Monday, August 10, 2015

the hoax of beta blockers

I was reading an intelligent, insightful, and funny essay by Meghan Tifft in The Atlantic on the writer's dilemma about going public. It's called "An Introverted Writer's Lament".  

In essence, for myself, I agree with Tifft. I do what I do best alone in a room with a closed door. Yet, in the current marketing climate, writers are also expected to become a personality. They must leave their pages and rooms to stand in front of a crowd and sound charming and witty about the book they've written, writing in general, their cat or dog, how they feel about adverbs, where they grew up, whether they like writing in the morning or at night, whether they use a fountain pen or computer.

Like Meghan Tifft, I'm not saying I'm against that. I understand that readers who enjoy a book might well want to know what the author looks and sounds like. I do my best to take part too.  

However, there was a line in Tifft's essay which I've heard several times now and which I still don't understand. She refers to the ways in which writers attempt to deal with the "blitzed nerves and staggering bowels" that overwhelm them at the prospect of speaking in public. "We bully ourselves into it. We dose ourselves with beta blockers. We drink. We become our own worst enemies for a night of validation and participation."

What is this thing with beta blockers? I've had writers tell me they take them to calm their anxiety about appearing in public. 

I take beta blockers. I take them twice a day--and have been doing so for over ten years for medical reasons. I wish I didn't have to take them because I don't like the side effects. However, since I take them, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that beta blockers have never ever EVER reduced my anxiety (when I'm anxious), nor kept me from perspiring in an embarrassing way (if I'm embarrassed enough to be perspiring). 

Taking beta blockers only slows down your heartbeat. If you are truly anxious, slowing down your heartbeat does not affect your anxiety. Why would it? Anxiety does not come from the heart. The notion that the heart is the seat of the emotions was debunked some while ago.

Or are writers so suggestible that they believe slowing down their heartbeat will make them less nervous? Huh.

Here's a link to the article in The Atlantic 


  1. I wonder if the 'sound' of their heart beating creates even more anxiety, so by reducing that, the anxiety levels go down... Still, what misguided madness. Surely wine is a better option.