In 22 minutes a day for 45 days, you can rewire yourself to replace anxiety with happy chemicals. You will build a new safety circuit that gives your electricity a new place to flow when anxiety strikes. You will design the safety circuit that’s right for you and wire it into your brain by repeating it at least once a day for 45 days. You’ll do it in simple steps with support.
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Get ready! The challenge starts on February 19. Before then, you will need to:
- Read ANXIETY: What turns it on. What turns it off. (only 80 pages!)
- Fill out the Before Questionnaire below. (Privacy guaranteed.)
- Skype with me- optional. (Free 15-minute strategy session.)
The 45-day BEYOND-ANXIETY CHALLENGE
This challenge is designed to test the method presented in ANXIETY: What turns it on. What turns it off. When anxiety strikes, you will set a timer for one minute and spend it asking your inner mammal “what do I want?” Then you will set a timer for 20 minutes and spend it on a non-stressful activity. Finally, you will set a timer for one minute and design your next step. The book explains this in detail, and I will help you design this safety circuit in our Skype session.
You only need 22 minutes a day during the 45 days, plus time for the Before and After Questionnaires, and any time you choose to spend in the Facebook Support Group. It’s all free.
Finish the 45 days and you will get another 15-minute Skype session plus an Inner Mammal Institute tote bag! (The brief After Questionnaire must be completed first.) I want to hear about your progress and your obstacles in creating a safety circuit.
To participate in this challenge, your answers to the Before Questionnaire must be received by January 18. This leaves time for us to schedule a free 15-minute Skype with each interested participant before the start date of February 19. Submit your answers by email to Loretta@InnerMammalInstitute.org by Jan. 18. (You can change your answers at any time.)
The questionnaire is the same as the worksheets in the book (provided below), plus your agreement to the Terms & Conditions of the study (below). Simply copy and paste into your email with your answers. Or reformat as you wish. (A pdf of the questions is provided for your convenience.)
A free book of your choice to the first 5 people to submit their answers!
1. Do you agree to these Terms & Conditions?
By sending this email, I agree to be a good-faith participant in the 45-day BEYOND-ANXIETY challenge. I recognize that this is an educational activity and not medical treatment. I accept responsibility for my well-being before, during and after the challenge, and absolve Prof. Breuning and the other participants from any and all liability before, during and after. I agree to be a respectful member of the community. I agree to submit the After Questionnaire, which entitles me to a second free 15-minute Skype with Prof. Breuning. My name and contact information will be strictly confidential with two exceptions: 1. I can choose to provide such information to other participants in the challenge for purposes of group support; 2. I give Prof. Breuning permission to write about aspects of my experience with complete anonymity in future publications in order to help others. I have the right to withdraw from participation at any time.
2. Questions from Chapter 2 of ANXIETY: What turns it on. What turns it off
Here is a pdf for your reference. The questions are on page 40-56. Or copy/paste from below.
Short answers are good.
The first set of questions is followed by a second set that helps you interpret the first. There are no preferred answers. The goal is to discover your unchartered territory, not to find fault with yourself. Think of yourself as an explorer, not a judge. Follow your streams where they lead and you will have more power over them.
- Imagine you’re feeling great because you just got a reward you were seeking. What is it? (From your brain’s perspective, a reward is any new way to meet a need. Maybe it’s a future need. Maybe it’s a social need, such as social importance or social support. Maybe it’s a new flavor of ice cream. What matters is your excitement, not someone else’s intention to reward you.)
- Now imagine that the dopamine you’ve triggered has metabolized and the good feeling suddenly stops. How do you feel now?
- How do you explain that feeling to yourself?
- What do you do next?
- Now imagine you choose a next step to stimulate the joy of dopamine. What is it? (It could be short-term or a step toward a long-term reward. More explanation is at InnerMammalInstitute.org and in Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain your brain to boost your serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphin levels.)
- Ooops. Your step failed to trigger the good feeling you expected. How do you feel now? What do you tell yourself? What do you do next?
