The Conservation of Anxiety
Donald Davidson argues that there are no strict psychological laws; but I have discovered one. It has the defect of applying only to me. Some people – like one of my colleagues – claim to have an inexhaustible fund of anxiety, applying itself greedily to new objects whenever they arise: tenure, house, relationships, health, money. Others – also colleagues – appear to spend long periods anxiety-free. In my case, the level of anxiety is constant, varying only in its focus. When work is going well, I worry about my health. When I am in shape, I worry about work. And so on. I am always anxious about something, but the total quantity has a limit. This allows for strategic self-management: I can reduce anxiety about one thing by deliberately mis-handling some other part of my life. But it has a darker side. When everything seems to be going well, I experience the irrational fear that I will suddenly die.