Acting like a Gloomy Gus at every cocktail party is no solution. “We’re reaching a point where people need professional intervention and hand-holding to deal with every imaginable quandary, whether it’s ‘Are we disciplining our children properly?’ or ‘How can I stay healthy?’” Furedi says. “Thirty years ago that wouldn’t have been the case. If we don’t want fearing to become a way of life, we need to see that fear has a creative, positive dimension. Otherwise we start to crumble as a society.”

Ken Paprocki, a freelance photojournalist, got fresh perspective on the Age of Anxiety in America when he returned to Manhattan last year after covering the conflict in Afghanistan.

On assignment there, he was subjected to rocket attacks several times on a base near the Pakistani border and then in Kandahar. He rode on night patrols in a Humvee in a region where insurgents were active. Once, a taxi he was riding in was stopped by the Taliban at an impromptu roadblock.

But it wasn’t until he returned to New York that he understood what real stress was. “It was like going from a camel’s lope to riding a rocket,” Paprocki says. “I felt fear in Afghanistan, but I was rarely worried. My only preoccupation was getting my shot and finding an Internet connection to send it off. But in New York, life is so utterly complicated that we are drowning in our daily regimen of tasks: networking, drumming up business, helping friends with meltdowns, dealing with family problems, trying to shoehorn fitness into the day, having to call tech support just to watch a DVD.”

So Paprocki now behaves in the way that so many of us do. He works like hell and then practices yoga, runs, or swims to maintain some semblance of peace before stressing out all over again. “I accept that worry’s part of the price of living an exciting, interesting life,” he says. “But sometimes I think the real war’s happening right here, fighting to manage how hectic things are. If we’re not careful, we might kill ourselves just trying to keep up the pace.”