We’re all on edge these days. We live in anxious times and the new worries associated with COVID-19 have made things much worse in a very short period of time. It seems only yesterday that life was normal and going to a store or restaurant wasn’t a dangerous activity which could cost you your life. I drafted this blog a month ago before the current crisis exploded, but perhaps it is even more timely today. This months’ literary pick is by Andrea Petersen, a Wall Street Journal reporter, who has lived with chronic anxiety her entire life.
The Publisher’s Blurb:
A celebrated science and health reporter offers a wry, honest account of living with anxiety.
A racing heart. Difficulty breathing. Overwhelming dread. Andrea Petersen was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at the age of twenty, but she later realized that she had been experiencing panic attacks since childhood. With time her symptoms multiplied. She agonized over every odd physical sensation. She developed fears of driving on highways, going to movie theaters, even licking envelopes. Although having a name for her condition was an enormous relief, it was only the beginning of a journey to understand and master it—one that took her from psychiatrists’ offices to yoga retreats to the Appalachian Trail.
Woven into Petersen’s personal story is a fascinating look at the biology of anxiety and the groundbreaking research that might point the way to new treatments. She compares psychoactive drugs to non-drug treatments, including biofeedback and exposure therapy. And she explores the role that genetics and the environment play in mental illness, visiting top neuro-scientists and tracing her family history—from her grandmother, who, plagued by paranoia, once tried to burn down her own house, to her young daughter, in whom Petersen sees shades of herself.
Brave and empowering, this is essential reading for anyone who knows what it means to live on edge.
About the Author: Andrea Petersen is a contributing writer at The Wall Street Journal, where she reports on psychology, health and travel. During her 18 years as a staff reporter and editor at the Journal, Andrea has covered a wide variety of beats including telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and aging. On Edge – A Journey Through Anxiety is her first book.
Why I Liked It:
This was one of my bookoutlet bargains, an online site where you can spend hours just browsing, and in this case I was trying to get my basket to $100 so I could get $40 off. Certainly I’ve known and counselled many patients about the benefits and side effects of the drugs which are often prescribed in the treatment of anxiety, but I’ve never read a memoir about what it’s like to live with it day after day, so I found this book to be an interesting read.
While most of us think of anxiety as a sporadic or episodic condition associated with a specific event, (like COVID-19), this book delves into what it’s like to live with chronic anxiety disorder. Patients with.generalized anxiety disorder worry even if there isn’t anything concrete to worry about, as the mind of a patient struggling with GAD can always find something to catastrophize about! Despite her many low points, the author has led a very successful life, although her boss at the Wall Street Journal was unaware of her struggles until the book was about to be published. Worriers can often excel at masking their condition. She was also fortunate in having a supportive family and friends who understood her condition. I liked how the author’s history was woven into the various chapters on drugs, cognitive behavioral therapy, research and genetics, so it was a personal story and not just a recounting of scientific research.
The fight or flight heightened response is an evolutionary adaptation for survival, left over from the caveman days, when our worries were of sabre-toothed tigers and where to find the next meal. While we in modern times may have new and different things to worry about, like is it safe to go to the grocery store, it’s amazing how adaptable the human mind can be to the new normal, and how it can rise above a current catastrophe and find a way forward. Something to remember in these, the worst of times.
PS. There are many non-drug coping mechanisms that can help soothe an anxious mind and stop the cycle, number one of which is distraction. Keeping your mind occupied with something creative can be a wonderful distraction, and if you can’t shut your mind off at night, then I find getting up and reading to be a good activity, preferably a non-fiction book. Basically, any mindless activity such as gardening, painting or reorganizing something is also wonderfully blissful. What is your coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety in these crazy times?