- Now imagine trying a different dopamine stimulator from the one you just tried. (Many examples are in Habits of a Happy Brain.)
- Yikes, that didn’t work either! How do you feel? What do you tell yourself? What do you do next?
- Imagine you’ve just stimulated some oxytocin and you’re enjoying the nice feeling of social trust. How did you do it?
- Soon that nice oxytocin feeling is gone. How do you feel when that happens? How do you explain it? What do you do next?
- Now you choose another step toward oxytocin. What is it?
- Ooops. It fails. How do you react? What do you tell yourself? What do you do next?
- Imagine you’ve just stimulated some serotonin and you’re enjoying the nice feeling of social importance. How did you do it?
- Soon that nice serotonin feeling ends. How do you feel when it’s gone? How do you explain it? What do you do next?
- Now you choose another step toward serotonin. What is it?
- Ooops. That failed. How do you react? What do you tell yourself? What do you do next?
- Imagine that your cortisol is surging. You look for an explanation. What do you find?
- What do you do next?
Interpret your answers
- When did you start seeking the reward you wrote down in #1 above? Think back to its earliest roots. How do you think you got wired to expect the joy of dopamine in that particular way? Be sure to consider social rewards— the dopamine that’s triggered when you anticipate a nice oxytocin or serotonin experience. Remember that your goal is not to find fault with yourself but to explore new terrain.
- Your answer for #2 above may involve a let-down feeling. Happy chemicals mask cortisol, so when a good feeling passes, bad feelings can suddenly get your attention. Even if nothing bad has happened, you are more aware of everything bad that has ever happened to you and to everyone who has ever lived. You feel it like it is happening right now. You are more aware of the fact that you will not survive forever. Someday your natural urge to promote your survival will fail and there will be a future that you will not be a part of. This horrible thought gets less attention while your dopamine is flowing. The world looks better while you’re eating an ice cream, but when the last lick is gone, bad thoughts can take you by surprise. When your electricity flows there, you might have a sudden feeling that something is wrong even if nothing is wrong. Think of a time in the past week when you experienced this: maybe the party was over, you finished the marathon you’d been training for, you reached the end of a favorite TV series, and the last lick of ice cream was gone. When this happens, knowing it’s just dopamine droop halts the spiral of thinking something is really wrong.
- In your answer to #3 above, you may have found it hard to interpret your dopamine droop because you’ve experienced it your whole life without conscious awareness. Anxiety may climb when dopamine droops. Whether it’s the fear and panic of a cortisol surge or the frustration and stress of a cortisol dribble, your brain tries to help by finding evidence of threat. More cortisol results, and thus more threat-seeking. Think of a recent cortisol moment that filled your mind with evidence of threat.
- It’s common to respond by seeking another ice cream or another party or a another marathon because the brain expects good feelings where it has gotten them before. What did you do the last time you had that “do something” feeling? It would be nice to have the joy of dopamine every minute of every day, but it’s important to know that you’re fine without it. You’ve simply inherited a brain that evolved to seek.
- The best way to relieve cortisol is to take a step. You may not feel like taking steps because you can only imagine bad consequences, but doing something helps to relieve the “do something” feeling. Taking a step gives you a bit of dopamine, which makes it easier to take the next step. Of course you don’t always know which step will work, but gathering information about your next step is also a step, so you still get the dopamine. Think of an example of a small step that shifted your attention from negative expectations to more positive expectations.
- We respond to frustration with pathways built in youth. We tend to mirror the frustration responses of those around us. Think of some examples of how you might be mirroring someone else’s response to disappointment, let-down, failure, or threat.
- Our expectations about rewards depend on the dopamine circuits we’ve built from past experience. Your circuits make it easy to expect a good feeling from some steps, and harder to expect a good feeling from other steps. Once you’ve gotten wired to expect a future reward, each step toward it triggers dopamine today. But sometimes these steps disappoint, and rewards seem as far away as ever despite your best efforts. Disappointment motivates you to focus on a more immediate reward. But short-run rewards often do long-run harm, and you can end up fearing harm from the very actions that bring you pleasure. How do you choose between long term and short term rewards?
