Reading self-help books can feel oddly productive, especially when the tips are actionable and the writing is both engaging and “to the point.” I’m a fan of the psychology/ mental health genre so I was naturally intrigued by the book “Unf*ck Your Brain: Getting Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-Outs, and Triggers with Science.” This short book is an informative, funny, and deeply impactful little guide to confronting anxiety, depression, and anger.
Do you ever wonder why you feel the way you feel — aloof, on edge, or even just irritable? As Dr. Faith Harper explains, we all have our fragile places, and we are all susceptible to triggers some of the time. Our brains are complex systems. Understanding some of the science behind why we feel certain ways can help us retrain our brains to think through, rather than just react to, unpleasant situations. Using simple explanations, Dr. Harper reveals why our brains can feel so triggered. Broadly, when our prefrontal cortex — the decision-making part of the brain — becomes hijacked by the amygdala — the feeling part of the brain — we can react in emotional and sometimes destructive ways that can make us feel out of control, anxious, and sad. This book is about retraining your brain to learn how to respond to triggering events in healthy ways.
Although the book is somewhat short (just under 200 pages), it is jam packed with information. To begin, the book covers the basic brain science to help you understand how biology influences psychology and vice versa. For example, Dr. Harper explains that anxiety is a biochemical overreaction to stress, while depression is a “learned helplessness” stress response. The book also provides an overview of important concepts, such as trauma (eloquently defined as “any kind of life event that kicks your ass”). Trauma is a central concept in this book, as developing productive coping mechanisms in the wake of trauma is key to retraining one’s brain and becoming mentally resilient.
Specifically, the book takes a deeper look into PTSD, anxiety, depression, anger, addiction, and grief to help the reader develop an understanding of each topic as well as provide the reader with techniques to overcome challenges related to each. For example, in the anxiety section, Dr. Harper explains how anxiety is a somatic experience, meaning that your body physically responds to stress and can literally make you feel like you are having a heart attack. One coping strategy that the author proposes is “learned optimism.” In this method, positive outcomes are attributed to one’s character, while negative ones to an event. For example, if I were to win a race, then I would be a successful person. However, if I were to lose a race, than I would not be a failure, rather things just didn’t work out for me this time and my character is not affected. Additionally, Dr. Harper prescribes common techniques such as deep breathing exercises.
Overall, if you are well familiar with the above topics, then this book may not be for you. Additionally, if you are not a fan of profanity or less-than-perfect English grammar, then this book is not for you — for serious. However, if you are looking for some lighthearted reading on the serious topic of mental health, then I’m sure you can find amusement, facts, and quick tips in “Unf*ck Your Brain.”
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