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Repurposing your troubling feelings of angst




  • In Science
  • 2021-09-18 13:20:06Z
  • By Washington Post
 

Feeling anxious?

With such problems as climate change, the pandemic and the stressors of daily life, there are plenty of reasons to worry.

Subscribe to The Post Most newsletter for the most important and interesting stories from The Washington Post.

But a new book suggests that the responses that tense up our bodies and preoccupy our thoughts can be repurposed for growth, productivity and even happiness.

In "Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion," neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki explores anxiety and suggests concrete ways to use it.

Anxiety has been given a bad rap because it produces worry, doubt and dread, she suggests. But anxiety actually evolved as an adaptation, she reminds readers, and it was designed to help us survive and even thrive.

Of course, we no longer face the same threats as our ancestors who needed anxiety to warn them about, say, an approaching mammoth. Nonetheless, anxiety persists.

That's a real challenge. But you don't have to be at anxiety's beck and call, Suzuki says. The human brain is resilient and adaptive, and with practice, it's possible to learn to regulate the emotions.

It isn't a matter of avoiding or ignoring the things that make us anxious: By tackling anxiety head-on, one can even harness its effects.

"Anxiety can shift from something we try to avoid and get rid of to something that is both informative, and beneficial," she writes.

The shifts are easier for some than others, Suzuki suggests. She doesn't minimize anxiety disorders or the toll they can take. But the strategies she offers can be used by anyone on the anxiety spectrum.

The book contains surveys and strategies to help people assess and even befriend their anxiety. It's a powerful reminder that many of the human body's adaptations can be used for good or ill - and that people can flip their responses to what can feel like inevitable feelings of anxiety and stress.

"Instead of feeling at the mercy of anxiety, we can take charge of it in concrete ways," Suzuki writes. "Anxiety becomes a tool to supercharge our brains and bodies in ways that will resound in every dimension of our lives - emotionally, cognitively, and physically."

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