Peace in an Age of Anxiety

anxietyScott Stossel is the successful and influential editor of American magazine, ‘The Atlantic’.  He studied at Harvard and has written an acclaimed biography of Sargent Shriver, the brother-in-law of John.F.Kennedy. Stossel lives in an affluent Washington suburb with his beautiful wife and two beautiful kids. In the world’s eyes, he’s an unqualified success. Yet since the age of two, he has been dominated by anxiety and fear.

Fear has marked (and marred) the most significant events of his life: dates, exams, flights , job interviews, presentations, his wedding, the birth of his child.  But it’s a daily struggle too: walking down the street, playing tennis, reading a book, lying in bed. Specific fears include enclosed spaces (claustrophobia); heights (acrophobia); fainting (asthenophobia); being trapped far from home (a species of agoraphobia); germs (bacillophobia); cheese (turophobia); speaking in public (a subcategory of social phobia); flying (aerophobia); vomiting (emetophobia); and vomiting on airplanes (aeronausiphobia). In his book, ‘My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread and the Search for Peace of Mind’, he describes his anxieties in vivid, harrowing detail – and his relentless quest for a solution.

Here’s what he’s tried:

individual psychotherapy, family therapy, group therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), rational emotive therapy (RET), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), hypnosis, meditation, role-playing, interoceptive exposure therapy, in vivo exposure therapy, supportive-expressive therapy, eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), self-help work-books, massage therapy, acupuncture, yoga, Stoic philosophy, and audio tapes.

He’s also taken medication – on and off prescription. Thorazine. Imipramine. Desipramine. Chlorpheniramine. Nardil. BuSpar. Prozac. Zoloft. Paxil. Wellbutrin. Effexor. Celexa. Lexapro. Cymbalta. Luvox. Trazodone. Levoxyl. Propranolol. Tranxene. Serax. Centrax. St John’s wort. Zolpidem. Valium. Librium. Ativan. Xanax. Klonopin. Beer, wine, gin, bourbon, vodka and scotch.

None of them have worked.

In a recent interview with The Times, Scott talks with envy of Sargent Shriver, the subject of his first book.  He describes Shriver as ‘probably the least anxious person I ever met’.

Shriver was also a committed Christian. A man “whose life revolved around his relationship with God”, (the words of his son). Coincidence? Perhaps.  But striking enough that Scott, an agnostic, has now begun to pray.

The journalist concludes with a throwaway remark: “Religion as the opiate of the people?”

But Scott doesn’t laugh.

“I’ll take it!” he says. “The other ones don’t always work.”


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