Illustration: Matija Medved

One Day at a Time

How Does Your Anxiety Feel?

Daily insights on life in the face of uncertainty, by psychiatrist and habit change specialist Dr. Jud Brewer

Jud Brewer MD PhD
Elemental
Published in
6 min readApr 27, 2020

Ever wonder why tightness in your jaw and shoulders are linked to anxiety? And did you know that you can use curiosity to change your relationship to anxiety and fear?

The Irish novelist and poet James Stephens wrote, “curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.” I love this — but how can it be?

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, because fear is the most basic of survival mechanisms, when we get scared, we immediately react. For example, when someone yells “look out,” we don’t have time to check the credibility of the source. We quickly duck or jump out of the way, and then look around after the fact to see if the threat was real. And when there is a lot of fear out there, fear itself can become quite contagious and spread simply via tone of voice or facial expression. So how can curiosity possibly help?

In my last column, I talked about two different types of curiosity: deprivation curiosity and interest curiosity. Think of deprivation curiosity as the destination type of curiosity. If we don’t know something, we get that restless itch to go find the answer. Once we get the answer, that itch has been scratched. The journey is over. We’ve arrived at our destination. Interest curiosity, on the other hand, is all about the journey. We don’t experience the itch to get somewhere because we’re already there — as in, the journey is the destination. We become interested in whatever is happening at any given moment.

Curiosity as a quality of awareness is really helpful for helping us unwind stress and anxiety instead of winding ourselves up more.

An easy way to tell the difference between deprivation curiosity and interest curiosity is to simply check in with how they each feel in your body. Deprivation curiosity pushes or pulls you along — urging you to action, while interest curiosity is patient and inviting. With interest curiosity, there is no rush because there is no place to get to.

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Jud Brewer MD PhD
Elemental

Addiction Psychiatrist. Neuroscientist. Habit Change Expert. Brown U. professor. Founder of MindSciences. Author: Unwinding Anxiety. www.drjud.com. @judbrewer