Everyone is anxious; it's just that some people are better at it than others. Some people compartmentalize, sorting their worries into various dim, cluttered cubbies of the mind. Some people achieve a kind of transubstantiation of anxiety—as blood becomes wine and flesh becomes wafer, the dread and disquiet of everyday life become morning jogs, yogic positions, meditative mantras, hypnosis via e-commerce. And some of us (and by us I mean me) bite off our nails in horizontal strips. Or chew an entire pack of sugarless gum in one sitting (me again). Whatever your strategy, just make sure to clean up the evidence—it will give you something to do with those trembling hands.

My trademark move is to feel the deepest anxiety about things that are deeply good. The day I received a job offer I wanted very badly, I spent the two weeks between old and new gigs in intermittent states of teary agitation, convinced the offer would be rescinded. (Why? If you have to ask, then your mind's cubbies are far tidier than mine.) The day I had my 20-week anatomy scan—the one at which my ob-gyn told me my growing baby was right on track—I burst into tears the moment I left the doctor's office, convinced that there just had to be something they weren't telling me.

Because that's the refrain, always. There has to be something wrong. To the chronically anxious, if nothing appears wrong—if everything, in fact, appears right—then that only means a terrible something is lying in wait. Just tell me already. The anxiety that plagued me for decades, I realize now, was the loose and jagged contents of an underoccupied brain jostling around, causing swellings and contusions and antic confusion.

New mothers are told, over and over again, how anxiety-provoking it is to be responsible for a tiny, helpless human being. But for me, motherhood has been an effective antianxiety training program, simply in the way its demands fill those troublesome brain spaces. I have escaped my own head and run into the chubby arms of a far more benevolent captor.

How to cure a worrier? Give her something real to worry about.


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