Life-Enhancing Anxiety: Key to a Sane World by Kirk J. Schneider

Life-Enhancing Anxiety: Key to a Sane World by Kirk J. Schneider was released on February 1, 2023, published by The University Professors Press. 

Life-Enhancing Anxiety makes a bold proposal: It is not less anxiety that we need today, but more, at least of a certain kind.

It seems counterintuitive. Anxiety is going through the roof in our time, and yet this book advances the notion that there is not enough anxiety— at least of a certain kind. People are laboring in the thousands, maybe millions, with anxiety disorders. There is a war going on in Ukraine, authoritarianism is on the rise, and climatic disaster is upon us. These crises are driven by as well as perpetrating anxiety; and yet this volume raises the prospect that the crises are the result of avoidance of a certain type of anxiety. Kirk Schneider calls this life-enhancing anxiety. Life-enhancing anxiety is the anxiety we must face to prevent life-destroying anxiety. It is challenging and requires pluck. But it also may just save us from the disastrous path with which we now contend.

The book comprises a collection of original and previously published essays that converge on what Schneider calls life-enhancing anxiety.  Life-enhancing anxiety is the invigorating degree of anxiety needed to become passionately engaged, ethically attuned, and creatively enriched. Set against our anxiety-avoidant times, life-enhancing anxiety enables us to “live with and make the best of the depth and mystery of existence.”

The potential for life-enhancing anxiety begins at the moment of birth—the point at which we shift from relative nonexistence and unity to sudden, abrupt existence and disunity. This juncture is both daunting and wondrous. Yet it is the management of the juncture by both caretakers and the culture at large that is all important; for it is that management that forms the bedrock for our capacity to deeply live, or to skim only the surfaces; to attain courage, or to seek refuge in gimmicks. The book goes on to elaborate this developmental arc and apply it to a range of personal and social challenges. Among these challenges are Schneider’s personal struggle with life-enhancing anxiety; the role of life-enhancing anxiety in the cultivation of a sense of awe (humility and wonder) toward all existence; the role of life-enhancing anxiety in the arts, particularly film and literature; applications within the discipline of psychology; applications to social and political crises (war and violence in particular); and applications to spirituality and religion. Schneider concludes the book with a brief section on the relevant research on life-enhancing anxiety, followed by an Epilogue. The Epilogue summarizes the implications of life-enhancing anxiety for a more sane, sustainable, and awe-informed world.


“In this fascinating book, Kirk Schneider–who has spent a distinguished career defending the core values of psychotherapists against dehumanizing pressures from an increasingly consumeristic, objectifying environment–helps readers find ways to survive and flourish in our stressful world. Instead of trying to soothe our fears that much is out of kilter in contemporary life, he suggests that if we are not anxious enough about the right problems, we risk being unequipped to address them. This provocative, brilliant, and paradoxically comforting book belongs in the library of anyone who cares about the fate of humanity. —Nancy McWilliams, Ph.D., ABPP, Distinguished Affiliate Faculty, Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, author of Psychoanalytic Diagnosis and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy

“Life-Enhancing Anxiety challenges us to rethink our understanding of anxiety as something to be avoided or managed at all costs. Instead, Schneider urges us to consider the many ways this basic human emotion can help us grow, more fully engage with existence, and transform ourselves in ways that lead to more fulfilling lives. In his view, anxiety is inherently tied to the experience of awe, a transformative experience that has become harder to come by in the increasingly regimented and standardized lives most people live. This is a provocative thesis that integrates ideas from previous existential thinkers, empirical research, Schneider’s decades of experience as a psychotherapist, and his insightful contemplation of his own life trajectory. It is a stimulating and rewarding read that will be of great value to psychotherapists, scientists, and lay people alike.” —Dr. Tom Pyszczynski, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, USA. Co-author of The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life with Jeff Greenberg and Sheldon Solomon

“In a world where any signs of discomfort are met with harshness to the point of total loss of tolerance for ambiguity, uneasiness, and disputation; and resilience has become a teachable skill rather than a natural and acquired fruit of life, Life-Enhancing Anxiety is a breath of fresh air. Schneider puts forward a solid argument based on empirical evidence, years of clinical work and personal experience to remind us of the necessity of recognizing anxiety as a life force. He invites us to reconsider the existential roots of anxiety as a powerful mobilizer and not a paralyzer. The wisdom shared in this book finally, should be enlightening for fellow mental health practitioners and their clients, community educators and students.” —Dr. Sara Nasserzadeh, Co-Founder of Relationship Panoramic Inc. and Senior Advisor to the United Nations

