and you were my client and then us deciding to launch this podcast in between that time, you emailed me spontaneously and you said, oh I just read this book, it’s called Unwinding Anxiety, I think you’re really gonna love it.

And I ordered, I thought, great recommendation, I definitely have a relationship with anxiety that could use some work. so I ordered it and I, didn’t read it until you and I decided to feature it as part of our book club. So it gave me the impetus to dive into the book. So that’s the history of how I came to the book, all of it having to do with you.

So thank you for bringing it, forefront to my life and excited to chat about it today.

[00:02:20] Pam: That’s really funny. I had forgotten that I reached out to you and that was how we reconnected after, not working together for a while and then

[00:02:30] Sarah: a fateful, yeah, a fateful book for us.

[00:02:33] Pam: yeah, that’s really interesting. So I reread it over the last couple of weeks in preparation for this episode. And I am. I’m really glad that I did.

I’m really grateful for the push to reread it for two reasons. One, because I had recently fallen back into some habitual anxiety and hadn’t really realized it. So reading the book made me start to think about patterns that I’d fallen into and how they were affecting me. And I was like, Oh yeah, hello.

That is my old anxiety coming back

I had felt like I “fixed” it. And so it shouldn’t be a problem anymore. And that’s not how these things work, right? they show up again.

But I was also grateful for rereading it because it turns out that I had nailed 60% of what the book talked about and then completely got the last 30%, which is the most important part for, Dr. Brewer’s process of rewiring anxiety, which we’ll get into. But I thought that I was doing great because I, I’m doing steps one and two and I had totally screwed up step three. so it was great to reread it and to hopefully get it right this time. But I think that speaks to the value of what is in the book that I had great progress only getting 60 percent of it right.

[00:03:55] Sarah: Yeah. And it speaks to the value of, reviewing.

[00:04:00] Pam: Yes.

[00:04:00] Sarah: right? if there’s a book that you love or a concept that you love, it’s not that you just get, oh, an aha moment and then suddenly you’ve retained it all. With time, we learn more, it goes deeper, or we have different kinds of applications.

So not only for this book, but for other books that we love or other concepts. So I love it because you did read it, it did really transform your relationship with anxiety. You started, effusively recommending it to friends and colleagues and you hadn’t even, and then when you re read it, you got like a new nugget.

So it’s all good, but that’s super interesting and funny.

[00:04:36] Pam: Yeah. Yes. So throughout our discussion today, I’m going to be giving examples of, specifically my email anxiety, the anxiety that I get from email. Cause it’s a very clear example of the pattern that, Dr. Brewer discusses in the book. But I wanted to take a minute to just maybe have a short conversation about our respective relationships with anxiety.

your history with it, where it shows up for you, how it impacts you, whatever you’re comfortable sharing.

[00:05:08] Sarah: 100%. So….

I definitely, have, an existing relationship with anxiety, which first emerged… I don’t know how old I was. I’ve always, I always just worried a lot. Even as a little girl, I was always worried that somebody was going to take me or that our car was going to get hijacked or, somebody was going to jump out into traffic.

I was always scared about driving since I was a little girl. So I had a lot of fears and I didn’t know if that was normal. I didn’t know if everybody was that scared. And also I didn’t have a therapist or psychiatrist at the time to diagnosis for me, but I would say that I was very high functioning, anxious person and also very optimistic the way you are.

I’m super hopeful. I’m super optimistic. I’m very positive. Positivity is my number one strength on the CliftonStrengthFinder. And so I live with the polarity of both. This catastrophizing… So you talk about your manifest, this anxiety manifestation specifically with email. I have less so with that.

And some of the examples in the book, I have less of a connection to. For example, he taught, there’s a lot of talk about addiction in the book as a manifestation of anxiety. I would say my addiction is less so to, food or alcohol or behaviors and more around the addiction to actually worrying about something or catastrophizing about something when it comes to anxiety.

So ever since I was a little girl, I had anxiety. I thought it was, they were valid worries, concerns. And then as I became a teenager, an older teenager, I, I did more research. I, worked with a doctor around it and realized that those were anxious thoughts and it was my brain working over time and they weren’t necessarily real threats… the way that my brain was making me believe.

