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article imageQ&A: New strategy for taming anxiety from leading expert Special

By Tim Sandle     Apr 7, 2019 in Health
Suffering in silence – this is what numbers continue to reveal about men and mental illness across the U.S. Dr. Loretta Breuning explains what anxiety is and how the ‘rubber ducky method’ works and how it can relieve symptoms.
The overlooked issue of men and mental illness is captured by the statistic that men make up 75 percent of suicide victims and they are more likely to suffer from substance abuse. Significantly, men are less likely to get help.
What solutions can be implemented to help out men? According to Dr. Loretta Breuning, this may lie in a bathroom toy. She is the author of the book ‘Tame Your Anxiety’. Dr. Loretta Breuning discusses with Digital Journal the ‘Rubber Ducky Method’, covering what it is, why it works, and how it can relieve threats in certain circumstances.
Digital Journal: What is meant by anxiety?
Dr. Loretta Breuning: When you perceive a survival threat, your brain releases cortisol. This chemical prepares an animal to deal with threats. Our brain is designed to look for threats because we evolved in a dangerous world. Your brain is designed to protect you from touching a hot stove twice. Anything that triggered your cortisol in the past built a neural pathway that turns it on for you today. So even in a very safe life, your brain anticipates threats and turns on the cortisol, which motivates more threat-seeking and more cortisol.
DJ: How do different types of anxiety vary?
Breuning: We humans have two brains - an animal brain and a human cortex. Our cortex can anticipate the future so it knows that you will die someday. Your animal brain produces the emotion. The animal brain does not anticipate the future or imagine abstractions, so animals are not aware of its own mortality. We humans terrorize ourselves with our awareness of our own mortality. Our cortex feeds the thought to our animal brain, which releases threat chemicals.
Our ancestors lived in a dangerous world. They faced hunger, disease and invasions, and they managed threats enough to keep their genes alive, which is why we are here today. Now that our lives are much safer, people want to live without threatened feelings. They have been persuaded that the health care system can give them that. People who generate data can categorize it into different types.
DJ: What influence does modern society have in relation to feelings of anxiety?
Breuning: Mammals live in social groups and they’re very competitive. We have inherited a brain that motivates competitiveness. When you are safe from more immediate threats, you generate anxious feelings about your social position. That turns on cortisol, which tells your brain to look for threats, and you find them.
DJ: What are some good general strategies for dealing with anxiety?
Breuning: My book explains a three-step taming tool. First, spend one minute asking your inner mammal what it wants. (It wants dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, as explained in the book.) Second, spend twenty minutes doing an activity you like that completely absorbs you. Third, spend one minute planning your next step, and take that step by the end of the day.
DJ: What is the Rubber Ducky Method?
Breuning: Buy a rubber ducky and put it on your desk. Tell it your problems. Out loud. You will suddenly think of solutions even when you felt absolutely stuck. I learned this method from software engineers, who use it for tough debugging problems.
Talking to a rubber ducky can be better than talking to a real person. Other people don’t necessarily understand your problem, and you can end up accommodating them instead of focusing on your problem. The rubber ducky understands you curiously well.
DJ: What does the Rubber Ducky Method reveal about the brain?
Breuning: Your verbal brain is a very small part of your thought process. The world floods your senses with detail, and you make sense of it by fitting it into the neural pathways you have. You are not born with neural pathways— they build from experience so we’re all unique. You don’t consciously fit reality into your old pathways— the electricity in your brain flows like water in a storm, finding the paths of least resistance. This is why your conscious mind can trouble untangling your thoughts.
When you talk to a rubber ducky, you have to connect words to your thought patterns. You force different brain regions work together. This helps you consciously notice the old templates you have used to build meaning. Once you do that, you see the opportunity to try alternative templates. You don’t consciously intend to use templates, of course. You may think you’re too sophisticated for that. But you’d be no smarter than a newborn baby if you let in raw detail without the organizing power of your accumulated circuits. Testing alternative templates is the skill that separates humans from animals. Let’s celebrate it instead of being ashamed of it!
DJ: What alternatives are there to the Rubber Ducky Method if a person does not take to it?
Breuning: Focus on your next step. Divide your challenges into small chunks that are actionable. Always find a step you can take instead of focusing on the steps you can’t take.
More about Anxiety, coping, Stress, Mental health
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