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Anxious

Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety

By Joseph Ledoux
16-minute read
Audio available
Anxious by Joseph Ledoux

Anxious (2015) is an in-depth study of anxiety disorders. It explores how anxiety is diagnosed and examines how our in-built survival mechanisms can sabotage us by making us perceive danger where none exists. Most importantly, it provides an overview of the most innovative treatment options available – from reprogramming our memories to practicing meditation.

  • Anyone living with anxiety who wants to understand more about it 
  • Teachers and caregivers who want to support the young people in their care
  • Psychology buffs who want to better understand this pervasive disorder

Joseph LeDoux is the Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Science at New York University. He also directs the Emotional Brain Institute at New York University and the Nathan Kline Institute. His previous books include Synaptic Self and The Emotional Brain.

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Anxious

Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety

By Joseph Ledoux
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
Upgrade to Premium Read or listen now
Anxious by Joseph Ledoux
Synopsis

Anxious (2015) is an in-depth study of anxiety disorders. It explores how anxiety is diagnosed and examines how our in-built survival mechanisms can sabotage us by making us perceive danger where none exists. Most importantly, it provides an overview of the most innovative treatment options available – from reprogramming our memories to practicing meditation.

Key idea 1 of 10

Anxiety was once seen as an essential part of being human.

With headlines blaring record numbers of anxiety disorders, it may seem like anxiety is something unique to our frenetic modern age. But, actually, the concept has been around for centuries. 

The word originates from the ancient Greek word angh, meaning “burdened” or “troubled.” There are references to it throughout the New Testament, which describes anxious sinners waiting for God's wrath to rain upon them. In 1844, Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard published The Concept of Anxiety, where he argued that anxiety is a consequence of the human capacity to make decisions; it shows we are aware of the power and responsibility of free choice. 

The key message here is: Anxiety was once seen as an essential part of being human. 

This view of anxiety as a normal, and even necessary, emotion was very influential. It inspired a wealth of theory by existentialist philosophers like Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. But then, in the early twentieth century, Sigmund Freud presented a very different view of anxiety. 

Freud argued that anxiety is central to a host of psychopathological disorders, and is a sign that we have been trying to repress trauma and unpleasant memories. Because we’re not actively dealing with these issues, they become toxic and, as a result, make us neurotically anxious. Freud's psychoanalytic methods involved trying to find the underlying cause of the anxiety. He believed that if the repressed trauma were dealt with, then the anxiety would disappear. Freud’s theory fundamentally changed how we perceive anxiety. It went from being seen as a normal part of being human to becoming a sign that something was wrong and needed to be fixed. 

Freud’s idea of anxiety became especially popular after World War Two. In 1947, poet W. H. Auden published his famous book The Age of Anxiety, coining a catchphrase of the same name; it has been used liberally by every generation since. Filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock and Woody Allen started featuring anxious characters in their films, while The Rolling Stones started writing songs about housewives using Valium. 

Today, a simple Google search for “anxiety” will yield over 42 million hits. So, clearly, anxiety disorders are something we talk about a lot. But there is still tons of confusion about what it actually means to be anxious. In the next blink, we'll examine what distinguishes an anxiety disorder from everyday worries. 

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