And so since then, my relationship with anxiety has definitely evolved. I can separate myself sometimes from the fear itself. and I can notice, Oh, wow, I’m really being hijacked by this fear. so I definitely have more, awareness of how it impacts me and I have some tools.

not unlike the ones he describes in the book, though he details them more clearly, which is helpful. so I would say the anxiety has persisted, but my relationship with it has evolved. I have a better relationship with it at the same time, always room for growth. I’m always open for more tools to handle it, more effectively because it’s such an unpleasant feeling.

It’s such an unpleasant feeling and it has an impact. It has an impact on what I do, right? It can have an impact on risks that I will end up not taking or I perceive them as risks, but they’re actually maybe to another person it won’t be a risk, et cetera.

yeah, to bottom line, long relationship with anxiety, definitely more awareness of it, more tools today, but super interested in the topic because I, it, continues to rear its head.

[00:08:40] Pam: Yeah. It’s interesting hearing you talk about your experience with it, because I wouldn’t say I was an anxious kid. I was, like a high achiever and, that kind of like high strung kid. But I would not say that I ever worried about anything as a kid. It really didn’t come in until I would even say like my mid twenties and later when I started like really adulting. That’s when it started showing up.

But at the same time, 80 percent of what you just said, I could have said the exact same thing, right? I’m a very positive person. I’m a very optimistic person and I worry about everything, I think that this story and this, experience is probably something that a lot of people are going to be able to identify with.

[00:09:30] Pam: And maybe will even say, she just said exactly how I feel. So I think that’s really important for people to hear that I would say everyone is probably dealing with this on some level, and it’s probably a lot more similar than we think. Because, anxiety ultimately is fed by this need that we have to be able to control outcomes,

and to want to know what’s going to happen. We’re very uncomfortable with uncertainty. Our brains hate uncertainty. And so we get really anxious if we don’t know what’s going to happen and we don’t have any control over outcomes.

[00:10:14] Sarah: I love when he explains that anxiety equals fear plus uncertainty

[00:10:19] Pam: Yeah.

[00:10:21] Sarah: So it’s exactly what you’re saying. It’s a fear of something going wrong, and then the uncertainty, the lack of control.

[00:10:27] Pam: Right.

So the crux of the book is that anxiety is a habit. So as you mentioned, there’s a lot of discussion about addiction in the book because he has done a lot of work in like smoking cessation and other, work with addicts of various substances and using the framework of the addiction being a habit to resolve the addiction. And through that process and through, his own experience, which he describes in the book, he discovered that anxiety has the same pathways in the brain and the same loop of having a trigger, a behavior, and an outcome. That’s an addiction. It’s a habit. It’s anxiety. It’s basically everything that we do. if you, really start looking at your day to day. That is all that we’re doing is trigger behavior result.

So with anxiety, something triggers your anxiety, whatever that is for you. You feel anxious, that feels icky. So you want to do something to alleviate that. So for some people, the, thing that they do is eat or smoke or, even procrastination, which we’ve done a whole episode on. That is a huge way that some people avoid anxiety because they, get all wrapped up about the thing that they need to do and that feels icky.

So they go and, clean the bathroom because that feels a whole lot better than doing the thing that they have anxiety over doing.

The problem with that is that every time we go through that habit of anxiety, doing something to alleviate it that is not actually a solution, and then feeling the anxiety being better, at least for the short term. Every time we do that, loop, we’re creating a habit.

And, we are creatures of habit, our brains love doing the same thing over and over again, cause it takes less energy, you don’t have to think about it, you just do it. So then that means you’re brain is going okay, every time that trigger happens, I feel anxious and I get this thing. I get to eat a cake or I get to, do whatever it is.

It doesn’t actually even have to be anything that’s rewarding, which we’ll get into, because it’s super interesting. But every time you do that, have that loop, it becomes a habit and your brain goes, okay, so every time this thing happens, I should get anxious. So then you’re just feeding more and more anxiety. And I hear this from so many people where they’re like, 10 years ago, I wasn’t anxious or I would get, a little anxiety here and there, but I feel like it’s just getting worse and worse and worse. And this was a light bulb moment for me, putting together that I’ve heard this from so many people and it’s yeah, it’s a habit.

So it is going to happen more and more It’s just the way our brains work.

[00:13:33] Sarah: And I think one of the interesting parts, of the book and his sort of premise is that it’s a habit and so we might, some of us might know it’s, we’re having this habitual response, but typically as people, we try to respond to it by thinking our way or talking our way out of it, like rationalizing our way out of it.

