My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind

By | September 20, 2016
My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind

A Washington Post Notable Book
A Seattle Times Best Book of the Year

Drawing on his own longstanding battle with anxiety, Scott Stossel presents a moving and revelatory account of a condition that affects some 40 million Americans. Stossel offers an intimate and authoritative history of efforts by scientists, philosophers, and writers to understand anxiety. We discover the well-known who have struggled with the condition, as well as the afflicted generations of Stossel’s own family. Revealing anxiety’s myriad manifestations and the anguish it causes, he also surveys the countless psychotherapies, medications, and often outlandish treatments that have been developed to relieve it.
        Stossel vividly depicts anxiety’s human toll—its crippling impact, its devastating power to paralyze. He also explores how individual sufferers—including himself—have managed and controlled symptoms. By turns erudite and compassionate, amusing and inspirational, My Age of Anxiety is the essential account of a pervasive and too often misunderstood affliction.

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3 thoughts on “My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind

  1. M. JEFFREY MCMAHON
    217 of 227 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    The Philosophical Debate of Anxiety, November 22, 2013
    By 
    M. JEFFREY MCMAHON (Torrance, CA USA) –
    (VINE VOICE)
      
    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)
      

    Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What’s this?)
    First the good news. In Scott Stossel’s excellent book, he points out a major study that people with generalized anxiety disorder have much higher IQs than the average population’s.

    The rest of the news in this very readable book isn’t so good for anxious depressives like Stossel, a lifelong depressive, worry-wart, and multi-phobe, his worst fear being emetophobia, the fear of throwing up.

    Stossel exercises a lot of candor discussing his dyspepsia and inner demons as he consults hundreds of sources, firsthand and otherwise, to give us a tour of the many theories behind chronic anxiety with an engaging narrative that reminded me of Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss.

    The main philosophical debate is this: Should we embrace our anxiety as part of our existential condition, seeing anxiety as a “calling,” a way of enhancing our life, struggling through the demons, and facing the great meaning of life questions? By muting our anxiety with pharmaceuticals, are we being lazy cowards, relinquishing the great existential quest before us? Or does the pain and suffering from biologically-induced anxiety merit a pharmaceutical solution to give relief to those innocent sufferers?

    With fair-minded intensity, Stossel explores this debate and concludes that while he is a lifelong taker of anti-depressants, he overall feels there is an existential purpose to anxiety and shows a lot of research that warns us that pharmaceuticals can be highly addictive, can be hell to go off with severe withdrawals, and only work on one-third of the people who take them with serious side effects.

    Interlacing major anxiety research with his own compelling narrative, Scott Stossel has written a masterful account of anxiety and its existential and pharmaceutical challenges. Highly recommended.

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  2. SLS
    96 of 110 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Relatable & Readable; Best Survey / Memoir I’ve Read in Decades, December 18, 2013
    By 
    SLS
    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)
      

    Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What’s this?)
    You do not have to be one of the 40 million Americans* with an anxiety disorder to appreciate Scott Stossel’s My Age of Anxiety. Whether or not a reader believes anxiety is worthy of a prized DSM slot and a handshake from Big Pharma, chances are we’ve all felt its claws at times. Anxiety and stress do seem to be the current Modern Human Condition. (* Source: NIMH dot NIH dot GOV, using US Census data)

    Stossel combines survey and memoir so engagingly that I occasionally forgot the topic was how unmanageable anxiety had made his life. I like that his presence throughout the book is not intrusive, or worse, pitiable. He does not overwhelm with dry history and there is no hard lobby for a cause or a position. There is humor and authentic humanity here; most importantly, there is also hope.

    In the first few pages, Stossel shares that he has known anxiety since the age of 2. Has anything worked? Surprisingly, no, or at least not for any length of time. And in the last pages, he admits that writing this book is in part self-therapy. In between these auspicious pages Stossel covers:

