Dr. Judson Brewer is an American psychiatrist and an internationally recognized expert on mindfulness training for addiction treatment. He combines over 20 years of experience teaching mindfulness with his scientific research.
Dr. Brewer is director of the Division of Research and Innovation at the Center for Mindfulness and Associate Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Psychiatry at Brown University’s College of Public Health and Medicine. He is also a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Brewer has developed innovative awareness programs aimed at changing habits. In this way, it treats smoking, emotional overeating and anxiety. He has also studied the neurological mechanisms underlying awareness using functional magnetic resonance imaging and neurofeedback. He is the author of The Addicted Mind: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love – Why We Get Hooked and How to Break Bad Habits (2017) and Get Rid of Anxiety (2021).
We live in troubling times. We face both global problems, such as pandemics, economic crisis, inflation, military conflicts, and personal adversities: isolation, insecurity, difficulties in relationships. We feel overwhelming anxiety in our daily lives and seem to be losing control. Judson Brewer’s book Get Rid of Anxiety (East-West Publishing, 2022) comes just in time to show us how to deal with anxiety and stress and reclaim our lives.
We think of anxiety as ranging from mild worry to full-on panic, but it’s actually much more encompassing. It is the basis of various types of addictions and bad habits – from alcohol or drug addiction, to emotional overeating, procrastination, browsing the Internet to the point of oblivion, and more.
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These are all mechanisms that “help” us cope with inner anxiety. We try to control ourselves, but anxiety is impervious to rational arguments. This is the reason why we cannot get rid of our bad habits by the power of reason and will.
Dr. Brewer creates a scientifically proven algorithm that can relieve our mind of anxiety, obsessive thoughts and addictions. It offers accessible ways to stop anxiety as soon as we feel it rising, as well as mindfulness techniques that can redirect our energy in a positive and healing way. Only if we end the old habits that fuel anxiety, will we be able to unwind the rope that has tightened the noose around our lives.
“Anxiety is everywhere,” says Dr. Judson Brewer. “She always was.” But in the last few years it has come to dominate our lives as perhaps never before. My history with anxiety goes way back. I am a psychiatrist.
It was only after years of struggling to help my patients overcome their anxiety, and after constantly feeling like I was missing something important in their treatment, that I was able to make the connection between anxiety, the neurological research in my lab on habit change, and my own panic attacks. Then everything changed. I’ve realized that one of the reasons so many people don’t realize they’re anxious is the way anxiety hides behind bad habits.
My internship in psychiatry was an eye opener. I realized that I just loved being on the wards and really getting into the plight of my psychiatric patients. I could feel how I would be perfectly happy trying to help them understand their minds to work more effectively on their problems.
When I graduated from medical school and began my residency at Yale, I developed an even deeper connection with patients struggling with addictions. As I learned more about the difficulties of my patients with addictions, I realized that they were talking about the same type of difficulties that I was experiencing – these related feelings of overwhelming desire, clinginess, clinging. To my surprise, I found that we shared a common language and difficulties.
My work as a medical resident was the period when I myself started having panic attacks fueled by lack of sleep and the feeling of not knowing anything. These combined with the uncertainty of always being on call and never knowing when my pager would ring in the middle of the night, and what carnage I would be called about when I called the hospital. All this had a bad effect on my psyche.
Dr. Judson Brewer
Fortunately, my meditation practice helped me. I was able to apply my mindfulness skills to manage the severe panic attacks that kept me up at night. I didn’t know why at the time, but these skills helped me not add fuel to the panic fire: I learned to work with the anxiety and panic, not to worry and freak out that I would have another panic attack – it kept the anxiety at bay and kept me from developing full blown panic disorder. I also began to understand that I could coach people to deal with and work with their emotions, not just prescribe pills.
Towards the end of my residency, I realized that no one was studying meditation scientifically. It was a hidden gem that had helped me with extreme anxiety attacks (and probably could help my patients as well), but no one was researching why or how well it worked.
That’s why, over the next decade, I put all my energy into creating a program to help people overcome their bad habits—which are strongly related to, and even caused by, anxiety. In fact, anxiety itself is a bad habit. Today it is an epidemic. This book is the result of all that research.”
The most interesting and important relationship that the doctor has found is that between anxiety and habits – why we learn to worry and how even that becomes a habit. Amazingly, anxiety is hidden in people’s habits.
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It hides in our bodies as they learn to shut themselves off from traumatic feelings through a myriad of behaviors. By noticing this connection, the psychiatrist was now able to help his patients understand how they had formed habits around everything from drinking too much alcohol to binge eating because of stress to procrastination as a way to deal with anxiety.
Also, he was able to help them understand why they were having difficulty and failing to overcome both their anxiety and their own habits. Anxiety feeds other behaviors that then reinforce it, and eventually everything spirals out of control.
“In 2011, my first major clinical trial on smoking cessation showed an astonishing five times greater success in stopping smoking than the existing gold standard treatment. Then I started researching how we could help people overcome their other bad habits as well. I have also subjected this to thorough research, finding that we can achieve remarkable results in real clinical trials.
And by “remarkable” I mean a 40% reduction in binge eating related to certain foods in obese or overweight people, a 63% reduction in anxiety in people with generalized anxiety disorder, and more. We’ve even shown that by training online, through a phone app, we can target specific brain networks associated with smoking.
The results of my practice as a clinical psychiatrist and of our research are collected in this book. I hope it will be a useful and pragmatic guide to changing the way you understand anxiety. This can help you work with it effectively – and as a bonus, end all those habits and addictions that are getting in the way,” believes the author of Get Rid of Anxiety.