And that is not successful because the, because those grooves are so established. So for example, saying, I’m, just not going to smoke when I feel anxious next time. It’s just, it simply doesn’t work for, I don’t know the percentage, but the large majority of the people trying to talk ourselves out of that type of habit or saying, I’m just going to stop worrying about this.

It doesn’t work. it’s just not successful. Yet we think we can intellectualize ourselves or talk ourselves out of that habit, and that’s not an effective method. So he’s saying, so we know it’s a habit, and we know that our traditional way of trying to think of our way out of it doesn’t work.

So here’s, a more successful way of dealing with the habit. So that’s where he’s come up with this sort of three step process. Which is different from how we typically would approach a habit, including anxiety.

[00:14:54] Pam: That is a really important point that you can’t think your way out of this.

[00:14:57] Sarah: Mm

[00:14:58] Pam: and that a lot of these things that trigger anxiety or behaviors that we do are actually things that you have to do.

So again, email, for me, that is necessary. It’s something I have to do for part of my job.

And I have developed this habit that as soon as I think about email. I get anxious because I don’t know what’s in my inbox. So then I go and check my email. So the trigger is thinking about email. I get anxious. The behavior is I check my email to alleviate the anxiety. So then regardless of what’s in there, whether it is a good email, a bad email, or nothing,

My brain is rewarded because now the uncertainty is gone.

The control is back. I don’t need to be anxious about what’s in my inbox anymore. So I’m teaching my brain, get anxious about email, check email, everything will be fine or you’ll control it. So now every single time I think about email, even if I have no reason to think that there’s anything bad in my inbox, every single time I think about email, I immediately get anxious and I get this feeling in my chest and it’s like very closed off and, but I can’t not check email. So thinking about how I feel about email is not going to stop that. And I have to continue checking email.

[00:16:22] Sarah: But you don’t have to check it in that moment


[00:16:27] Pam: That’s breaking the habit

[00:16:28] Sarah: That’s breaking the habit.

Yeah. So it’s almost like what I’m hearing from you is you have this thought and then it’s, you have an anxious thought and then there’s this. Or you, no, you think about email and then there’s an anxious thought about it.

And then there’s like a compulsion to, I’ll only alleviate this by checking to make sure that there’s no danger there.

[00:16:49] Pam: Exactly. And it’s, I like that you use danger because that goes into how our brains work and why we are this way. And the book goes into a ton of detail about it. It gets pretty nerdy about the parts of our brain, but basic thing to understand is that the majority of our brain is what you’ll hear referred to as like our monkey brain.

And it was, it’s like our old brain that basically was just in charge of keeping us alive. It was just concerned with survival. finding food, not getting eaten. Those are the things that this brain does. But then what makes us human is we have the prefrontal cortex. And that is another part of our brain that is responsible for creativity and planning. So if you think about what creativity and planning are, it’s imagination. It is thinking about what could happen in the future and then making a plan for how to deal with it. And to me that sounds like where anxiety comes from. Imagining what’s going to happen and figuring out what you’re gonna do about it.

We wouldn’t be who we are without creativity and without the ability to plan. But at the same time, the negative side of that is anxiety and this ability to imagine terrible things happening and to put energy into figuring out what we would do in the worst possible scenarios.

[00:18:21] Sarah: Pam, can you paint a picture for us, when you say you’re getting anxiety when you think about your email, is it like, what are the physical manifestations that are happening?

[00:18:32] Pam: Yeah, I definitely feel my heart rate increase a little bit and I feel it in my chest. It’s almost like a heaviness and I, it feels very closed off. And he talks about this in the book that anxiety feels really constrictive and closed, whereas curiosity feels open and receptive. Yeah.

[00:18:56] Sarah: Yeah, which,

[00:18:57] Pam: I feel that.

[00:18:58] Sarah: yeah, I love that description because physiologically, when we are at risk or when we believe that we are at risk or in danger, we want to become small. We want to hide. We want to physically become as small as possible. And so too, when we perceive a risk, we want to hide, we want to get small, we want to be little, right?

versus when we feel safe, we just show up. This is actually reminding me in some ways of our conversations on the other book, Permission to Speak. When we’re like talking about taking up space and feeling comfortable and feeling safe to do

[00:19:35] Pam: yeah, that’s a great point.

