A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

What, Me Worry?


Unwinding Anxiety
Judson Brewer, MD, PHD
Avery, 2021

Was there ever a more apt time for a book about conquering worry and fear? Years before the chaos of 2020, half or more of Americans reported feelings of anxiety about their health, safety, finances, politics, and relationships. But anxiety, Brewer avers, is a habit, like smoking or binge eating—and as such it can, with mindfulness, be mastered.

Brewer—the director of research and innovation at Brown’s Mindfulness Center and an associate professor of behavioral and social sciences and of psychiatry and human behavior—has worked with patients for two decades to help them kick unhealthy habits. Over time he realized that anxiety, like addictive behavior, triggers a habit loop in our brains: because our worrying is (sometimes) rewarded with a solution, we keep doing it.

But “like playing a slot machine in a casino and winning just enough times to keep us coming back for more,” Brewer writes, most of the time our anxiety leaves us worse off. “[H]ow often do we come up with a solution that fixes the problem? And how much does worry itself actually help us think creatively or problem-solve?” (This consummate worrier takes the Fifth.)

Brewer distills his and others’ neuroscience research into lively, digestible prose so any reader may understand where anxious thoughts come from, and how to deal with them. He leads us through practical exercises to encourage us to get curious about—and be kind to—ourselves. As with any unhealthy habit, he reminds us, anxiety can only be unwound “one day at a time.”


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