Want relief from anxiety? Here’s a breakthrough solution . . .

November 2021 Vol 3 Issue 11

Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN):
Specializing in Entrepreneurial and Organizational Storytelling
Let me tell your story!


ARTICLE 1: Want relief from anxiety? Here’s a breakthrough solution . . .

STORYTELLERS’ CORNER:  Should we be waiting on “tenderhooks” or “tenterhooks?” The Australian Writers’ Centre has the answer!




Welcome Mid-November 2021!

As I prepare this issue of “Tell Your Story Newsletter,” we have had our first serious snowfall of the winter, in Saskatoon. The snow (and ice) appear to be staying. But the weather has been mild, most days, which buoys our spirits.
In this month’s newsletter, I provide a lengthy report on American Dr. Judson (Jud) Brewer’s new and transformational book on anxiety. “Article One” is not so much a review as a “digest” or summary of Brewer’s book.

He finds that mindfulness can offer a significant and straightforward alternative to the ineffectiveness of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). And who among us doesn’t have anxiety, in these late pandemic times? Virtually everyone who does, wants to be free of it. Brewer may help to get us

In “Storytellers’ Corner,” I visit the Australian Writers’ Centre posting on the following usage question: should we be waiting for the future on “tenderhooks,” or “tenterhooks?”

May the best of winter–the physical and emotional warmth that can be cultivated indoors, by sharing stories by a crackling fire–may the best of winter be with you, good readers, as we approach the end of this trying year.

Storytelling Communications



Article One: Special Report–Want relief from anxiety? A report
on curiosity as a breakthrough solution (from Neuroscientist Dr.
Judson Brewer)

The worldwide Coronavirus pandemic has become one of the most
anxious times of the past century—rivalled perhaps only by the
Spanish Flu and the two World Wars.

Twenty-one months into Covid-19 times, many of us feel deeply
worried about our families and careers, often expressing overwhelm
that our lives no longer seem to be under our control.

But in his recent book, Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How
to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind, esteemed
neuroscientist, psychiatrist and TEDTalk speaker, Dr. Judson (Jud)
Brewer, describes how to address anxiety at its source, using brainbased techniques and interventions accessible to everyone.

For this issue of TYSN alone, I present here a full-length summary of
Brewer’s book: If, as some of my readers tell me, you have no time to
read the book, but are deeply troubled by anxiety, think of this
summary as a primer, intended to help you get some relief.

Brewer defines anxiety as a “feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease,
typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain
outcome” (38).

When uncertainty abounds, we get anxious. Anxiety always makes us
feel that we must “Do something,” even though it’s seldom clear what
that “something” is.

Brewer explains that anxiety becomes a trigger that urges the ancient
part of our brains to figure out what to do (what behaviour to engage
in) to secure a solution (which infrequently happens). Describing
anxiety as occurring in a sequence from “trigger” to “behaviour” to
“result,” Brewer likens the experience to playing a “slot machine in a
casino,” where one “wins just enough times that we keep coming back
for more.”

When we worry (another kind of behaviour), that often results in
feelings of anxiety. But the anxiety can then trigger the behaviour of
worrying, which results in feeling yet more anxiety, over and over
again. Brewer calls this a “habit loop.”



Our brains become habituated to worry, resorting to it every time we
feel anxious. But it’s a bad habit, because worry is never productive
and does not help us to think creatively or to solve our problems.
Instead, Brewer says, “it pushes a panic button that gets us running
around, trying anything to get the anxiety to go away.” We can easily
become anxious about being anxious.

Activities like checking our smartphones for social media or email
messages, or trying to read some of the daily news might seem to
relieve our anxiety. But they actually only create new habits that we
use to distract ourselves, when we feel stressed or anxious. These
distractions also fail, so we keep seeking other solutions.
Brewer writes that “the failure of the distraction to eliminate the worry
can lead to more worrying, so that “worry thinking becomes its own
trigger.” Then, “even though worrying doesn’t work, our old brain
keeps trying” (40). The illusion that we are doing something can feel
rewarding in itself, when in fact we’re mentally “spinning out of

Brewer “maps out” the dilemma on paper, this way (and we can, too):
Trigger: Anxiety;
Behaviour: Worry;
Result: We feel more anxious. And on and on the “habit loop” goes.

Fear + Uncertainty = Anxiety: in the realities of 21st century life,
our old brains’ survival system is useless to us. Brewer recommends
that we first identify the circumstances or “habit loops” we fall back
on, by “mapping out” what their trigger, behaviour and results are.
Anxiety can vary “from mild unease to full-blown panic” and it’s good
to know that Brewer himself has experienced that whole range of
emotions and treated himself with mindfulness.

