Make Peace with Your Anxious Brain

The latest research in neuroscience is revealing how mindfulness can help rewire—and calm—ancient brain networks tied to stress, anxiety, and overwhelm. Explore the mind of a meditator and practices for greater calm and confidence.

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It’s there when I wake up. Something’s wrong. I haven’t opened my eyes yet. A minute ago I was sleeping. But now I’m awake and it’s there, lurking: Something’s wrong. My breathing tightens. I stretch my legs beneath the sheets. I feel my heart beating. The sense of creeping fear is diffuse, elusive, hard to pin down. It’s like catching sight of something from the corner of my eye. Something’s wrong.

Only nothing is wrong. I know that. I’ve experienced these bouts of dread for as long as I can remember. It’s familiar, which does not help me hate it any less. 

Explaining chronic anxiety to someone who doesn’t experience it is like trying to describe a color they’ve never seen. I have friends who are surprised I suffer from anxiety. After a lifetime of learning to compensate, to push myself beyond my six-year-old fear of joining the Girl Scouts, I do not come across as a nervous Nellie. I am outgoing, talkative, adventurous. Last spring, I planned a Class IV whitewater rafting trip with my husband for three days in the summer. I started dreading it the minute after I booked it. 

I go for long periods when anxiety…

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About the author

Barbara Paulsen

Barbara Paulsen is a freelance writer, editor and podcast producer, who was formerly the longtime award-winning story development editor at National Geographic.