How to Unwind Your Anxiety With Neuroscientist Dr. Jud Brewer

Jud Brewer

Verywell / Julie Bang

Every Monday on The Verywell Mind Podcast, Editor-in-Chief Amy Morin, LCSW, interviews experts, authors, entrepreneurs, athletes, musicians, and other inspirational people about the strategies that help them think, feel, and do their best in life.

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Meet Dr. Jud Brewer

Dr. Jud Brewer is a psychiatrist and a neuroscientist. He’s spent more than 20 years researching habit change and the “science of self-mastery.”

He developed a deep understanding of how our brains work and he uses that knowledge to help other people create lasting change in their lives. 

He’s the Director of Research and Innovation at the Mindfulness Center, associate professor in psychiatry at the School of Medicine at Brown University, the executive medical director at Sharecare and a research affiliate at MIT.

His newest book, Unwinding Anxiety, became an instant New York Times bestseller. He also created an app that helps people change unwanted behaviors, such as smoking and emotional eating.

Why Dr. Brewer Is Mentally Strong

Dr. Brewer invests his time into learning and teaching people how to create positive changes in their lives. 

But he also says he’s not conducting “research” he’s conducting “me-search.” He’s quite up front about his own anxiety and habits and how he applies his work to his own life.

And while he is a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication, he doesn’t insist prescriptions are the best option for everyone. He’s combined modern-day science with ancient wisdom. The strategies he teaches people have been found to be more effective at relieving anxiety than medication.

What You’ll Hear on the Show

  • Why 80% of people don’t benefit from anxiety medication
  • How curiosity can be a form of mindfulness
  • How to recognize your physical symptoms of anxiety
  • Why The Simpsons theme songs causes my anxiety to spike and Dr. Jud’s input about how to deal with it
  • How to stop resisting uncomfortable emotions like anxiety
  • Why we’re all addicted to something
  • Why mindfulness training can be more effective than medication and other treatment options
  • The primal reasons we develop unhealthy habits
  • Why we worry so much (and what we get out of it)
  • Why we don’t realize when our habits are becoming “too often” or “too much” 
  • How to better understand your brain and your body’s response to anxiety

What You’ll Learn About Anxiety and Mental Strength

Sometimes people assume mental strength is the absence of mental health struggles. But that’s not true.

Building mental muscle can help you stay healthier. But it doesn’t mean you won’t experience struggles and discomfort along the way.

In fact, mental strength involves allowing yourself to experience and express uncomfortable emotions, rather than suppress them.

Anxiety is an emotion most people go to great lengths to avoid. But learning how to tolerate it a little more could be the key to freeing yourself from anxiety. Dr. Jud shares how to allow yourself to experience an uncomfortable emotion without running from it.

Quotes From Dr. Brewer

Dr. Jud Brewer

Habits form through what's called reinforcement learning. If something's pleasant or feels good, our brains are going to learn to do that again. If something's unpleasant, our brain is going to say, ‘Hey, make that go away.’

— Dr. Jud Brewer
  • If we distract ourselves, we're not solving the anxiety.
  • We don't pay attention and ask the questions. Is this actually helping? Or is this just giving me some brief relief and then ultimately going to make things worse in the long run? 
  • Anxiety tends to make us feel closed down, contracted and tightened into a little ball. Curiosity does the opposite. 
  • When we're starting to get tightened up with a little bit of anxiety, it can be harder for us to use the thinking part of our brain. So the first thing I do is have people ground themselves in their present moment experience. 

More About the Podcast

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By Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.