But much of the force of his book lies in his analysis that anxiety drives the very addictive behaviours and bad habits that we use to cope (e.g. stress-based eating, procrastination, scrolling through negative news and unreliable
social media, alcohol and narcotics). Anxiety lives in a part of the
brain that resists rational thought.

So we get stuck in anxiety “habit loops,” the reality is that “we can’t
think our way out of or use willpower to overcome” these
emotions. Thinking and willpower cannot free us from anxiety,
however much Cognitive and Behavioural Therapists (CBT) have
argued otherwise (for the past 25+ years). And the failure of CBT to
alleviate anxiety has only allowed that anxiety to become intensified–
an epidemic of our times.

The definition of addiction, Brewer writes, is “continued use [of
anything] despite adverse consequences” (28). For many of us,
anxiety itself has paradoxically become an addiction.



He writes: “On the surface it seems like anxiety helps us get things
done” so that, for instance, “worrying helps us protect our children
from harm.” But the science shows the opposite. Addiction abounds
with anxiety and worry, so that we eat, shop, play computer games,
gamble, date online, check social media, etc., obsessively.

Addiction has always been with us, but in contemporary days, Brewer
confirms that it has intensified: “The rate of change in our world over
the last 24 years far outstrips all of the changes in the previous 200
years. Our brains and bodies haven’t kept up and it’s killing us” (29).
An example Brewer gives to contrast current civilization with the past
is the process we use to buy a pair of new shoes. In the 1800s, it was
“a two-month process. Now it’s a two minute, two-click fix, which
keeps you buying more and more shoes” and debiting your bank
account, along the way.

In these 21st Century days, high individualism and reason (dating to
the Age of Enlightenment) have us believe that our strength lies in our
ability to think critically (160). But our willpower and mental
associations pale in power next to our deepest desires (which easily
turn into habits).

Uncertainty triggers anxiety, which in turn can lead to panic. Brewer
writes that people should understand “that anxious feelings are their
[old] survival brain kicking into high gear” (23).

Many parents report these days that their teenagers are suffering panic
attacks in these pandemic times. The uncertainty caused by Covid-19
produces fear, which triggers anxiety and (again) results in more

Reward-based learning was helpful in cave-person days. (We saw
food, we ate it, we survived, we felt good, so we repeated it.) Every
time you perform that behaviour, you reinforce the neural pathway. In
this century, the trigger is no longer hunger, but an emotional signal,
so feeling sad, mad, hurt, lonely, bored and so on, can trigger bad

And bad habits are not just about binge eating/smoking or watching
Netflix or one’s smartphone apps, etc. The result/reward is
“avoidance, procrastination, or the opposite,” such as overplanning
and workaholism. We remain stuck in the habit loop.



Brewer writes that “with the same brain mechanism as an unnamed
cave person, we modern geniuses have gone from learning to survive
to literally killing ourselves, with these habits.” And he adds that it’s
gotten “exponentially worse in the last 20 years” (33).

“Anxiety disorders” are predominant, since our brains have tricked us
into thinking that we need to be anxious to get things done and to
perform well. But he says that “anxiety doesn’t actually improve

Once we are aware that our behaviour is not helping us to survive and
that anxiety is very unrewarding, we can bring to our minds a “bigger,
better offer” (BBO). We can give up old, habitual behaviours for those
that are genuinely rewarding. Here Brewer names curiosity as an

He tells us to “discover our triggers, defuse them with the simple but
powerful practice of curiosity, and to train our brains using
mindfulness” to achieve peace of mind.

He says that practicing mindful curiosity involves little cost (unless
you sign up, panicked, for his online app and program) and “can
readily be applied for anyone to feel better—no matter how anxious
[we] feel.”

Newer layers of the brain responsible for thinking, creativity and
decision making are layered over the archaic/old brain that evolved to
help us to survive (e.g. from trigger to result). But we still fall back on
willpower, as a default belief.

Using the analogy of a rider, bucked by a wild horse, Brewer says
we’re focused so much on the rider (i.e. our willpower) that we forget
to change the ever-bucking horse (i.e. our habits and addictions).
We need to map our minds to figure out how anxiety defies our
willpower, in order to break free from the rough ride.

