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Anxiety: I don't want to worry you, but...


Cows, tunnels, terminal illness, a toe snapping off... you name it, someone, somewhere is worrying about it. But how did we get into such a state - and what can we do to get out of it? Patricia Pearson has some suggestions

Given the choice, I would prefer not to be afraid of the following: phone bills, ovarian cancer, black bears, climate change, walking on golf courses at night, being blundered into by winged insects, unseemly heights, running out of gas, having the mole on my back that I can feel, but not see, secretly morph into a malignant melanoma.

Plus, flying. This is a big problem. In addition, unexpected liver failure. And cows. Also, but only occasionally, when I'm really over the edge with anxiety, the fear that the car I'm driving will simply explode.

It is not that these fears aren't inherently valid, because maybe they are. Yet they vex me because of what I do not fear: crime, bats, house fires, social censure, terrorism, breast cancer, trans fats, and any harm coming to my two small children. 'Do I contradict myself?

Very well then, I contradict myself,' wrote Walt Whitman, that great American poet who was phobic of spiders.

Apparently, I share this odd proclivity for contradiction with 40 million adult Americans in any given year. That is an astonishing number. Nearly 20 per cent of the adult inhabitants of the Land of the Brave are as anxious as I am, in one way or another, to a clinically significant degree.

In Britain, 5.4 million adults, nearly 10 per cent of the population, suffer in the same way. Phobic, some of them; others, prone to panic attacks, generalised anxiety, which is somatic hysteria, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder - an array of thorny cloaks to wear. ...continued

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