The Two Faces of Anxiety

It can paralyze you — or help you move faster. New science is revealing more about the upside of angst

Illustration by Serge Bloch for TIME

Philosophers and Poets, from their perch on the cutting edge of reason, have always seen the advantage of anxiety. It is the "dizziness of reason," argued Soren Kierkegaard; "the handmaiden of creativity," said T.S. Eliot; "the beginning of conscience," observed novelist Angela Carter. So have actors backstage, summoning eternal energies and edges for the roles they play, and sprinters on the block, finding hormonal springs in the fear of failure that allow them to achieve race times they never managed in practice.

But to the rest of us, when the race is to make it to dinnertime without losing our tempers,...

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