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Future Tense summary

Tracy Dennis-Tiwary

Why Anxiety Is Good for You (Even Though It Feels Bad)

4.5 (393 ratings)
19 mins
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    Future Tense
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    Anxiety isn’t the problem –⁠ our ways of coping with it are.

    Butterflies in the stomach. A pounding heartbeat. A tight throat. Thoughts that loop over and over.

    This is what anxiety feels like. But what causes it? Ultimately, anxiety always stems from something bad that we imagine could happen but that hasn’t actually happened yet. We experience it as a sensation in our bodies –⁠ tension, agitation, and jitteriness –⁠ and a quality of our thoughts: apprehension, dread, and worry. 

    Anxiety can be less or more intense. Regardless, we can usually talk ourselves through it and dial it back to a point where we feel comfortable and not overwhelmed. 

    However, we sometimes end up using the wrong thoughts and behaviors to cope with or avoid our anxiety. In doing so, we make it worse. When we begin to do this more often than not, normal anxiety transforms into an anxiety disorder.

    The key characteristic of an anxiety disorder is a functional impairment –⁠ something that prevents you from living your life normally. For someone with an anxiety disorder, the distress caused by their feelings can last weeks, months, or years, and it interferes with their home life, work, and relationships. 

    Almost 20 percent of adults in the US –⁠ that’s over 60 million people –⁠ live with an anxiety disorder every year. Thirty-one percent of American adults will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Yet fewer than half of people with anxiety show lasting change from therapy.

    One reason for this is that many people cope with anxiety poorly. Take the hypothetical example of Kabir, who at age 15 began feeling afraid to speak during class. Before having to give presentations, he refused to eat, didn’t sleep, and worried constantly. As time went on, he began to fear going to school altogether. He started missing days, which caused his grades to suffer. Then he began to feel afraid of any social situations whatsoever. He avoided parties and swim meets because of this fear. Over the following months, Kabir broke off all of his friendships and started to experience severe panic attacks.

    Kabir went from feeling highly anxious to developing social anxiety, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and panic disorder. But his anxiety itself was not the problem. The problem was his way of coping with the anxiety –⁠ his refusal to eat and sleep, his staying home from school, and his isolating himself from his friends.

    Kabir’s solutions helped him avoid his anxiety. But in doing so, they just intensified his feelings. In the following chapters, we’re going to discuss some much healthier coping mechanisms for anxiety.

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    What is Future Tense about?

    Future Tense (2022) puts to rest a huge and socially pervasive myth about anxiety: that it’s bad and should be avoided at all costs. Today, anxiety is considered an illness – something that should be treated with medicine or coped with in some other way. But that isn’t the case. Ultimately, anxiety is simply information, and it’s incredibly important for our survival. It’s up to us to make the best use of it.

    Who should read Future Tense?

    • Anyone intimately familiar with anxiety
    • Parents worried about their children’s emotional lives
    • Psychology fans

    About the Author

    Dr. Tracy Dennis-Tiwary is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Hunter College –⁠ CUNY, where she directs the Emotion Regulation Lab and the Center for Health Technology. She also cofounded the digital therapeutics company Wise Therapeutics. Her scientific articles have been published in over a hundred peer-reviewed journals, and her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and many other publications.

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