A vivid article on anxiety in last month’s Atlantic ignited a powerful response across the media. In it, author Scott Stossel describes the searing panic and existential dread that can overcome him even at in moments of relative calm:
On ordinary days, doing ordinary things—reading a book, lying in bed, talking on the phone, sitting in a meeting, playing tennis—I have thousands of times been stricken by a pervasive sense of existential dread and been beset by nausea, vertigo, shaking, and a panoply of other physical symptoms. In these instances, I have sometimes been convinced that death, or something somehow worse, was imminent.
Stossel addresses public speaking in particular as the classic anxiogenic situation, or one that produces anxiety. And his approach to calming his nerves goes far beyond any instructions on the label, including huge doses of Xanax and vodka:
Only when I am sedated to near-stupefaction by a combination of benzodiazepines and alcohol do I feel (relatively) confident in my ability to speak in public effectively and without torment. As long as I know that I’ll have access to my Xanax and liquor, I’ll suffer only moderate anxiety for days before a speech, rather than sleepless dread for months.
Stossel avers to having tried everything under the sun, with minimal results. His is a case of uncommonly acute and intractable anxiety, one which appears to resist both emotional remedies such as psychotherapy, and physical remedies such as prescription drugs and even low doses of alcohol.
Yet anxiety isn’t untreatable. In many people, it bears many of the hallmarks of obsessional disorders such as OCD:
Even when not actively afflicted by such acute episodes, I am buffeted by worry: about my health and my family members’ health; about finances; about work; about the rattle in my car and the dripping in my basement; about the encroachment of old age and the inevitability of death; about everything and nothing. Sometimes this worry gets transmuted into low-grade physical discomfort—stomachaches, headaches, dizziness, pains in my arms and legs—or a general malaise, as though I have mononucleosis or the flu. At various times, I have developed anxiety-induced difficulties breathing, swallowing, even walking; these difficulties then become obsessions, consuming all of my thinking.
Many of our patients here at the Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Study Center are able to unpack the causes of their worry through focused anxiety therapy. Sophisticated psychotherapy remains one of the most powerful responses to chronic emotional conditions like this precisely because it treats causes, not symptoms. Many people discover that what lies beneath their anxiety can be addressed, and remedied, through nothing more than conversation with a trained psychotherapist.
If you’d like to learn more about anxiety therapy in New York, please don’t hesitate to contact us.