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The old saying about residing in “interesting times” requires an upgrade. Nowadays, we are living in “anxious” times. Nonstop news about a deadly infection spreading out across the nation, impending weeks of mass interruption and social distancing has us all on edge.

To help us gain perspective and perhaps even reclaim some calm, Mindful’s Content Director Anne Alexander talked with mindfulness specialist and psychiatrist, Dr. Judson Brewer, Director of Research Study and Development, Mindfulness Center, at the Brown University School of Public Health. Dr. Brewer has been looking into how app-based mindfulness can assist calm nervous minds for a number of years.

Anne: As a psychiatrist, can you describe a bit about what’s going on in our brains as we absorb the truth that we are all in the middle of an international pandemic?

Dr Jud: I wish to say that we can soak up that or any truths for that matter, however in reality, it is actually hard to take in any details when we’re stressed or nervous.

When we’re really stressed or anxious, our thinking brains go offline, and we enter into survival mode. Intellectual details doesn’t stick because we’re hectic fleing from the danger. Just when our brains view safety does our thinking part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) come back online. That’s when we can reasonably prepare for the future.

Part of this has to do with how our brains aren’t set up to save new information when we’re anxious. We find out from afraid circumstances, however that learning can be found in the type of changing our behaviors in the future. Ironically, it’s like saltwater: we are thirsty for information but the more we consume, the thirstier we get.

Anne: Is that why numerous people are stockpiling 48 rolls of bathroom tissue and purchasing cases of Spam?

Dr Jud:Yes, definitely. When we’re at home, our prefrontal cortices are working appropriately, so we can make a sensible grocery and supplies list. When we get to the supermarket, we see everyone running around stressed, and suddenly we participate in.

The scientific term for this is “social contagion.” Generally, it is the spread of emotion from someone to another. Think about it as someone sneezing panic on your brain. Each time you enter contact with someone who is nervous– and stress and anxiety is even more contagious on social networks due to the fact that each scroll is like being touched by somebody– you are more most likely to catch the panic bug.

Anne: What can we do about it? How do we discover that line between preparedness and panic?

Dr Jud:Knowing how our brains work is the initial step. Merely seeing that we are panicking is a great advance. After that we can utilize basic mindfulness practices, like taking a couple of mindful breaths or otherwise grounding ourselves in our direct experience. Similar to taking our foot off the gas when our car is going out of control, conscious awareness assists us ground in today minute, which assists our minds stop racing off into the future with concern or disastrous thinking.

Simply seeing that we are panicking is a great step forward. After that we can utilize basic mindfulness practices, like taking a few mindful breaths or otherwise grounding ourselves in our direct experience.

Anne: What if I see someone with 24 cans of chili in their cart and I unexpectedly want to buy the exact same despite the fact that my pantry is quite well equipped already?

Dr Jud:Here grounding in our direct experience is really valuable. For example, somebody in a meditation group I utilized to lead at Yale University developed a really simple tip for himself: feel your feet. He dealt with taking mindful breaths, so whenever he discovered that his mind was starting to race out of control, he ‘d simply state to himself “feel your feet” which would assist him ground in today minute. This is a terrific mindfulness practice.

We can likewise merely ground in seeing or hearing something outside– nature is fantastic for this– just noticing the feel of the sun on our face, or look at the bark or leaves on a tree, or merely listen to the birds for 30 seconds is truly grounding.

Anne: You’re a practice change specialist. How do I stop touching my face?

Dr Jud: If touching our face is a routine, we can begin by recognizing minutes when we touch our face. We can even hack into our brain’s reward system to break the habit, not by force (willpower is seated in the prefrontal cortex, so not trustworthy), but instead by finding how unrewarding it is to touch our face (the thought that “oh, I may capture something” is pretty undesirable). This assists our brains begin to look for what I call the Larger Better Deal: finding habits that are more fulfilling. Good hand health is pretty fulfilling (particularly now) when each time we repeatedly touch our face, we can reflect and bear in mind that we’ve simply washed our hands etc. Here’s a short animation that describes this process a bit more:

Anne: How do I stop my worries, much of which feel actually genuine, from growing out of control– Oh, no! My hand sanitizer is running low, my task is in jeopardy, my kids are at risk, Granny may die …

Dr Jud:This is the appeal of mindfulness. It assists us stop these thoughts from growing out of control. We simply finished two scientific research studies with an app-based mindfulness training (Loosening up Stress and anxiety), in which we discovered a 57% decrease in anxiety in nervous physicians, and a 63% decrease in people with Generalized Stress and anxiety Disorder. The mindfulness app was tailored at helping individuals draw up anxiety and worry routine loops, and change their regular behaviors of worry etc. with brief, in-the-moment mindfulness practices. If we all practice mindfulness brief moments, sometimes a day, we can build great “psychological resistance” to tension, anxiety and panic.

Anne: You often discuss training your brain to focus on the “bigger better offer.” What do you see is the “larger much better deal” that we can concentrate on during this pandemic? Is there any silver lining in all of this for us?

Dr Jud: I hope that considering that we are literally all in this together, that individuals will see the bigger much better deals of helping each other, and we’ll find out that generosity and connection are the only way to move on, not recently, but in the future.

Anne: Anything else you wish to share?

Dr Jud: I composed a post for the New york city Times on how anxiety + social contagion results in panic (and how mindfulness can help). If anyone is interested, here’s a link.

Before you move on to the next thing, take a minute and breathe:

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The post Anxiety is Likewise Contagious. Here’s How to Relax appeared first on Mindful.