“One of the most common misconceptions about psychotherapy is that it helps us relieve anxiety. Yet, existentialist philosophers have always argued the contrary, that therapy should be employed to promoteanxiety. In this timely and radical study, Kirk Schneider, one of the world’s leading existential therapists, once again regales us with his uncanny ability to ease us into truths that we all too often wish to avoid. In showing that anxiety is not our enemy, but a friend that can potentially help us embrace life to the fullest, this remarkable book is destined to become a classic.” —M. Guy Thompson, Ph.D., Founder and Director, New School for Existential Psychoanalysis; author, TheDeath of Desire: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness; The Legacy of R. D. Laing: An Appraisal of his Contemporary Relevance

“In this expansive text, Kirk Schneider probes life’s fundamental questions and takes the reader on a search for depth, meaning, connection and love. He traverses key aspects of society and self to define what’s needed to heal divides in our cultures, politics, relationships and selves. Drawing from our experiences with Covid, political divides, racial and economic injustice, armed conflicts at home and abroad, tensions over school curricula, climate change and more, Schneider outlines how the psychology and science of anxiety are key to understanding and solving these problems. He even puts himself on the couch, with exquisite vulnerability. In an adept interplay of our most personal engagements with our sociocultural surround, Schneider illuminates how we can live amidst paradox, embrace anxiety, and transform suffering into growth. This is an essential read for those looking to understand our culture and our times and to create a life of deep meaning and purpose.” —Linda Michaels, PsyD MBA, Chair and Co-Founder, Psychotherapy Action Network (PsiAN) Psychologist, Consulting Editor of Psychoanalytic Inquiry and Fellow of the Lauder Institute Global MBA program

“In a world mired in anxiety and fear, Professor Kirk Schneider presents a ground-breaking analysis of anxiety while examining the deeply rooted existential nature of human disturbances. Schneider beautifully and powerfully illustrates the inescapability of anxiety in the human condition and provides a rigorous model of psychological hardiness. Schneider’s life-enhancing anxiety goes beyond the reductionist models of anxiety and delves into the interplay of elements that create the anxiety-inducing paralysis in our social and cultural milieu. While celebrating the bridge between philosophy and psychology, Schneider elucidates the vitality of awe for a more transcendent, sagacious mode of being.” —Sayyed Mohsen Fatemi, Ph.D., Adjunct Faculty, Department of Psychology, York University.  Author of The psychology of inner peace, Film Therapy, and forthcoming, Therapeutic Applications of Langerian Mindfulness

“Schneider offers a vital solution to addressing the epidemic of life-destroying anxiety plaguing our patients and clients. We desperately need a bigger picture of allaying anxiety than conventional psychology, pharmaceuticals, and avoidance through addiction to technology. Cultivation of life-enhancing anxiety is the paradigm shift to cultivate the capacities of love, creativity, humility, wonder, and a sense of adventure toward living–what Schneider calls “awe“ in the midst of so many unknowns.  For humanity to thrive in our next chapter on Earth, we need this brilliant book to open a new door to embracing (and engaging with) Life-Enhancing Anxiety.” —Michael Amster, MD, coauthor of The Power of Awe and researcher at the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center

About the Author:

Kirk J. Schneider, PhD, is a leading spokesperson for contemporary existential-humanistic and existential-integrative psychology. Dr. Schneider was a 2022 Candidate for President of the American Psychological Association (APA), a cofounder and current president of the Existential-Humanistic Institute (an award-winning psychotherapy training center), and a two-term Member of the Council of Representatives of the APA.

He is the past president (2015-2016) of the Society for Humanistic Psychology (Division 32) of the APA, recent past editor of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology (2005-2012), a founder and frequent presenter/facilitator of the bridge-building dialogue approach the Experiential Democracy Dialogue, and a trained moderator for the conflict mediation group Braver Angels.

Dr. Schneider is an adjunct faculty member at Saybrook University and Teachers College, Columbia University and an Honorary Member of the Society for Existential Analysis of the UK and the East European Association for Existential Therapy. He received the Rollo May Award for “outstanding and independent contributions” to the field of humanistic psychology from the Society for Humanistic Psychology and is a Fellow of seven Divisions of the APA (5, 9, 32, 42, 12, 29, & 24).

His work on existential-integrative psychotherapy has been featured in a special issue of the Journal of Psychotherapy Integration (March, 2016), as well as The Wiley World Handbook of Existential Therapy and the APA’s forthcoming Handbook of Psychotherapy. Dr. Schneider has published over 200 articles, interviews, and chapters and has authored or edited 14 books, including The Paradoxical Self, Horror and the Holy, Rediscovery of Awe, Awakening to Awe, The Spirituality of Awe, The Polarized Mind, The Handbook of Humanistic Psychology, Existential-Humanistic Therapy, Existential-Integrative Psychotherapy, The Wiley World Handbook of Existential Therapy, and The Depolarizing of America: A Guidebook for Social Healing. Dr. Schneider’s work has been featured in Scientific American, the New York Times, USA Today, The Guardian, Vanity Fair, Forbes Health, Psychology Today, BBC World News, and many other health and psychology outlets.

For more information on Dr. Schneider’s work visit