If it's true that we live in an age of anxiety, says Restak, a neuropsychiatrist and professor at George Washington University Medical Center, then our best defense is to learn as much as we can about anxiety and what causes it. Restak (Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot
) examines anxiety from both a cultural and physiological point of view. Unlike fear, which is based on a real, external threat, anxiety is an emotion of tension or dread originating from within. Restak details research conducted with animals and, in some cases, humans that reveals the workings of various brain parts involved in the creation of anxious feelings. The amygdalae (two small structures on either side of the brain), for example, receive and evaluate signals that trigger hormonal and chemical responses. In our age of information overload, overstimulated amygdalae can lead to overproduction of anxiety. Restak believes some anxiety is necessary—studies show that people with certain kinds of brain damage have no anxiety and act impulsively and self-destructively. But excessive anxiety can spark phobias, panic attacks and other anxiety disorders. Although this is not a self-help guide, the author does suggest strategies for relieving anxiety, such as avoiding TV hype and instead seeking solid information about anxiety-arousing events. Agent, Sterling Lord.