Once you start developing this habit loop, this anxiety loop, your brain latches onto that. And so the next time you feel uncertain, your prefrontal cortex goes, okay, here’s all the bad things that can happen. worry about everything. And what we do is we seek information to feel calm.

whatever that information might be, in my example, it’s what’s, what is in my inbox. That information is what’s going to calm me down. You just maybe start to feel restless and you’re just driven to act. That’s what the anxiety is, right? It’s do something.

It’s just this, drive to…

[00:20:16] Sarah: Save me. Save me.

[00:20:18] Pam: Yeah. Yeah. Make me feel safe.

[00:20:20] Sarah: Yeah.

[00:20:21] Pam: And so that’s where these coping mechanisms come in. And so I think that it’s just super important and it was so valuable for me to just see that, to just have someone explain that. And then so you can take some of the guilt or some of the self judgment and like all of that.

[00:20:41] Sarah: Yes. I love that you’re saying that because we can be very judgmental. I can be judgmental of myself in some moments of when I’ve had, bigger bouts of anxiety, thinking why am I so worried about this? Because there’s a part of me that might know that it’s not realistic or that other people wouldn’t be so anxious about it.

Presumably, even though they’re anxious about their own thing, right? It’s so easy to think this is ridiculous. What’s wrong with you? Get over this. Don’t worry about this so much. Don’t panic about this. Don’t imagine the worst case scenario. You don’t have to do that. And it’s so easy to be hard on myself instead of thinking like, this is just my brain trying to protect me.

And these are the groups that have developed over all these years of me trying to be safe, in this very unpredictable world. So naturally, my brain might go there sometimes.

[00:21:40] Pam: And what’s particularly insidious about that self judgment is that the judgment itself can reinforce the anxiety habit.

[00:21:50] Sarah: totally.

[00:21:51] Pam: We’re going to talk about the, habit loop, which we’ve mentioned is trigger, behavior, result. But sometimes you will hear reward used instead of result when we’re talking about habits and the reward doesn’t actually have to be something good.

We have to be really clear about that. That’s why we’re going to use the word result instead of reward because. All we’re doing is having a trigger, a behavior, and then feedback for your brain. if you have anxiety, and then chastise yourself for having anxiety, that is feedback to your brain, even though you’re saying, Don’t do this, is ridiculous.

Your brain goes, okay, I should have anxiety more because I just got feedback. It’s, bizarre, but it’s the truth. like you said, you can’t think your way out of it. You can’t judge your way out of it. You can’t say, stop doing this.

[00:22:49] Sarah: Just calm down.

[00:22:54] Pam: if that worked, none of us would have anxiety, right?

[00:22:57] Sarah: Hilarious. It’s like the most triggering comment.

[00:23:00] Pam: Okay, so let’s get into this habit loop and talk about, mapping it out a little bit. So I mentioned mine, which is think about email. That’s the trigger. I get anxious about email. That’s the behavior. I go and check the email to, alleviate that anxiety. And the result is either there’s nothing bad in there, or there’s something bad in there.

And either way, my brain gets information that says, good job, you got all worked up and we survived. Do that same thing again next time. And then next time is 15 minutes later. So this, loop just keeps getting reinforced because technically whatever’s in my inbox was a reward for my brain. It told my brain, You did the right thing. We’re still alive. Do it again. We’re still alive.

[00:23:52] Sarah: Okay that’s a great example to play with that’s resonant for you. And then let’s do a slightly different one for me, which is, the behavior being, excessive worry. So my trigger could be, hearing about like the state of the world, something going on, instability in the world, a war, for example, or climate change. And then my behavior would be, feeling anxious about that.

And then the result… what would be my result of that?

[00:24:30] Pam: hearing that, I would say that the result is feeling some sort of control because you really have no control other than what you’re doing on a day to day basis. If we think about climate change, you can vote and you can change what you’re doing, but it feels very out of control,

A war across the world feels very out of control.

Getting anxious about it and thinking about it, you start feeling like maybe a sense of control because you are thinking about what you can do.

[00:25:05] Sarah: I think that’s right. I think, that it’s a sense of misplaced control or, unhealthy false control. But yeah, so the trigger is, conflict in the world. The behavior that I will have around it is catastrophizing. A lot of, a lot of worry thoughts around it. And then the result of that is feeling of some kind of control, about my own role in this situation.

[00:25:32] Pam: Yeah. Do you, when you start worrying, do you go and read a lot of news articles, find a lot of information, research?

