A Brain Researcher’s Tips for Managing Anxiety
Try this five-step approach for dealing with anxiety and learn psychiatrist and brain researcher Srini Pillay’s simple mind-boosting tricks for lowering stress levels.
A Brain Researcher’s Tips for
In partnership with our friends at Porsche
To dream is to imagine a world full of possibility. To realize a dream is to turn those ideas—big or small—into reality. We teamed up with Porsche to create the Drive Series: three bite-size workshops that cover different tools for navigating our dreams and the challenges and opportunities that come with them. This is our third video. (Watch the first two installments—a primer on navigating your astrological birth chart with Chani Nicholas and a lesson on managing relationship conflict with Sara Nasserzadeh.)
All of us are thwarted by anxiety at one point or another. The good news is: Our brains can change, says Srini Pillay, MD. Pillay is a Harvard-trained psychiatrist, a brain researcher, and the author of Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind. He helps people discover their potential using practical, research-based strategies. And he’s promised to do this for us at our next In goop Health summit on November 7, which is going down at the Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles.
He also helps us out with that here. In this eight-minute workshop, Pillay walks us through his method, a multistep process called CIRCA, for redirecting anxious thoughts. And he teaches us how to free up our minds for more creativity, imagination, and joy.
The next time you find yourself in a sudden moment of overwhelmingness, try Pillay’s tips for minimizing your stress.
Anxiety can be unconscious.
You might think of anxiety as a physical feeling, says Pillay. But he explains that this kind of anxiety is called conscious anxiety, like when your heart races or you’re sweating or trembling. There’s also a more subtle form of anxiety, he says. “You can detect unconscious anxiety when it begins to disrupt your thinking, decision-making, and creativity.”
Self-talk can help relax your mind.
A mindfulness practice can be easy to brush off, but there’s research that shows it can be good for our brains, explains Pillay. An easy way to be more mindful is to focus on your breath. And if you’re spiraling, Pillay suggests checking in with yourself. “A reality check is all about what you do when your brain starts catastrophizing things,” he says. “It’s a form of self-talk in which you say things like, ‘This too shall pass.’ When you use this form of self-talk, it relaxes your brain and all of the associated structures that are making your anxiety worse.”
Use your brain power wisely.
The next step in Pillay’s process is to identify things that you can control, know the things that you can’t control, and understand the difference. “So many of us get up in the morning and watch the news, and there are so many things that are distressing, but many of these things we can’t actually control. What I would recommend is use your brain’s attentional units wisely,” explains Pillay. One good place to start is learning to say no. “In the course of a day, a lot of us are on autopilot, and when people ask us to do things, we say, ‘Yes, I’ll do that.’ The reality is that if you learn how to say no, this will help you feel less overwhelmed and it will also help you feel like you have a greater sense of integrity,” he says.
Focus on the solution rather than the problem.
When you’re caught in an anxiety loop, it might be hard to see the answer to a stressful situation. “When you don’t know what the solution is, what you do is go inward toward imagination,” says Pillay. “Imagine what a solution might be. Every time you give your brain data about what a solution might be, it behaves like a GPS and starts to create a particular direction toward that solution. Eventually the solution may become clearer.”
OUR STRESS-BUSTING TOOLKIT
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.