Part of the problem is that willpower is weaker than we think. We
cannot think our way out of anxiety: “You can’t think your way out of
a bad habit or into a good one” (149). Wishing and thinking and trying
to force behaviours to stop don’t work, b/c those efforts don’t affect
the habit’s emotional reward value. Focus needs to be on the present
moment and we need to distrust our thoughts (esp. the “shoulds” of

Brewer says that we need to “become disenchanted” with old habit
loops and move on to curiosity and a different use of our minds, to
allow for change.


So how does he argue that we can “unwind” anxiety, by learning to be
curious? Brewer says we need to learn how to be mindful and
aware, but not necessarily to meditate. (Meditation is not always
possible for people who experience anxiety.) Cultivating curiosity is a
natural way to become “mindfully aware.”

The first step toward mindfulness is to be conscious of our feelings,
how fleeting the contentment/reward is, in the habit loop. Then
Brewer advises us to perform a mindful exercise of eating or social
media reading, so that the actual outcome gets registered in our brains
(147). This outcome replaces the old, reward-value memories (e.g.
thoughtless childhood gluttony) with today’s realities that over-eating
leads adults to weight gain, bloating, unpleasant sugar rushes and

The next time we feel triggered to eat too much, Brewer suggests that
we go through step one to remember the disgust; disgust helps us to
drop our cravings, which makes it easier to leave the habit loops and
change our behaviour.

He uses a gear-based analogy that helps people to change, however
intense their anxiety may be. These are essential steps toward

In First Gear, we map out what particular anxiety “habit loops” we
have (sketch down “Trigger, Behaviour and Reward” for each one.)

In Second Gear, we tap into our brains’ reward systems to work with
anxiety (and other addictions). The stronger the habit and the harder it
is to break. “The only sustainable way to change a habit is to
update its reward value. . . .That’s why it’s called reward-based
learning” (109). We have to confront our habits with disgust, so that
our brains can learn to change them.

In Third Gear, we tap into our own neural capacities to step away
from anxiety-related habits or addictions (like worry and
procrastination) and into new ones, such as curiosity and kindness.
This can happen with “lasting effect.” We identify and get an
internally based BBO (“Bigger, Better Object”– a reward) that helps
us step out of our old habit loops. Mindfulness substitutes smoking or
chocolate cake with curiosity.

So what is mindful curiosity, as a new behaviour, compared to stressfilled smoking and over-eating? First, there is a shift from externally
based behaviours to internally based ones (curiosity). The reward
value for curiosity feels better than anxiety” (165) and “is a great
improvement over being stuck on a hamster wheel of a habit loop”

It’s not only that cultivating curiosity is as rewarding as our old
behaviours, but also that it won’t reinforce those old habit loops. By
contrast, mere substitution strategies or behaviours habituate, leaving
us restless, contracted, and always desiring something more.
Instead of feeding our habit loops, we can allow awareness of our
minds and bodies work for us, as we move between these first, second
and third gears. Sometimes, we will succeed in moving to the third
gear quickly. Other times, we may struggle to hang on to first gear,
tenuously. Regardless, Brewer says, we’re learning to move past



a painful addiction to anxiety.

I find Brewer’s analogy of a horse and rider helpful to understand how
we get trapped in habituated behaviour.  The horse is our impulses and desires; the rider is our efforts to restrain it, especially by willpower. He writes: “Mindful awareness does not change the strength of our desires or the strength of our willpower. Instead, [mindfulness] modifies the relationship
between the two. Instead of fighting to tame the horse, you as the
rider can learn how to ride more skillfully. As awareness
harnesses the energy and power of the harmful urge, the two
harmoniously blend into one, perhaps transcending and
transforming dualities from a fight into something akin to a
dance” (167-168).

Mindfulness does ultimately give more satisfying rewards (BBO, the
“bigger, better object”) without the baggage of feeding our
cravings. Curiosity can replace sugar and nicotine as a new
behaviour, as pertaining to “kindness, wonder and joy.” Our minds
(and then bodies) become “less constricted, closed down” and instead,
more open and expansive.

So the BBO is curiosity itself, which initially lifts you out of your old
habit loop(s) and then can become “grooved” itself, as a “go to” for
your brain.

But what does Brewer actually mean by curiosity, you might ask? He says it can start simply by saying, “Hmmm, what does it feel like in
my body to be anxious . . . .” We sit temporarily with those
uncomfortable feelings, noticing but not acting upon them, without
striving to fix them. Doing so allows us to step out of the habit loop
and shift into third gear.

He even recommends thinking, “Hmmm, what does it feel like not to
be curious?” This moves us from a “fixing” mentality to a
changed awareness of our sensations and feelings.