[00:25:42] Sarah: Yeah. sometimes, I’ll, put a pause in that because I’m realizing the effects, but definitely. Definitely. When certain news stories are impacting me a lot, I’ll go through the, the news cycle and then maybe read 17 articles about the same topic.

[00:26:01] Pam: Yeah.

And that’s a reward for your brain. All that information. Our brains love information.

[00:26:08] Sarah: Yeah. So I think I love this because we’re highlighting what you said before. And this was something that took me a while to wrap my head around and I’m still wrapping my head around it. It’s not a real reward. Like when I was thinking about, for me, the trigger, conflict in the world, behavior, I’m feeling super anxious and worried about it, the result being, oh, I, I’ve read a bunch of articles and I feel worse, but in control, it’s not like the world’s greatest reward, yet it’s the result.

And there’s something also. Soothing. I don’t know if he uses the word soothing, but there’s something like comforting about having the same loop over and over again, even if it feels bad.

[00:26:50] Pam: Yes.

[00:26:51] Sarah: That’s what the reward is in the familiarity. “Reward” I’m putting in quotation marks.

[00:26:57] Pam: yes, the familiar pattern is very,

[00:27:01] Sarah: familiar pattern is the reward.

[00:27:03] Pam: yeah, absolutely.

[00:27:04] Sarah: That gives me something. Okay, great. So I just wanted to run through those two examples. Yours is the email anxiety. And then, your action, your result is checking. And then mine is the state of the world anxiety. And then my action is just keep worrying about it and read more about it and feel a misplaced sense of control about it.

[00:27:24] Pam: Or even if you don’t have the control, there, there’s a little graphic in the book as well that shows how anxiety itself is the feedback loop. So

[00:27:34] Sarah: Right.

[00:27:35] Pam: hear about something, get anxious that, and worry, that creates more anxiety. You worry more and it just like ping pongs

[00:27:43] Sarah: Binging bong.

[00:27:44] Pam: Yeah.

[00:27:45] Sarah: This is the worry that never ends.

[00:27:48] Pam: Yes. So another layer of this is the idea of variable rewards, and people may have heard about this with social media or with gambling because this is, social media is built on the principles of what makes gambling addictive. So Basically, all variable rewards means is when you do something, the result that you get will be different every time. So when you play a slot machine, you might lose, you might get half your money back, you might win. You don’t know. But if you’re playing a slot machine with variable rewards, you are much more likely to continue putting money in that than if you’re playing one that you know what’s going to happen every time you pull the lever.

[00:28:39] Sarah: Really? I didn’t know that.

[00:28:40] Pam: Oh yeah, there’s actually a study. A guy took, I think they were chickens, there’s some sort of bird, and he put them in this study where they had two little buttons that they could press, and with one button, if they pressed it, every time they pressed it, they would get like 15 pieces of food.

[00:29:01] Sarah: Okay.

[00:29:02] Pam: With the other button, when they pressed it, sometimes they would get less food, sometimes they would get a huge pile of food that was bigger than the 15, but over 10 presses, the result was less. They would get less food with the variable rewards button than they got with the constant rewards button.

And they would still choose the variable rewards button, even though the payout was actually less.

[00:29:30] Sarah: So we’re just, we are just drawn to the excitement?

[00:29:34] Pam: It’s the excitement. It’s the dopamine. It’s.. You get a little hit. It’s a little Ooh, what’s going to happen? And with social media, this happens because let’s say you post. And then you go and you check constantly because you don’t know if someone’s going to like it, or someone’s going to comment, or someone’s going to, repost it, like whatever. You, don’t know. And every time you look, it’s different. So it’s exciting. And you get that, bigger dopamine hit.

So with habit loops, if you’re dealing with something that has a variable reward, which most things do, it’s even more addictive. So with my email example, this is gambling.

Every time I check my email, it’s either no news, good news, or something I don’t want to deal with. So that is extremely addictive because of that variable reward problem in our brains.

So just being aware of that, being aware of what the result is that your brain is getting and if it is something that is variable like that, that, that can make it even more powerful. And we only have to do these habit loops a couple of times for them to very quickly become ingrained. It’s not like you have to feel anxious and do a behavior a hundred times for it to get ingrained. It’s so quick.

