Acclaimed neuroscientist extolls the perks of “Good Anxiety”

The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences hosted New York University professor and author Dr. Wendy Suzuki for an engaging conversation on mental health as part of its Without Limits: Interdisciplinary Conversations in the Liberal Arts series. 

In a virtual and timely talk moderated by Dr. Amy Nitza, the director of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health, and Kristopher Jansma, director of the Creative Writing Program, Suzuki shared how anxiety can be empowering in dark times. 

“Anxiety is good, because the emotion of anxiety and the underlying physiological stress response that comes in it evolved in our species to protect us from the dangers in our environment,” she said. “The first thing we need to do is learn how to regulate that emotion.” 

Of course, regulating anxiety may not come easily to everyone. Suzuki shared findings from her research that identify four “superpowers” – resilience, altruism, creativity and productivity – that are proven to help people channel anxiety in positive ways.  

She described resilience as being able to recover from stress; altruism as the effort to help others regardless of motive; creativity as something you can use to work your way through a problem; and productivity to maintain focus during stressful times. 

Her talk came as finals week dawns on students and faculty, and Suzuki gave tips on how to manage that end-of-semester stress. 

“If you’re worried about a class, you can use that to develop a priorities list,” she said, “but the important thing is not just to make the to-do lists, but to check these things off. Anxiety evolved to take action, and by actually creating and then checking off this to-do list, you are helping to relieve that anxiety.” 

Wendy Suzuki is currently a Professor of Neural Science and Psychology in the Center for Neural Science at New York University. Her TED Talk on exercise was the second most-viewed TED Talk in 2018, garnering more than 31 million views on Facebook. Her latest book is “Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion.” 

About Without Limits 

SUNY New Paltz’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences offers this series to make connections among the many aspects of the liberal arts while inviting campus and community partners to investigate the meaning and role of liberal education in the 21st century. The theme for the 2021-22 academic year is “Getting Better: How We Can Still Solve Our Biggest Problems.” Each of the discussions will delve into how the liberal arts can empower us to face the struggles experienced within the last year and pave the way for a brighter future.  

About the Institute for Disaster Mental Health 

The Institute for Disaster Mental Health (IDMH) seeks to address the diversity of disaster mental health demands in the region, state, nation and the global community, and to increase access to mental health support. IDMH works to establish and disseminate best practices to ensure that all disaster mental health services are evidence-supported and culturally sensitive.