Monday, June 18, 2012


     Taylor Clark's impetus for writing Nerve : Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress and The Brave New Science of Fear and Cool was deeply personal. He had experienced a persistent stretch of anxiety and despite his best mental efforts and a devoted perusal of available stress-related books (some too clinical, others too preachy self-help) Clark remained clueless. Eventually, cluelessness evolved into curiosity.  He began to study and synthesize the latest research from neuroscientists, psychologists and scholars that cut to the heart of fear and its formidable first cousins - anxiety and stress.

     First, a small anatomy lesson. Each of the brain's two hemispheres contains an amygdala. (the Greek word for almond) The amygdala is the most vigilant 24/7 security system that money can't buy. When an amygdala perceives that something may be dangerous it springs into action and chooses a physiological response from the F trio - flight, flight or freeze - in rapid-fire milliseconds. It is then up to the sensory neurons in the cerebral cortex to evaluate the danger. Was that an intruder? A tiger? Or merely the wind slamming a door shut?

     Nerve is chocked full of fascinating case studies, from the annals of the famous to personal incidences of ordinary people who survived terrifying situations. In 1963, Gordon Cooper commanded the rocket Faith 7. On its nineteenth orbit of the earth, the entire electrical system began shorting out. By the twentieth orbit, the power failure was total. Cooper would now have to steer his way back to earth without instruments, in a cabin climbing to130 degrees and  filling with an ever increasing amount of carbon dioxide. Forty years later, Scott Raderstorf on his ultimate vacation came face to face with the incoming tsunami at the Golden Buddha Beach Resort three hundred miles southwest of Bangkok. Between the moon and the beach, you meet contestants on Grand Slam (described as "a game show on amphetamines") sit courtside watching basketball icon Bill Russell and watch a frightened Laurence Olivier on a famous London stage.

     Nerve should be a must-read for a large American audience. We hold the dubious distinction of being the most anxious nation in the world. Stress related ailments cost the U.S. an estimated annual $300 billion in medical bills and lost productivity. 18% of American adults suffer from full-blown anxiety disorders.  Between 1997 and 2004, spending on Valium and Xanax grew from $900 million to $2.1 billion.

     Written with warmth and wit, Nerve ends with wisdom and the best of hopeful conclusions. Fear is innate but poise can be acquired and practiced. Poised people are not fearless but have developed ways of working with their fears not against them. Clark provides a helpful checklist of effective tips and strategies for confronting stress and anxiety and feeling better in the process.

     The library also owns Taylor Clark's first book - Starbucked.


(P.S. The lack of comments on the newer SummerQuest posts is making *us* anxious! Try a quest or two and soothe our nerves.)

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