Human beings, being human, get anxious. We all do, except psychopaths. An estimated 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety of some form at any given time. Some of us get really, really anxious, like Scott Stossel, a writer and editor at the Atlantic whose memoir of a lifelong and often paralyzing struggle with the condition is about to be published. For those of us to whom anxiety is a more occasional visitor, the condition can be crippling.
There’s a reason for performance anxiety, of course; it focuses the mind, and without it some of us would never complete anything. But there are real costs, as well: Anxiety has been shown to sap our working memory and information processing, the very capacities we need to perform well in any task that requires thinking. “Anxious negotiators make low first offers, exit early, and earn less profit than neutral state negotiators,” writes Alison Wood Brooks, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School. “Similarly, anxious individuals seek out and rely more heavily on advice, even when the advice is obviously bad, because they do not feel confident in their own ability to make good judgments.”