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Whether grocery shopping or choosing words to express a thought, selecting between options can be challenging, especially for people with anxiety. We investigate the neural mechanisms supporting selection during language processing and its breakdown in anxiety. Our neural network simulations demonstrate a critical role for competitive, inhibitory dynamics supported by GABAergic interneurons. As predicted by our model, we find that anxiety (associated with reduced neural inhibition) impairs selection among options and associated prefrontal cortical activity, even in a simple, nonaffective verb-generation task, and the GABA agonist midazolam (which increases neural inhibition) improves selection, whereas retrieval from semantic memory is unaffected when selection demands are low. Neural inhibition is key to choosing our words.