[00:31:02] Sarah: I know. I’ve noticed that about worries. Like I’ll have a brand new worry and then the next day I’ll think about it again. It’s Oh, it’s been introduced. Oh, there it is. Oh, this one right? As though it’s this fully formed entity and it’s annoying. It’s this is a brand new worry. Why, why is this now? Why do I keep revisiting it? Because it doesn’t take long.

[00:31:31] Pam: Yeah. Yep.

[00:31:33] Sarah: Yeah, super interesting.

[00:31:34] Pam: It is because if we think about how hard it is to create a habit, like if you want to start working out…

[00:31:41] Sarah: yeah. Like a habit you want.

[00:31:43] Pam: Right. Yes. If you’re trying to create a habit, it’s so hard. You have to, revolve your life around this new habit for the next year to get it to stick.

[00:31:54] Sarah: Totally. But Here you go on a silver platter.

So should we talk about how we retrain our brains?

[00:32:01] Pam: So the first step, which Dr. Brewer calls, first gear, because he apparently is a bicyclist, so he uses this, first, second, third gear as his, analogy for the steps . The first gear is, as we always say…awareness.

First step is always awareness.

so you start by just paying attention to where you have these habit loops in your everyday. And even write them down. The trigger, behavior, result. Those three things. Try and identify what those are. it can be anything. Like I said, from procrastinating and avoiding doing things that make you feel anxious.

Literally anything that you do on autopilot that doesn’t fit with who you want to be can fall into one of these habit loops that you can retrain.

So, first gear, noticing, mapping out your anxiety. The second gear is the behavior or the practice that we just went through with Sarah’s anxiety, which is asking, what do I get from this? And this part can be a little bit difficult. as we just said, because it might not be obvious, because anxiety feels terrible.

So you’re like, what, I’m not getting anything out of this. There’s, no benefit here. But if you think about, what, does the behavior that you’re doing feel like in your body? So if eating is the behavior that someone does to alleviate anxiety. When you first take the bite of that food that you’re not supposed to be eating or the whatever you’re going to binge on, when you get that bag of chips out of the pantry, you stop feeling anxious because now you’re getting these delicious calories and you feel relief at first.

[00:33:49] Sarah: For sure.

[00:33:50] Pam: So if you really tap into that change in feeling in your body, that can help you see what you’re getting from the behavior. And the same process, is paying attention to what emotions come up. So if you find that you you were really anxious and then you do a certain behavior and you feel better for an hour, and then you feel much worse after, that feeling better for an hour… that’s what you’re getting from the behavior, even though the end result is you feel much worse.

That temporary reprieve where you feel good, that’s your reward. That’s what you’re getting out of it.

[00:34:32] Sarah: I think great and very relatable examples would be what you mentioned for that: food, having a glass of wine, possibly binging on a TV show or something that’s going to take you out of whatever you’re experiencing to some kind of moment of distraction, dopamine hit, online shopping, stuff like that.

[00:34:56] Pam: Yes. Yep. And in my email example, the benefit that I get, the result that I get is feeling in control. I now know that there’s nothing in my inbox that I need to worry about. So I get 15 minutes of calm.

[00:35:10] Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. And same with all of those examples. There’s some element of control. I get to do this and I get to make myself feel better in the moment. And that’s a really powerful draw when we’re feeling anxious.

[00:35:21] Pam: Yeah,

[00:35:23] Sarah: Okay. so the first step is we get to know our regular loop. So the trigger, behaviour and result, the reward. So that’s gear one, and then the next gear is identifying what we’re getting out of that. Okay. So what’s the payoff?

[00:35:44] Pam: And then third gear. Third and final gear. This is the one that I completely screwed up after reading the book the first time and gave some bad information out, which I’ll talk about. But third gear is, it’s really mindfulness and it’s curiosity and He talks about having a bigger, better offer to retrain the habit.

So the idea is you have the trigger, you feel the anxiety come up, and then instead of doing the behavior that you have ingrained, you have what he calls a bigger, better offer. Which is supposed to be something positive that you do instead of feeding the anxiety. So the first time that I read this, I was like, okay, then the idea is just to have something like calming that will alleviate the anxiety.

So I was using nature as my bigger, better offer. So when I would feel anxious, I would look out my window and I would breathe and find something interesting to look at outside. And that… it worked ish. Like it would calm the anxiety in the moment, but what it wasn’t doing is breaking the habit loop. Because all I was doing is saying, okay, now you get anxious. You get the reward of five minutes of staring out the window. In re- reading the book, I realized that I think it’s maybe an issue a little bit with the way it’s written, which is he really does make it sound like you can come up with your own bigger, better offer.

