This Is Anxiety

3. I started to discuss my condition with the people I love and trust. After I shared my experiences with them, most finally understood why I behaved the way I did when I was younger; they rarely understood that they had unintentionally triggered an anxiety event. In my experience, people are more than happy to give you room to work with as long as you're nice about it.

4. I joined activities that help me focus my mind better. I chose martial arts and emphasize the mental-conditioning aspect of the art. Mental conditioning helps me focus and gives me confidence that I can take care of myself—and generate less anxiety along the way.

5. I strive to be as proficient as I can in whatever I do. I realized that a major source of my anxiety is from making mistakes or fear of failure, but being good at something helps to balance out those negative feelings. I now embrace that failure is part of learning, and learning makes me stronger. And the stronger I am, the less anxiety I have in this world. 

Bay Area, California

I seriously have considered being knocked unconscious before boarding a plane, to be revived when we land.

New Jersey

It all started when I uprooted my life and moved to Denmark to be with my new husband. I had just graduated college and was looking forward to a new chapter in life. I had no idea I was capable of feeling such anxiety. I don't know why the anxiety developed, but it must have had something to do with moving to a foreign land and leaving the life I had known for the previous 22 years for an entirely new one. I guess I'm a natural homebody, not meant for risks or extreme change. I had to find that out the hard way.

Emetophobia, fear of vomiting, is a trip. It is such a strange phobia. It's more self-centered than the others; it's there all the time. You can't "retreat" from it, because it's in your stomach. And then a war breaks out in your mind: "It's nothing" versus "It's DEFINITELY something." The unforgiving cycle of anxiety triggers stomach discomfort, which triggers further anxiety, and so on. It's a particularly troubling mental conundrum that, I've found, requires a great deal of willpower and strength of reason, which is not often readily available.

After reading Scott's article, I feel something different. Almost an indifference, or acceptance of my anxiety and phobia. I certainly feel less ashamed, which is truly a relief, since I hide my disorders from almost everyone except those who are very close to me. But I don't feel as strongly about hiding them anymore. In fact, I feel a growing sense of appreciation for the anxiety.

Don't get me wrong—I wish and hope everyday to be relieved of my suffering. But there is an attractiveness to the idea that anxiety could be correlated with my intelligence. What if anxiety is what makes me hear music the way that I hear it? What if it is responsible for my creativity? I remember when I wasn't anxious like this. I was more depressed, and I wasn't as nice. I'm not depressed at all anymore (even though my phobia sometimes makes me feel like giving up on life). In fact, during the past year, I have started learning how to accept myself. It's been really refreshing.

More than anything, though, I guess I feel as if the urgency of finding a cure, or a suitable treatment for my anxiety and phobia, has faded. I can accept thoughts like, What if I am a homebody for the rest of my life? Or, What if I end up not eating out or traveling as much as other people? Perhaps I'll build a very nice home. Perhaps I'll become a very good cook. That doesn't sound like the worst thing in the world. That's how I feel right now. I'm not sure how I'll feel in the future, but I don't have to know.

Meanwhile I'll continue to breathe through my abdomen.


I haven't gotten a haircut in more than a year-and-a half because the last time I did, I ended up telling the hairdresser that I was the caretaker for my 30-year-old mentally-challenged brother. This is a problem not only because of the uncomfortable over-share, but because I don't have a mentally-challenged 30-year-old brother.

Typically, I adopt the path of least resistance in every single social interaction. As a person who is constantly nervous, having a strategy is necessary for everything—especially casual encounters—but also because it tends to end the conversation as soon as possible. So, when someone assumes something about me, I just go with it. If I prolonged the conversation, that would mean talking longer, and the longer I talk, the more horrible it gets.

This began immediately after I met Rick, the bleach-blonde hairdresser in my hometown of Frederick, Maryland. He was very enthusiastic about life, despite being a hairdresser in the middle of farm country. When I sat down at his station he said I was "a blank canvas" which, I assume, is cosmetologist speak for "your hair is terrible we need to fix all of this."

Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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