My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel

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My Age of Anxiety Shortlisted for 2015 Wellcome Prize

Five words from the blurb: fear, stress, mental, health, research

Scott Stossel has spent his entire life battling crippling anxiety. In an effort to understand his condition he has compiled medical research and historical information about a wide range of sufferers; showing how generations of people have dealt with their problems. He includes details about many famous people, showing that the affliction does not prevent people from achieving great things.

I was pleased to discover this book on the Wellcome Prize shortlist as I thought I suffered from anxiety, but I quickly realised that I don’t. The nervousness I feel when approaching a stressful situation isn’t in the same league as the anguish of those within these pages. I was surprised to discover how serious the condition can be and how prevalent it is within our society; especially given the fact it didn’t exist as a diagnostic category 35 years ago.

One argument for why twenty-first-century life produces so much anxiety is that social and political roles are no longer understood to have been ordained by God or by nature – we have to choose our roles. Such choices, research shows, are stressful. As sodden with fear and darkness and death as the Middle Ages were, Fromm and others argue, they were likely freer of anxiety than our own time is.

The book contains a vast amount of information about medical research into the condition. It was all well referenced, but contains enough light-hearted side-notes to ensure the reader doesn’t become bogged down in technical detail.

I’d assumed that this book might contain strategies to help deal with anxiety, but this isn’t a self-help book. Despite years of therapy, Scott Stossel hasn’t been cured of his anxiety and, although it contains information about different techniques tried through the ages, this book doesn’t contain any direct guidance on how to deal with anxiety. Instead it gives a brutally honest insight into the condition, explaining what life is like for those trapped by phobias and catastrophizing thought. I now have a greater empathy for those who are suffering, and that is more than enough for one book to provide. 

The only real problem was that the structure wasn’t quite right. There were a few sections that repeated information given earlier in the book and in places it didn’t flow as well as it could. These minor problems can be overlooked as it is such an important resource for those with anxiety.

Overall, this was an impressive compilation of information on anxiety and I recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about the condition.


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  1. litlove says:

    I’m really glad you appreciated this. I do suffer from the kind of anxiety discussed in the book, and thought it was immensely brave of Scott Stossel to spend so long writing about it – that can’t have been easy. I confess it wasn’t always easy to read, being brought so close to feelings I mostly try to keep away from when possible. But it IS an amazing resource, with more information about anxiety brought together than I’ve ever seen anywhere else.

    1. Jackie says:

      Litlove, Yes, I admire the courage it must have taken to publish this. The personal details really added to the impact of the book, but they must have been very painful to reveal. I hope that you can find a way to reduce your anxiety – I have a new-found appreciation for how difficult your life must be ((HUGS))

  2. John Braine says:

    Thanks for sharing. I just bought it as soon as I read your review. Social Anxiety Disorder has had a huge impact on my life. I was out of work (and society) for about a year. And it was an extremely slow and gradual process to get back to some kind of functioning normality. And now, I have children with anxiety problems… one severe, who suffers from “Selective Mutism” (basically she can barely speak to anyone apart from family). Sorry I’m offloading… but point is I’m looking forward to reading this for a number of reasons.

    I hadn’t even thought of looking for a book in this field for a long time. I did read a book called “Beyond Shyness” way back but it didn’t leave much of an impression and I think these kind of books have really upped their game in the last decade or so.

    1. Jackie says:

      John, Thanks for sharing your story. I’m glad to hear that you have recovered enough to try to help your children. I really hope that the book is of use to you, but I also recommend reading the anonymous comment below – it shows that it is possible to overcome anxiety. Good luck for the future!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Jackie,

    Enjoyed your review but appreciate your comment about wanting to know more about the methods for dealing with anxiety.

    I suffered from crippling anxiety from age 19-35.
    I had trouble with everything – driving, sitting in the middle of a row, tunnels, highways, subways, certain neighborhoods, heights, tight spaces, open space, being alone, dining in restaurants and on and on and on.

    Then I was cured! Yes, cured! And two books helped me most of all.

    In a “self-help anxiety group” that was mentioned in New York Magazine I met a graduate student whose specialty was anxiety disorders.
    When I hired him to work with me and he introduced me to the work of the brilliant Claire Weekes, an Australian psychiatrist.
    She was really the first person to define successful treatment for anxiety.
    Her two books that are the Bibles for anxiety sufferers.
    In these books Dr. Weekes tells the reader EXACTLY what to do.
    (Google has a whole page filled with links to books, audio tapes and videos).

    The only drawback in the books is that they were written quite a long time ago (1990’s) when the people who admitted to having anxiety disorders were almost exclusively women.
    Consequently, many of the examples in the book cite women who can’t leave the house, go shopping, enter crowded spaces, rather than more contemporary issues.

    Nevertheless she does discuss how to approach travel, vacations, flying and other modern situations as well.

    The answers are all here. At first the methods may appear to be too simple. But believe me, they work.
    I am now 72 and have been anxiety free for 37 years.
    Dr. Weekes saved my life. The student who worked with me understood her methods very well and helped me to “practice” doing all the things that brought me terror. In three months. I was cured.

    I know it is not the time or place to review these books, but I thought you would like to know about them. They are magic.

    1. Jackie says:

      Many thanks for your helpful comment! I’m so pleased that you were able to overcome your anxiety. I was so intrigued by Dr Weekes that I have ordered one of her books. I really hope it helps with my fear of flying and occasional other anxieties. I’ll let you know how I get on :-)

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