Nerve: nothing to fear but having nothing to fear

May 6, 2011

Nerves—they’re why we can’t stand public speaking, can’t sleep before the SAT’s, and can’t seem to speak English around a romantic crush. What’s going on in our brain that makes us sweat, stutter, and jitter in these situations? Taylor Clark asks this question in his new book <i>Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool</i>. Clark traverses the findings of stress studies throughout the years, exploring subjects ranging from Russian sub commanders to game-show contestants to tsunami survivors. What he comes up with is the conclusion that fear is useful, and we should not avoid it. In an era when anxiety is the most prominent mental health issue in the U.S., what can we do to reduce stress and face our fears head-on? How do we play it cool and, as Clark puts it, perform with “poise under pressure and serenity under stress”?

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