Ethan Nichtern – The Road Home – Ep. 56 – Unwinding Anxiety with Dr. Judson Brewer


Dr. Judson Brewer joins Ethan in an uplifting conversation on unwinding anxiety, illustrating how to break cycles of fear, uncertainty, and worry in order to heal our minds.

Neuroscientist, psychiatrist, and bestselling author, Judson Brewer MD PhD—affectionately, Dr. Jud—is the Director of Research and Innovation at the Mindfulness Center and associate professor in psychiatry at the School of Medicine at Brown University, as well as a research affiliate at MIT. Before that, he held research and teaching positions at Yale University and the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Mindfulness. He recently published his New York Times Bestseller: Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind. For more info please visit

Origins: Anxiety & Buddhism

Welcoming Dr. Judson Brewer onto The Road Home podcast, Ethan Nichtern invites him to share an origin story of something very close to our lives during this time of pandemic: Anxiety. Naturally learning to meditate to relieve stress during medical school, he began to notice glaring parallels between Buddhist thought on clinging/craving and what he noticed in his patients dealing with addiction, prompting him to transition his molecular biology career to psychiatry, focusing on mindfulness development.

“The Buddha was talking the same language as my patients, especially my patients with addictions where they’re talking about craving and clinging. So, when I started residency, it actually prompted me to become a psychiatrist. I was learning a lot about my own mind and life that was helping me decrease my stress, so I was thinking maybe this would be a good thing to do to help other people.” – Dr. Judson Brewer

Uncover a proverbial treasure chest of stories and resources for overcoming anxiety and stress. Check out A Toolbox for Anxiety from our Awakened Heart Blog
Defining Anxiety: Feeling & Behavior (3:30)

Defining anxiety as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about an imminent event with an uncertain outcome, Dr. Brewer highlights the aspects of anxiety that can be be experienced mentally and physically. Noting common anxious tones of tightness, contraction, and restlessness, he explains how these feelings are usually paired with mental behaviors. For example, the feeling of anxiety can become an active mental behavior of worrying—body and mind playing off of each other in a cycle of worried anxiety.

“The more uncertainty there is, the harder it is to predict, and the more anxious we get. You can think of self in that way. The more we try to predict that self into the future, the more tightly we hold onto that, and the more we’re trying to cram probabilities that we’re not going to have control over, into a box. So, there’s gonna be existential unease around not having a stable self…until we get comfortable not having one.” – Dr. Judson Brewer

 Learn to work with emotions as healing messages by taking this tantric approach to feeling, on Ep. 62 of Healing at the Edge
Tolerating Uncertainty: Panic vs Growth (15:04)

Laying out the equation: Fear (survival) + uncertainty = anxiety, Dr. Brewer outlines uncertainty as a survival mechanism similar to our rumbling stomach relaying information to our conscious mind. From this lens, he invites us to tolerate uncertainty with an investigative openness and curiosity, rather than a tightness, moving us from the panic zone into the growth zone.

“Fear (survival) + uncertainty = anxiety. That’s where the anxiety comes in, and in fact that doesn’t help us survive at all because our thinking and planning brain starts to go offline when we get anxious.” – Dr. Judson Brewer

Get into the growth zone: Approach radical uncertainty with the openness of wise hope, on Ep. 342 of Mindrolling


Source images via Dr. Jud & @Vectorium