*** My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel

The author of My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind is anxious. Anxious enough to sweat himself into a near-swooning at his own wedding. Anxious enough to have spent decades perfecting a complex sequence of drugs and alcohol to be ingested before each public-speaking event. (It is amazing that he does speak in public, and regularly to boot, knowing the distress it poses him.) While describing his anxious habits in painful detail (let’s just say that the sweat is the least disturbing mode of excretion), he explores the origins of anxiety, and most particularly how the anxious parenting he received combined with a large dose of anxious genes, with spectacular results.

The book is a shining example of combining the personal and the educational. The one weaker area was its attempt at answering the question of why anxiety diagnoses have increased so dramatically in the past few decades. I could not push away the idea that perhaps it’s not that the modern world is so much harsher and anxiety-inducing, the hypothesis proposed by the author, but rather that anxiety has always been with us (and the author gives many historical examples, including Charles Darwin, who nevertheless accomplished a few great things for humanity) and that the pharmacological promises of the modern world make it more likely for sufferers to seek relief.

(I could not help marveling one more time at how decades of therapy seem to make so little difference! Surely there are some brilliant minds looking at CRF and ACTH-regulating mechanisms so we can hope to medicate the quick-on-the-trigger worriers into a more peaceful outlook.)


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