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166 of 174 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Philosophical Debate of Anxiety
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...
Published 10 months ago by M. JEFFREY MCMAHON

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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 2.5... I don't like most of it, but there are gems of good material here and there
This book could be several books... the author's personal account of anxiety, a clinical account of anxiety, and an historical account of anxiety. Oh and maybe a separate book for the footnotes. The biggest problem I had with this book, is it seemed that the author was trying to do too much within one book. It felt a little messy and jutted back and forth between...
Published 8 months ago by Raychel


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166 of 174 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Philosophical Debate of Anxiety, November 22, 2013
This review is from: My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind (Hardcover)
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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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63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough, fascinating, and a great read, December 15, 2013
This review is from: My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind (Hardcover)
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Who knew that Freud, Darwin, Gandhi and Moses all suffered what could be viewed as anxiety disorders at times? Or that many other great achievers did as well, including Harvard deans and the Atlantic editor who wrote this tome? If you dread public speaking, suffer nervous stomach, obsess over phobias, or hail from a family of worriers, "My Age of Anxiety" might very well make you feel better. The author has been through all of that plus a hundred times more, including losing bowel control at the Kennedy Compound one weekend when he was conducting interviews and getting raw sewage all over their guest bathroom, its rug, and himself. He grew up with a morbid fear of vomiting and, lucky for us readers, exceptional powers of self expression and research. The book chronicles his own life struggles and study of anxiety and is both highly readable and tremendously informative, just like an award-winning Atlantic article on the subject would be.

No matter how much you've read about anxiety, this is likely to offer something more either in the very moving and often stunning personal account or the thoughtful analysis and detail. The book excels in what it covers, mainly the medical model and treatment of anxiety and Mr. Stossel's own hellish experiences. Where it falls somewhat short is in providing enough information on how a man so encumbered by intrusive symptoms and insecurities could manage to excel at Harvard and become a successful editor of a national magazine.

There's also not much on the benefits of exercise, mindfulness meditation, self compassion, or dialectical behavior therapy, and I'd like to see the author delve into these more, as he has other treatments, and report back, both for his own sake and for ours. These strike me as some of the most promising areas for finding relief and perhaps even the ever-elusive 'cure' Mr. Stossel has sought. A few books I've found quite helpful that aren't in his bibliography: The Compassionate Mind: A New Approach to Life's Challenges; The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation & ... Tolerance (New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook); and Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind.

Despite a few approaches that weren't fully explored, this is a book that can change your world view and adds tremendously to the literature. Scott Stossel comes across as a wonderfully interesting, funny, driven, self-revealing and vulnerable fellow traveler who has done us all--and the understanding of anxiety itself--a great service in writing this. I think his family is to be commended, too, since they and parts of their most private lives are exposed in the story whether they sought that or not. Any parent (or sibling or offspring) should understand how welcome that might be and also that their loved one's perspective--or any individual's--is by no means the only truth. Five stars and highly recommended.
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82 of 92 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
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S. L. Smith "SansSerif" (Cloud Hidden, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind (Hardcover)
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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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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Balanced, Informative, Interesting and at times, downright funny!, January 5, 2014
This review is from: My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind (Hardcover)
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Can a book on anxiety be funny? Yes! Throughout this book I found myself laughing - not only at the uncomfortable, anxiety producing tales and woes of the author but also at the cringe inducing recognition of many of my own challenges which make the book resonate so well. But make no mistake about it, this is an informative and thought provoking book which just so happens to also be delightfully honest, brutally insightful and tragically accurate in its portrayal of severe anxiety as well as the surrounding controversy as to the definition, treatment and politics/finance surrounding the topic.

I also must applaud the author for his courage in relating some of the stories as well as the open way in which he shares his own personal struggles both past and present. There is so much "talk" about breaking the stigma of various forms of mental illness yet as a society...and individually...it remains all but taboo to openly admit to these types of inner conflict, fears and anxieties.

Who Should Read this book...
1. Those that suffer in silence. Just knowing that you are not alone in the struggle against acute anxiety is a comfort.
2. Those who live or work with someone who suffers from acute anxiety.
3. Professionals who are open to a very insightful glimpse into the "other side" of the coin/desk.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 2.5... I don't like most of it, but there are gems of good material here and there, February 1, 2014
This book could be several books... the author's personal account of anxiety, a clinical account of anxiety, and an historical account of anxiety. Oh and maybe a separate book for the footnotes. The biggest problem I had with this book, is it seemed that the author was trying to do too much within one book. It felt a little messy and jutted back and forth between topics too much and too often.

