This has been a bad year for the anxious among us — myself very much included. The pandemic was objectively terrifying. And many of us were trapped inside, with nothing we could do about it, severed from social connection and routine, with plenty of time to fret.
But that almost gives anxiety, at least as I experience it, too much credit. This year, anyway, being anxious made sense. It so often doesn’t. Your mind has so much power and capacity, and there are so many real problems to solve or wonders to contemplate, and instead you’re obsessively ruminating over something that happened three years ago or might happen three years from now.
So, what is anxiety? How do we learn it as a behavior? And more to the point, how do we unlearn it?
Jud Brewer is an associate professor of psychiatry at Brown University, where he is the director of research and innovation at the Mindfulness Center. I’ve followed his work on meditation and addiction for years, and his new book, “Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind” applies that research to anxiety, which he understands as a kind of addiction. And just like with any addiction, you have to understand its rewards in order to begin addressing it.
It’s a powerful framework, and one I’ve found useful in my own life. I’m not saying his book, or this conversation, cured me of anxiety. But it helped me understand it better. I hope it’ll do the same for you.
(A full transcript of the episode will be available midday Tuesday.)
“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Roge Karma and Jeff Geld; fact-checking by Michelle Harris; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Jeff Geld.