2023 Is My Year of Less Anxiety—Here’s the Neuroscientist-Backed Approach That’s Helping Me Break the Worry Cycle

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For as long as I can remember, I've settled into bed each night ready to catch some zzz's. And yet, as soon as my head hits the pillow, instead of falling into a blissful slumber, I worry. All the moments throughout the day that caused me even a touch of anxiety come to the forefront of my mind, making me more anxious, and prolonging my journey to dreamland.

After one particularly restless night last year, I started reevaluating this nightly ritual. Did I really want to continue going through life dreading my bedtime worry cycle? The answer, of course, was no—so I made a commitment to myself to make 2023 the year I actually did something about it.

With this goal in mind, I started using Unwinding Anxiety®, an anxiety relief app that teaches mindfulness techniques and tools for reducing anxiety via 10-minute daily practices.

Neuroscientist Jud Brewer, MD, PhD, created the program after he noticed that the standard methods he had learned in school (most of which relied on willpower) weren't actually helping his patients with unhealthy habits, addictions, and anxiety. “So, I began to wonder... Could anxiety be treated like a habit?” Dr. Brewer says. "When we experience anxiety, it triggers a habit loop in our brain, leading us to automatically turn to certain behaviors or thoughts to try to alleviate the discomfort."

To help people stop operating on autopilot when they begin to feel stress (hi, it's me, the one who automatically associates bedtime with anxiety), he created a series of 10-minute lessons to teach people how to work through anxious habit loops and ultimately change those habits into helpful ones, Dr. Brewer says.

At first I was skeptical that 10 minutes spent on an anxiety relief app every day would actually make a difference, but I spend way more than 10 minutes on social media every day (and that certainly doesn't help my stress levels) so I decided to give it a shot. Here's what I learned after a month of using it.

1. It's easy to fit into any schedule

I quickly learned that yes, I do have 10 minutes a day to spend on supporting my mental well-being. Because the lessons were so short, they didn't feel like a chore (which would have stressed me out more), and I actually started to look forward to them each day.

“Short moments, many times, [are] how we develop habits, so we incorporated those insights when developing the Unwinding Anxiety program—small, bite-sized daily lessons followed by short, in-the-moment practices,” Dr. Brewer says.

The app itself is super user-friendly. At the top of the home screen, each day's video lesson is prominently featured. Dr. Brewer stars in all the videos, and he guides you through different mindfulness exercises woven throughout the lesson.

Below the module are tools you can use throughout the day when you start to feel anxious. For example, I’ll use the stress meter to help me process and deescalate any stress I experience during my work day, and I can assure you that it definitely works better than my old method of simply trying to ignore it (before it inevitably showed up again at bedtime).

2. It leverages the strength of the human brain

Look, I’ll be the first to admit I’ve never been a science-y girl. And yet, I've found myself absolutely fascinated by the modules in which Dr. Brewer discusses the brain.

“We can’t work with our minds until we know how our minds work,” Dr. Brewer says. “We start there. Unwinding Anxiety applies this science by helping people identify and understand their anxiety habits by mapping them out and getting curious about their own minds.”

After you begin to understand your mind, the program uses reward-based learning to help you step out of unhealthy anxiety habit loops by replacing them with healthier habits—which has completely changed the way I respond to my anxiety. Instead of reaching for my phone to distract myself when I feel a stressful thought coming on, I've begun to practice what Dr. Brewer refers to as “loving kindness,” where I take a moment to mindfully offer myself the same kindness I give to others. By doing so, I'm working on alleviating my anxiety from its source, instead of just fueling my TikTok addiction.

3. It provides easy access to anxiety relief tools

One of my favorite aspects of the app is that the tools to help me work through my anxiety are always within arm's reach. I always have my phone on me, so whenever I feel like I need some extra support, I'm able to pop in my earbuds, open one of the many mindfulness exercises on the app, and feel my stress levels get a little bit lower.

Plus, twice a day, I get a check-in notification to take a couple minutes to evaluate how I’m feeling in the moment. After I answer, the app gives me a quick mindfulness exercise to do, helping to turn these practices into habits that stick.

After about a month with Unwinding Anxiety®, I'm hooked, and I will definitely continue using it for the foreseeable future to help me better understand my worry cycle—because, well, I like going to bed without spiraling over every awkward interaction I’ve ever had. Sorry, movie theater cashier, tonight I will not be stressing over saying “you too” when you told me to enjoy the film.

If you want to give it Unwinding Anxiety® a try, W+G readers can get a 20 percent discount using this link.

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