Anxiety Increases “Ability to Focus”

(p. C1) In a pair of studies published in the journal Emotion by Jeffrey Birk, myself and colleagues in 2011, we induced anxiety in young adults by asking them to vividly imagine being a passenger in a car accident and helping injured people in its aftermath. Compared with a second group who experienced a happy mood induction, the anxious group showed a greater ability to focus and control their attention during a computerized assessment.

Over the past decade, research has also shown something that many scientists didn’t expect: higher levels of dopamine, the “feel good” hormone, when we’re anxious. We have long known that dopamine spikes when an experience is pleasurable and also in anticipation of such rewards, activating brain areas that motivate and prepare us. The fact that anxiety also boosts dopamine levels points to its role in making positive possibilities into reality.

. . .

(p. C2) . . ., there are many ways to use anxiety to create a deeper sense of personal fulfillment. Beginning in 1938, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest-running and most comprehensive longitudinal studies ever conducted, asked a fundamental question: What leads to a healthy and happy life? Following over 1,300 people from all walks of life over decades, the study has found that one of the best predictors—better than social class, IQ and genetic factors—is having a sense of purpose.

For the full essay, see:

Tracy Dennis-Tiwary. “In Praise of Anxiety.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 7, 2022): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date May 6, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

The essay quoted above is adapted from:

Dennis-Tiwary, Tracy. Future Tense: Why Anxiety Is Good for You (Even Though It Feels Bad). New York: Harper Wave, 2022.

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