You’ve probably heard countless tips and tricks for calming down and managing anxiety. But let’s face it, sometimes those coping strategies just don’t work. That’s where psychiatrist Judson Brewer’s book, Unwinding Anxiety, comes in with a fresh perspective that challenges the status quo.

Brewer’s approach acknowledges that while tips can be helpful, they often fall short for those of us grappling with persistent anxiety. Instead, Brewer offers a three-step process backed by research to help you delve into the underlying habits that fuel our anxious minds.

Step 1: Map Out Anxiety Habits

The first step is rooted in the idea that anxiety is deeply intertwined with our everyday habits. These habits are stubborn and resistant to change. Mere suggestions to “just breathe” or “think positive thoughts” simply scratch the surface of our ingrained patterns.

This step emphasises the importance of first identifying and mapping out our anxiety-related habits before attempting any change. This involves identifying what triggers our anxiety, what behaviours we habitually use to respond to anxiety, and the outcomes of these habits. For example:

  • I feel anxious about a work presentation (trigger)
  • I worry about what could go wrong (habitual behaviour)
  • I feel more anxious (outcome)

Step 2: Working with Your Brain’s Reward System

Our brain assigns a reward value to our coping behaviours. This reward system influences the strength of our habits, even when they no longer serve us well. Through mindfulness and self-awareness, we can gradually shift these reward values, paving the way for new, healthier habits to take root.

To do this effectively, you need to be mindful over and over again when old habits occur, until our brain updates its reward value and stops being drawn to the habit.   If you’re anxious and you start worrying about the future, make a mental note; observe the tightness in your chest, the lump in your throat, how little you get done at work that afternoon. Rather than berating yourself for feeling anxious or resorting to worry, try to be curious and aware of your bodily sensations, feelings, and thoughts so you can begin to unravel the grip of anxiety.

Step 3: Create New Habits

This is the step where most other anxiety coping strategies start: adopting the healthy habits and coping behaviours we aspire to. However, there’s little space for these new behaviours until our brains let go of the old habits.

Once we’ve gained insight into our anxiety habits and started rewiring our brain’s reward system, it’s time to insert our new habits for coping with anxiety into our daily routines. This could include things such as breathing practices, changes to routines, good sleep, regular exercise and mindfulness meditation. Again, this is a gradual process not a one-and-done transformation. Creating new habits that last takes time.

If you’re ready for a fresh perspective about coping with anxiety, book an appointment with one of our experienced Psychologists to help you break the grip of anxiety on your life.