My Age of Anxiety | Scott Stossel

Summary of: My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind
By: Scott Stossel


Embark on a journey exploring clinical anxiety – a mental illness more common than you might realize. In Scott Stossel’s ‘My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind’, we delve into the prevalence of clinical anxiety across culture, time, and individuals like Plato, Hippocrates, and even the author himself. Understand the effects and limitations of living with anxiety while contemplating the possible causes and theories surrounding it. Gain insight into the possible sources of anxiety, from genetics to early childhood experiences, as well as the coping mechanisms and treatments available.

Demystifying Clinical Anxiety

Clinical anxiety, the most common form of mental illness, is a universal condition that spans across cultures and history. It affects one out of six people worldwide and is often mislabeled as a weakness of character. However, renowned successful personalities, as well as millions of Americans, have been diagnosed with this illness. Clinical anxiety is not a barrier to a successful life, and sometimes it is the driving force behind creative genius. The author, a journalist and editor, shares his experience with chronic anxiety and highlights how anxiety is often misjudged by society.

Life with Anxiety

Living with anxiety is a daily battle, reminiscent of living with diabetes, where people must continually manage their symptoms. Performing basic tasks such as speaking in public or traveling can be overwhelming for clinically anxious individuals, who often resort to medication for relief. Their behavior can become unpredictable and embarrassing, with attachment being another significant issue. Anxious individuals tend to struggle when separated from their loved ones. The author shared their experiences growing up, where they would call family friends in fear when separated from their parents. Anxiety can also affect an individual’s physical health, leaving them homebound and unable to perform basic tasks. The author shared a personal experience of being unable to explore a town he was visiting due to overwhelming nerves. While anxiety presents many challenges, it is essential to remember that with proper management and support, individuals can improve their quality of life and find ways to cope with their symptoms.

The Roots of Anxiety

Children’s upbringing and mother-child relationships contribute significantly to their anxiety levels. This is according to different theories on the causes of anxiety, which include Sigmund Freud’s Oedipus complex theory and studies on mother-child separation. While the Oedipus complex is no longer considered a valid theory, research shows that the way a mother interacts with her child is an essential factor in determining how anxious the child becomes in stressful situations. Children who endure long separations from their mothers tend to have long-term effects such as anxiety, aggression, and social abnormality in adulthood. Thus, it seems that a child’s upbringing has a significant influence on their future behavior and level of anxiety.

The Evolutionary Adaptation of Anxiety

Anxiety is not always a disadvantage, but an evolutionary adaptation that can be traced back to our genes. Our phobias were useful fears in the past, but clinically anxious people fear things that are not intrinsically dangerous. Studies show that anxiety has a genetic facet, and certain genes are related to anxiety. The stathmin gene provides the ability to feel fear, and the RGS2 gene is correlated with highly anxious people.

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