joseph_ledoux's picture
Professor of Neural Science, Psychology, Psychiatry, and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, NYU; Director Emotional Brain Institute; Author, Anxious
Putting Our Anxieties To Work

What should we be worried about? Pick your poison, or poisons. There's no shortage: just read the front page of any major newspaper or watch the network and cable news shows. And if you are concerned that you haven't worried about the right things, or enough things, stop fretting. There are surely others who have it covered.

Ever since the phrase "the age of anxiety" entered the lexicon, each generation has claimed they have more to worry about than the previous one. But the fact is, anxiety is part of the human condition. It's the price we pay for having brain that makes predictions about things that haven't happened, the ability to see a future that is not necessarily foretold by the past.

Though we are an anxious species, we aren't all equally anxious. We each have our set point of anxiety—a point towards which we gravitate. Ever notice how short lived is the calm that results from eliminating a source of worry? Get rid of one, and pretty soon something else takes its place, keeping each of us hovering around our special level of worry.

Anxiety can be debilitating. But even those who don't have an anxiety disorder still have stuff circling through their synapses that sometimes interferes with life's simplest chores. We don't necessarily want to get rid of anxiety altogether, as it serves a purpose—it allows us to focus our energy on the future. What we should worry about is finding some way to use rather than be used by our anxiety.