- Maybe you failed to get the reward in #8 above, or maybe you got it and didn’t feel the joy you expected. Dopamine disappointment happens to everyone because our brain quickly habituates to a reward it has. If you were thirsty in the desert, you would be thrilled to see an oasis in the distance and get more excited with each step. But the limitless water you have now does not make you happy. If you discovered a new planet, it would make you happy for a while, but the dopamine would soon be metabolized, and you might look for a bigger planet to stimulate more. Think of something that used to excite you but doesn’t anymore because you already expect it.
- Trace the oxytocin moment you wrote about above to something that stimulated social trust for you when you were under age eight. What triggered your social trust in adolescence? How do your early oxytocin experiences resemble to your current ways of stimulating it?
- When your oxytocin droops, you may feel like you have no support anywhere. This feeling can creep up on you even if nothing bad has happened. Our brains evolved to constantly seek safety in numbers and to trigger alarm when you wander away from the herd. You may long for peace and quiet with your conscious brain, but when you get it, your oxytocin droops and leaves you with the anxiety of early separations. The helplessness of childhood wires us to see social isolation as a survival threat. Think of a recent time when you felt isolated, and look for overlaps with your early disappointments.
- Social trust has a price. We are constantly deciding how much energy to invest in reciprocal alliances and how much to invest in individual pursuits. A gazelle decides in every moment whether to step closer to the herd or to step closer to greener pasture. We want the good feeling of oxytocin all the time, but getting it diverts effort from other pursuits. How do you make this choice?
- Social trust is hard to build because we have so many cortisol circuits from old disappointments. Anything that resembles old social disappointments triggers a sense of alarm that’s hard to make sense of. Everyone has social disappointments because no one ‘s social expectations are always met. Small steps toward trust can build new oxytocin pathways without triggering too much alarm. Monkeys seek new grooming partners when their old alliances fail, and they’re rewarded with the good feeling of oxytocin. How could you seek new grooming partners?
- Trace the serotonin moment you wrote about above to something that stimulated a sense of social importance for you when you were under age eight. What gave you a sense of social importance in adolescence? Whatever triggered that good feeling wired you to expect more of it from similar behaviors in the future. Think of three early roots of your current expectations about social importance.
- A loss of social importance is a survival threat from your mammal brain’s perspective, even though you don’t consciously think that. Think of three early disappointments or threats to your social status. How do those three cortisol circuits influence you today?
- It can be hard to take steps toward social importance because disappointment is so easy to imagine. Think of three new ways to step toward a feeling of social importance despite the risk of disappointment.
- We all learn that we shouldn’t care about social importance, yet the mammal brain seeks it as if your life depends on it. You may resent the social importance of others because your inner mammal sees how it threatens your own. A terrible quandary results: bad feelings if you seek social importance, and bad feelings if you don’t. This problem cannot be solved by “our society” because the people around you will always be mammals and so will you. The solution is to be honest about your urge for serotonin and carefully choosing steps toward it. (This is the subject I, Mammal: How to Make Peace With the Animal Urge for Social Power.) Notice your mammalian status anxiety and think of ways to give your inner mammal a moment of social importance.
- Every step you take toward serotonin, dopamine, or oxytocin can go wrong. Past failures make it easy to imagine a bad outcome. An effortless flow re-activates your early sense of powerlessness and insignificance, giving today’s challenge an air of urgency. You are not as powerless as you were as a child, but that old circuit is easy to trigger. You can’t control the world but you can learn to control your electricity. What would you be if you avoided that one circuit and relied on your billions of other neurons?
- Now you will build a new safety circuit, to give your electricity a new place to flow.
- Step One: Prepare a timer so you can spend one minute asking your inner mammal “what do I want” when anxiety strikes.
- Step Two: What non-stressful activities are you read to do for twenty minutes?
- Step Three: Do you commit to taking the next step you define?