[00:37:21] Sarah: Yeah, but he’s only got two.

[00:37:24] Pam: Yeah, really, it is mindfulness and curiosity. That’s it. That’s all he says will work for this. What the retraining of the habit loop actually is supposed to be is you have the trigger, you feel the anxiety, you get curious about the anxiety. So rather than running away from it or pushing it away by doing a behavior, you kind of tune into it and you think about Oh, why am I feeling this way?

And what is it that is driving this and really paying attention to it more than trying to push it away.

And he has a phrase in the book that I liked it said, don’t just do something, sit there. So it’s the flip side of don’t just sit there, do something. And it is just to remind you that what you need to do is not feed the anxiety and to turn in and look at it. And he details two types of curiosity, which I found really interesting.

Because the, there’s one type which is called deprivation curiosity, and that is curiosity when we don’t have information and that bothers us. So if you like can’t think of an actor’s name while you’re watching TV and you immediately have to pick up your phone and figure out who it is because it’s just like driving you crazy and you can’t stop.

Or for me, my email anxiety is actually deprivation curiosity. I’m anxious about what I don’t know.

So that curiosity feels bad, right? the actor example, it doesn’t necessarily feel bad, but it’s not, an…

[00:39:04] Sarah: but I think, that it’s actually super interesting because it’s a new phenomenon like at 10 years ago, 15 years ago, or whenever we didn’t have cell phones, what was that 20 years ago? We couldn’t… we would just watch a movie and we’d say, Oh, what was he in again? Oh, I don’t remember. But

now, yeah, I mean my husband is constantly checking IMDB to tell me and I’m like, I actually don’t care, but he really wants me to know what the other shows were or the other films were, right?

or people needing to check their social media or needing to check whatever or needing to check some kind of result of something that’s happening in the world. We didn’t have that before because we didn’t have access to the information.

[00:39:51] Pam: Yeah.

[00:39:52] Sarah: right? We’d actually have to go, I don’t know how we’d find out about the films, go to the library or, place some phone calls to get the information.

And so we didn’t have this compulsion. So I think it does feel bad. Like it’s, if somebody forgets their phone for a day, they’re going to feel anxious because they’re going to be deprived of that info.

[00:40:11] Pam: Yep. So that’s really interesting curiosity itself can have a like positive side or a negative side. So this deprivation curiosity can lead to more anxiety. The type that we want to foster is what’s called interest curiosity. So that is that kind of curiosity when you’re just Oh, I wonder what this is all about.

And you like get interested in a topic and, want to learn more about it. Maybe you do a little bit of research about it, but it feels open. It feels expansive. It feels like it’s, fun and enjoyable and you just want to learn more about a topic.

So we need that interest curiosity about our anxiety. And that can be pretty hard to do because when you’re feeling anxious, you’re not feeling open and expansive.

So you got to have that in mind.

[00:41:06] Sarah: You’re not give me more of this feeling.

[00:41:08] Pam: Right. So, if, you have done a lot of mindfulness practice, you could potentially be a person who can start feeling anxious and then you know tap into and just be like oh I wonder why I’m feeling this way and you know, you may, you may have success doing that. But he gives a trick that I’ve been playing with, which is to say, Hmm. when you start feeling anxious. Just go, that sound, that sound that you make when you’re curious about something. And it immediately changes how I feel. I cannot make that sound. without feeling better. I almost smile when I make it. It’s the weirdest hack.

[00:42:03] Sarah: it’s creating some distance. You’re observing yourself. You’re telling your brain as well that you’re observing yourself. And then there’s also the eye trick. That was for this one, right? So he says for this one that when we have really big eyes, so if you’re watching this on YouTube, you can see the big eyes is I’m curious.

Whereas small eyes are like, I’m nervous. So physiologically, if we, make our eyes bigger, as though we’re really taking it all in, it can also create that a response where our brain is thinking, Oh, I’m curious about what’s going on.

[00:42:40] Pam: Yeah.

[00:42:40] Sarah: Wide open eyes.

I like those kinds of physical things we can do, physical actions or, words we can say.

