Writer and psychiatrist shares how to conquer and overcome cravings with mindfulness

Psychiatrist Judson Brewer spoke about how to use mindfulness to hack your brain and change negative habits


By Hannah Goldstein, Collegian contributor

Our daily lives are full of habits which are nearly automatic for us, ones that we do without exerting an abundance of effort. But there are also other behaviors that turn into bad habits which could be negatively affecting our lives.

Psychiatrist and author of “The Craving Mind” Judson Brewer shared that mindfulness paired with mediation can help humans identify and fix these cravings and addictions during a talk at the University of Massachusetts on Friday night.

Brewer guided the audience through stories of people who suffered from addictions relating to cigarettes and social media. Along with this, he explained how to humans can hack their brains to break these behaviors.

Karli Thompson, who works as a clinical psychologist in the psychology lab at the University of Massachusetts, shared her excitement for this event, “I always try to attend the psychology event’s here, and this event seemed to offer an interesting perspective.”

Examples that Judson used to show addiction involved a trigger, behavior and reward. When it comes to eating an excessive amount of junk food or smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, he said that these behaviors could be triggered due to stress, with the reward being that it makes people feel better. Once the reward is attained, dopamine is released which makes an individual think as if the behavior is truly helping them attain a reward.

Justin Soulliere, a junior psychology major said, “the research which Brewer has conducted is quite fascinating and I look forward to diving deeper into this information throughout my own research.”

Makena Waterhouse, a sophomore kinesiology major, said, “I loved attending this event because it really got me thinking, though it did seem like a promotional lecture due to the promotion of Brewer’s applications.”

A personal story Brewer shared that showed how mindfulness truly can transform lives was about a male patient who suffered from anxiety and obesity. This patient came into Brewer’s clinic sharing that one of his biggest worries was driving down the highway. He stressed that he felt like he was in a bullet on the path to crash wherever he drove. After this patient reflected on his patterns of behaviors, he eventually realized the behaviors he would exhibit to suppress his anxiety about driving, such as binge eating, were negatively affecting him.

This is why he was able to lose weight. While losing weight, he found a positive behavior that did end up helping his driving anxiety. This behavior was not stated during the lecture, but Brewer said that this individual ended up becoming an Uber driver. Even though some details were omitted from the talk, Brewer’s overall message was that this patient was able to overcome his anxieties by practicing mindfulness.

Waterhouse said, “the stories which were shared helped back up Brewers’ point and the changes which these people experiences due to mindfulness amazed me.”

Brewer explained that the mindfulness skill of curiosity is key to tackling bad habits. Being more mindful, he said, can help individuals see outcomes of behaviors and can allow them to assess whether a behavior is truly helping or harming them. When one is readily aware of their behaviors and not caught up in cravings, their rewards become positive.

Waterhouse also stated that “though I do not have any addictions related to eating or substance abuse, I do think this information can help me with my use of social media.“

Hannah Goldstein can be reached at [email protected] and followed on twitter @HannahG_UMASS.