Marco, the tattooed instructor at the front of the room, is all charisma. He stalks; he pounces; he perches on my back as he corrects my Janu Sirsasana pose (otherwise known as a forward bend). “If you tell it to me from your mind, I’m not interested,” he announces, to begin the class. “That’s just drama. I’ve got my own drama.” It can be difficult to exit the studio when Marco’s class is over: people lingering to talk to him block the door.
Considering that anxiety makes your palms sweat, your heart race, your stomach turn somersaults, and your brain seize up like a car with a busted transmission, it’s no wonder people reach for the Xanax to vanquish it. But in a surprise, researchers who study emotion regulation—how we cope, or fail to cope, with the daily swirl of feelings—are discovering that many anxious people are bound and determined (though not always consciously) to cultivate anxiety. The reason, studies suggest, is that for some people anxiety boosts cognitive performance, while for others it actually feels comforting.