The author shares his own personal stories of his battle with anxiety. One one hand this is by all means a brave thing to do, especially considering some of the stories he shares. Anyone with anxiety can tell you that 'coming out of the closet' so to speak about anxiety and anxious behaviors can be an incredibly difficult thing to do. On the other hand, the author, in maybe an attempt to poke fun at himself and the bizarre effects his anxiety takes on, perhaps overshares to a point that his own personal accounts start to become awkward and cringe worthy, especially his preoccupations with vomit and crapping himself. Maybe it is because I do not share these anxieties and do not understand them, I am not sure but at certain points I just wanted him to move on instead of spending another 5 pages detailing a phobic reaction that involved more vomit and more poop. In that regard this is also a very selfish book because the author spends more time detailing phobic/anxious reactions that he himself experiences instead of taking on a broader range of anxiety issues. This isn't necessarily a bad thing for readers, I mean this is his book and what he wanted to do, some people will like it and others won't.

From a clinical perspective any psychology student will be familiar with a lot of the information in this book concerning the psychobiology of anxiety and depression, nature vs nuture debate, medication etc. And if you didn't study psychology, well this book provides a good overview of what you would learn about anxiety if you had. It is very obvious the author has spent years reading research studies and versing himself in all that is anxiety.

To me, the most interesting parts of the entire book was the historical look at anxiety and its treatments. These were the times when I would get sucked into the book and really start enjoying it and learning something I didn't know. Unfortunately these sections were much too short for my liking and would often end with getting sucked back into either something clinical or personal. Had the author written a historical account of anxiety and its treatment as a separate book I think I would have been absolutely fascinated, as I think he really can do the subject justice.

I didn't know what to expect when I picked up this book, I'm one of those people that if the title appeals to me I will often give it a look and if the first chapter or so appeal to me I'll follow through. This is not a self help book. This is not a book that is likely to make you feel any better about your own anxiety, but it will definitely show you at the very least that you are not alone. It is a biography of anxiety with clinical and historical information regarding the nature of anxiety.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good start in looking at anxiety, May 25, 2014
Mr. Stossel does a great job in sharing his personal experiences with anxiety, and he has created an enjoyable, interesting, and somewhat informative read. I ranked the book as a 3 star rating because I think he missed out on sharing on some key concepts related to anxiety, which is a shame as he could have provided readers with a bit more hope and information on how they can care for themselves and manage their anxiety beyond pharmaceuticals.

The areas that could have been addressed include epigenetics and adverse childhood events. Epigenetics is the study of the layer of material that is basically activates or deactivates the genetic codes. According to the University of Utah (2014) Health sciences Department: "Epigenetic inheritance is an unconventional finding. It goes against the idea that inheritance happens only through the DNA code that passes from parent to offspring. It means that a parent's experiences, in the form of epigenetic tags, can be passed down to future generations. As unconventional as it may be, there is little doubt that epigenetic inheritance is real. In fact, it explains some strange patterns of inheritance geneticists have been puzzling over for decades.[...]

Including the field of epigenetics in any discussion around anxiety would contribute to people's understanding of how trauma might be passed on from generation to generation, in way beyond the simple understanding of genetic codes, and then relate to the seemingly "mysterious" emergence of anxiety in successive generations (i.e. Stossel's mother> Stossel> Stossel's children). However Stossel tended to present this idea of anxiety across generations as some sort of great mystery, which does not align with the current thinking of how qualities like anxiety likely are transmitted through the epigenetic code. This information is not new, with this field growing rapidly since 2008, so I am not sure why it was excluded here.

Stossel wrote about his own adverse childhood events (ACE) and traumas, and yet he fails to mention ACE and clearly connect his own ACE score to his own depression and anxiety. From just gleaning through the reading, I would rank his ACE score at about a 4-5/ 10 (it may be higher, as things may have happened that he did not disclose and it is really up to the individual to score their own ACE), which puts him at great risk for depression, anxiety, suicidality, addiction, and various other health issues. Basically, when one experiences a high number of ACE such as having a parent who drinks, physical abuse, a neglectful parent, etc., there brain forms in a way that the amygdala may more readily perceive threats in the environment. This overactive amygdala response leads to greater perceptions of threats in the environment, and stems from one's previous experience of threats. This is a clear and evidence based way to relate the environmental experiences of childhood to adult experiences of anxiety and stress. [...]
Stossel does a beautiful job of tracking the history of pharmaceuticals and the race toward profits by the drug companies, even as he shares his own experiences with these medications. The area where he fails to add great depth to the conversation is around the modalities that are being used to change the brain structure, for our brains can be changed (neuroplasticity) and trained to better cope with anxiety and stress through modalities like EMDR and also through entering into the relaxation response via modalities like yoga, meditation, prayer, and even exercise. Stossel only briefly mentions that he tried some of these modalities, but he doesn't go into depth about these experiences, the duration of trying them, etc. in the same way that he talks about his use of medications and alcohol. For instance, one's brain begins to change after a single meditation session... however daily relaxation response for a 2 years (10-20 minutes, 1-2 x/ day of yoga, meditation, focused prayer, etc.) is needed to experience the full benefits of change both the brain and the activation of protective genes (see the Benson-Henry Institute for more information: [...]

