Do you know what curiosity feels like? It’s a joyous, exciting state of mind that draws us closer to the object of our investigation. Learning to be with our thoughts and feelings can reduce anxiety because it brings the attitude of observation into the moment.
Anxiety feels less awful in the very moment when it is being injected with curiosity. The change in perspective turns off judgment about how we should be and turns on mindfulness of how we are.
Put this into practice with the following simple exercise.
The stress test of curiosity
- Find a comfortable position in a quiet place where you’re able to concentrate for a minute or two without being distracted.
- Notice whether you feel any stress or anxiety right now.
- If you’re not, see whether you can remember a recent episode of being at least a little bit upset or stressed. Recall how it felt at the time and connect to that feeling for the test.
- What sensations are present in your body right now that you can associate with stress or anxiety?
Describe them by using short phrases such as ‘tightness’, ‘pressure’, ‘contraction’, ‘heaviness’, ‘restlessness’, ‘breathlessness’, ‘burning’, ‘tension’, ‘clenching’, ‘cold’ etc.
- After becoming aware of the particular feeling, stay with it for a few seconds. Leaning into this is the hardest part. Because naturally you’d like to stop feeling uncomfortable.
- Pay attention now: what’s going on inside you. Start the curious investigation: is the feeling more in the right side of your body or is it in the left? Is it more on the front or the back of your body? Left or right? Back or front? Just explore suspending any judgement about what you are feeling. Pick the side where the sensation is the strongest.
- After you’ve picked check in again. Have you noticed any difference in how strong is the original stress level?
It’s totally irrelevant which side you’ve picked. It’s about the investigation itself. Was there anything noticeable about being curious? Do you feel less stressed or anxious as a result?
Born to be curious
Curiosity is a built-in human behaviour that leads to connecting and joy. We were born with the instinct of seeking to find food and safety.
Some people experience that curious exploration reduces the intensity of their feelings. Do the stress test any time when being caught in anxiety or a panic attack. Curiosity, by definition a non-judgemental attitude, down-regulates the brain’s stress response. Repeating this simple exercise can become a skill and strengthen resilience.
(Adapted from psychiatrist and neuroscientist Judson Brewer Md PhD)