The definition of “curiosity” is a “desire for knowledge.” It needs to be
based in interest, as Brewer recommends, or else curiosity will
become only another distraction (leaving us with unpleasantness,
restlessness, deprivation, and the drive to reduce uncertainty and “fix”
what is uncertain).

“Interest Curiosity”—what Brewer advocates—is engaged when we
want to learn more about something. It builds on reward-based
learning, that relies on positive reinforcement (doing more of what
feels good and less of what feels bad).

Brewer asserts that knowledge is as important as food and water to
human survival.

Being curious, open and expansive feels good and these traits are a
fundamental part of learning—who we are and how much better life
can become.

We have to actively work against the 21st century’s addictive forces,
by using our brains in different ways, he concludes.
The power of curiosity can’t be overestimated: Brewer cites Einstein
as famously saying that he had “no special talents” but was
“passionately curious.”

So, as we face the holiday season of Christmas, Hanukkah and the
New Year, “instead of trying to think your way out of anxiety and into
behaviour change, harness the power of your curiosity, tapping into it
as an inner resource that drives itself, because it is rewarding.”(178).

While I would decline to sign up for Brewer’s app or online



programming (some subsidies may be available for those on low
income), I do recommend that anyone who suffers serious levels of
anxiety pick up a copy of his breakthrough book.

Reading Unwinding Anxiety can help you to gain some of the freedom
Brewer’s research and insights have to offer.

And now it’s your turn. What do you think of Brewer’s strategy of
mindful curiosity? Will you try it to help to free you or your loved ones
from vexing addiction to anxiety





STORYTELLER’S CORNER: Words, Stories, Riddles and Jokes on Writing
and Editing . . .

This month: Should we be waiting on “tenderhooks” or “tenterhooks?” The
Australian Writers’ Centre has the answer!

This month’s issue of “Storyteller’s Corner” visits a vexing expression. When we try to express that we are waiting impatiently for something to occur or unfold, should we write or say, “We are waiting on tenderhooks” or “We are waiting on tenterhooks?”

A pat on the back to those who voted for the latter! Writers at The Australian
Writers’ Centre (AWC) report that the origins of the word “tenterhook” date as
early as the 1300s. It refers to a small hook or bent nail that is used to hold clothonto a “tenter”–a wooden frame on which cloth is dried during manufacturing.

The AWC tells us that the Latin origin of “tenterhooks” is “tentus,” which means “to stretch,” and is the root of words such as “extend,” “tendon,” “tension” and “tenuous.”

But the functional word “tenterhooks” did not appear until the late 1400s and the phrase, “to be on tenterhooks” does not appear in any written document until 1748.

Nowadays, as the AWC remind us, the full meaning of the term is to “to be
strained or stretched with unease and nervous anticipation.”

Do you have questions about specific words or expressions you cannot answer?

Please send them to me, via my “contact” page
(www.storytellingcommunications.ca/contact). I’d be delighted to use them in a future issue!



This month I’m happy to share that I now teach English as a Second
Language (ESL) online to six students. They come from the Ukraine,  Belarus, Iran, Japan and the United States. Some wish to learn conversational English to immigrate to North America or have recently moved here; others want to improve their career prospects by improving their English language skills.

I’m especially grateful to my mentor Steve Cavan, for teaching me
the ropes of a complex (sometimes bureaucratic) online teaching
world. Thank you, Steve. You are a gem and worthy recipient of
much gratitude from all whom you assist.
I’m happy also this month to attend the Praxis School of
Entrepreneurship’s (PSE) online 2021 graduation, after having
completed the “staySMART” pilot program last winter.
When Covid was still new to us as entrepreneurs, we found support
and insights from program coaches, Monica Kreuger and Deanna
Litz, and from fellow participants, who are all previous PSE alumni.

To intermediate level entrepreneurs and to newbies, alike, I highly
recommend Praxis programming. It flourishes and supports us
through trying economic times!

For more information, call PSE’s amazing administrator, Elaine
Mantyka, at (306) 664-0500 or email her
at elainem@globalinfobrokers.ca


Between 2011 and December 2018, Elizabeth Shih Communications chronicled the stories of B2B marketing and communications on the Prairies and across the country.

Effective January 1, 2019, I rebranded as “Storytelling Communications.”
I now help immigrants and newcomers to Canada land better jobs by improving their English skills;

I help SMEs close more sales by communicating more effectively; and I write the legacy stories of
major companies.

Interested in learning more? Please contact me through my CASL-compliant
website (www.elizabethshih.com).

After I receive your message, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!
Please visit my website for more information (www.storytellingcommunications.ca)