[00:42:49] Pam: And it’s great that they’re physical actions, because that’s what we need is to tap into the physical. And to get back into the present, because as we talked about, what the anxiety is, that prefrontal cortex thinking and planning and creating all these future problems. So doing, a breathing exercise, using the and opening your eyes up wide.

you’re going to look silly, but it’s going to work. And when I read the book the first time, I loved this part about the eyes wide open kind of thing. And I was telling CK about it and I was like, did you know that you cannot be Mad if your eyes are like wide open in a curious way. And so we were joking that if he sees me with my eyes really wide open, that he should be worried because I’m probably trying to deal with being mad about something.

[00:43:47] Sarah: So funny.

[00:43:48] Pam: Yeah. But, the, trick here is, according to Dr. Brewer is when you feel anxious, name what you’re feeling, open your eyes really wide. Say, huh, and stay that way for 10 seconds. breathe into it, stay there for 10 seconds. And what that does is instead of feeding the habit loop with the behavior that you don’t want to repeat anymore, it replaces that behavior with this curiosity.

And for whatever reason, because it’s an internal behavior rather than something external that you’re doing. That actually helps break the habit. So you stop over time doing this loop over and over again, and you will have to go, huh, with your eyes wide open less frequently as you practice it.

I’ve been working on that since rereading the book.

I do think that it is helping, I’ve also made some other changes. Just in re-reading the book I realized that I spend a lot of time trying to create what Dr. Brewer calls an anxiety free zone. And they don’t exist.

[00:45:11] Sarah: No.

[00:45:13] Pam: I’m constantly thinking, I just have to save enough money, and I just have to retire, and then I don’t have to have all this anxiety anymore.

And the thing is, there’s always going to be something

[00:45:24] Sarah: Always. I’ve noticed in the past that I’ll have something that I’ll be worried about for a period of time and anxious about. Then that will get solved. And then the next day or a couple days later, a brand new worry thought comes in that will take its place.

So as you’re saying, yeah, it would be great to fully stock up all of those investments so that, we could retire at whatever moment we choose to do And then at the same time, once that’s done, other worries are going to come up.

So it’s not about trying to eliminate all of the anxieties. Of course we want to do what we can to manage our lives and create a great life for ourselves, whatever that means, but at

the same time, given the fact that we live in a completely volatile, unpredictable world, and given the fact that we have human brains and human hearts, we are never going to be anxiety free.

[00:46:19] Pam: No, there’s never going to be a utopia.

[00:46:21] Sarah: No,

[00:46:22] Pam: So we have to, we can’t shield ourself from triggers. We have to learn new habits so that when anxiety does happen, it doesn’t take over.

I will have times where I have, I’m not feeling anxious at all. I’ll be hanging out, feeling good and I will literally think What should I be worried about? what am I forgetting?

[00:46:44] Sarah: I do that too. And sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I’ll, be happy saying my gratitudes, and all of a sudden my brain’s wait, what are you forgetting? what, are you worried about? What’s the thing today that you’re most worried about? My brain starts scanning for it.

[00:47:01] Pam: Yes. Absolutely.

[00:47:03] Sarah: Yeah.

[00:47:04] Pam: Mine does the exact same thing. So yeah, breaking the habit is, because that’s going to happen. So what we want to do is instead of taking that and then finding three things to worry about and then going into anxiety and then going into the, whatever the behavior is that we go into because of the anxiety, we want to work on breaking that habit and

centering yourself and bringing yourself back to your body and having that curiosity. Wide eyes. what’s going on here?

And I wanted to mention that there is also an Unwinding Anxiety app, so if people either are not into reading the book or if they find that they read the book and they want some more help… it, there is a monthly subscription, for it, or whatever the timeframe is, but you get like a daily 10 minute lesson and then you get calls with Dr. Brewer and his team where you can ask questions and get feedback and get some, one on one help.

[00:48:03] Sarah: Yeah. And not only that, the first four weeks are free.

[00:48:07] Pam: Oh, nice.

[00:48:08] Sarah: So I signed up for those. I’m going to, I’m going to invest some time in that and see what I learn from it because anxiety is here to stay for all of us. Most of us at least. And so why not find the best way possible to live with it, navigate it, and do our best with it.

[00:48:32] Pam: Yeah. Try to make life a little bit easier.

[00:48:35] Sarah: Always. Yeah, so let us know if you’ve read the book or checked out the app or what you got out of our conversation. And our wish for you is a 2024 with a little bit less anxiety.

[00:48:49] Pam: A little more curiosity.


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