The reader only learns that Stossel "tried" some of these modalities, with very little reflection on if they worked at all, how long he tried them for, how he was supported in trying them, etc.

Lastly, I wanted to mention that mixing of alcohol with the meds he mentions is scary and risky (he acknowledges this as well), as is the long-term use of the benzo's, which we know can create brain changes and increased anxiety. Stossel recognizes this in his work, but it is worth mentioning again so nobody leaves the book thinking this may be an answer for addressing anxiety. [...]
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41 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brave, Raw Exploration of Anxiety and a Memoir of Coping, December 11, 2013
This review is from: My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind (Hardcover)
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*****
This is a funny, painful, introspective, entertaining read--a very thorough exploration of anxiety AND the author's experience with anxiety--woven together for a fascinating read. It is written in a way that is unique, from the perspective of someone who truly suffers--suffers--with this problem. I was unsure what to expect with this title and the rave advance reviews; how could a memoir and a non-fiction book about anxiety be so compelling, "riveting", "impossible to put down", "fascinating", "hugely entertaining", "brave", "erudite", "trenchant"? Yet it is, and all of that.

I thought that I was the only person who ever suffered so much with anxiety. It really helped me to feel less alone. The author's experience is very extreme, and yet he has worked out his own difficult way of remaining functional in life while dealing with his anxiety. The author is quite brave, apparently very honest, very vulnerable, and thus his experiences and sharing are very valuable.

The book has notes, a bibliography, and an index. It is considerably intellectual and not an easy read, not a book for a casual reader or an introductory book about anxiety. It would not be enjoyable or even navigable by someone without some familiarity with psychological terminology and pharmaceutical terminology. My dictionary and I got a workout on just the general words, but I'm the kind of person who gets excited about that; if you don't enjoy such things you might steer clear of this one.

Highly recommended, and again, very brave.
*****
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars best by far of books on anxiety, January 9, 2014
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Struck by panic disorder a year after retiring, I told a GP I was a crazy retired professor. "That's redundant," she said. Naturally, besides over a hundred journal articles, I read a dozen books on PD. "My Age of Anxiety" is far and away the best of the dozen -- in writing, in breadth, in accuracy, and in balance.

Stossel has been criticized as ego-centric for focusing on himself. But the book is not about Scott Stossel. His life is portrayed only to the extent necessary to provide an easily read and remembered framework for understanding PD. Similarly, he covers the intellectual history of anxiety beyond what some readers will desire, though once again a major purpose of bringing the old debates to life is to give excitement and context to the current understanding of anxiety.

If you suffer panic attacks, why risk the anxiety that reading this book could cause you? Because your GP, or your psychologist, is busy, PD is complex, and your case may be unique. You may need to piece the puzzle together yourself. Reading the long list of drugs Stossel has taken, I saw the usual tricyclics and SSRI's. There was also chlorpheniramine. Chlorpheniramine? That's a harmless first-generation antihistamine I'd taken nightly for 25 years, until a GP suggested I go off it to avoid having to get up in the middle of the night (as an older male). I followed his suggestion. The merciless panic attacks started a week later, a common result of leaving CPA, which turns out also to be either an SSRI or an SNRI. The Swedes have known this for decades. So do many street drug dealers. Without Stossel, I might never have understood the connection. You may learn something equally useful to you.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rest in Paxil, January 11, 2014
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This review is from: My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind (Hardcover)
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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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely well written tale of the history of anxiety and the authors own struggles, November 19, 2013
This review is from: My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind (Hardcover)
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First of all, Scott Stossel distinguishes his book from others in the genre on the fact that he is a professional writer and editor, and a very good one at that. The book itself contains a great deal of information and insights, but is easy to get through precisely because of the writing. Stossel intertwines two stories, that of his own struggles with anxiety and the history of the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety. He has no hard answers, only experience and analysis to share and what sorts of broader and more nuanced conclusions might be drawn from them. This is fitting for a condition that struggles with even definition.
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My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind
My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stossel (Hardcover - January 7, 2014)
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