    ~ ~ ~ the definitive nature of the beast (Is it an illness? A disorder? A conditioned response?), his own manifestation (the rather common fear of throwing up and sometimes actually doing so; Darwin suffered similarly), famous people debilitated by anxiety (Gandhi, Donny Osmond, Hugh Grant, Freud, Lucille Ball), pharmaceutical interventions (from analgesics and alcohol to tranquilizers, sedatives, a preservative for a Penicillin mold, antihistamines, antipsychotics, and antidepressants), panic attacks and how a drug “creates” a disease, how certain anti-depressants and anxiolytics are not as benevolent as once thought (from ineffectiveness to hideous withdrawals and side-effects), genetic v. environmental contributors, the danger of becoming so crippled by anxiety as to become non-egotistically self-absorbed, and finally, coming to terms with the highly likely possibility that one might never really come to terms with their disorder. ~ ~ ~

    Footnotes are in abundance, yet they are truly helpful and (mostly) briefly appropriate. Only rarely does My Age of Anxiety come close to “too much information” (talk of anal retention, quoting his mother admitting that she did indeed withhold affection deliberately from Stossel). The last two chapters on Redemption and Resilience are somewhat bittersweet. Stossel considers the advantages and opportunities bestowed upon him by anxiety. I find it so hard to see it that way through his eyes; I know too well how anxiety ruins too many lives with its dubious “gifts” and “blessings”.

    Scott Stossel describes himself as “a textbook case” of anxiety. And now he has written a textbook-worthy composition on the topic. My Age of Anxiety is worthwhile reading, and I genuinely hope it was worthwhile for him to write. Mostly, I hope it fulfilled his wish that it would in some measure – ANY measure – reduce his own distress.

    Really, a recommended read.

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  3. JoAnne Goldberg
    24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Rest in Paxil, January 11, 2014
    By 
    JoAnne Goldberg (Menlo Park, CA) –
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    There are three kinds of anxious people.

    * People like professional athletes, actors, and politicians who are subject to public scrutiny. No surprise that some of them suffer massive attacks of intestinal butterflies. If you’re a reader who revels in behind-the-scenes secrets about famous people, you will enjoy the lengthy anecdotes describing the angst that’s affected famous figures throughout history.

    * People who live in a modern world filled with deadlines, competition, and a constant fear of not quite measuring up. It’s an “age of anxiety” for all, and the fact that big pharma has capitalized on our collective stress is part of the story.

    * People like Scott and me. Until I read this book, I had never encountered anyone who was as anxious as I am, and it was uncanny how many ways his life paralleled mine, including the early onset, the wedding near-meltdown, the cornucopia of phobias, even the childhood bedtime ritual that entailed reciting the same reassuring speech to my mom every night.

    I don’t know how compelling I would have found AofA if I didn’t fit into that last category, but cruising through his gallery of phobias made me feel validated if not vindicated.

    Scott and I part ways when it comes to managing anxiety, fear, hope, and dread. Maybe it’s an east coast-west coast thing, but in this part of the world, “benzodiazepine” is usually followed by the word “addiction.” My idea of bliss is a bottle of lorazepam in my pocket, but doctors are loath to hand out prescriptions, and after enduring the humiliation of begging for just enough meds to get through specific occasions (like the aforementioned wedding), I’ve gravitated to more natural remedies. Not as effective, but more politically correct.

    For anyone who does not suffer from debilitating anxiety — lucky you! — this book will give you a glimpse into what it’s like to feel stress for no reason at all. And the stress he describes includes the hardhitting physical attacks that can make the sufferer feel as though s/he’s having a heart attack, on the verge of fainting, or just about ready to v-word.

    I have one small complaint about the book, and I should note that I have an uncorrected proof, and that pertains to footnotes. I personally love footnotes, and tend to use them myself when reading and writing, and sometimes even footnotes of footnotes when the need arises, as it so often does. In AofA, you don’t want to ignore the footnotes because the tangents are at least as fascinating as the main text. However, I had a few stress-inducing moments flipping back and forth between text and often-lengthy footnotes. I’d have rather seen most of the footnotes — the ones that were really separate anecdotes rather than typical footnotes — embedded in the body of the text.

    I also have one small amplification, and that’s about consumer-oriented genetic testing. Although Scott describes it as expensive and incomplete, it’s come down in price — 23andMe and others charge under $100 — and customers can download their raw data. The science is evolving rapidly, but anyone who has a dash of OCD along with the anxiety can spend way too much time exploring the links between SNPs and stress.

    Writing this review is making my heart pound, so I’m going to pop a black cohosh/valerian and go for a walk. If you have no idea what that’s about: read this book and welcome to my world.

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