Title: On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: May 16, 2017
Pages: 320 pages
About the Book:
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 neuroscientists 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.
What I appreciated most about On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety was Andrea Petersen’s personal story about her own anxiety. Although we had vastly different upbringings, and even different experiences with anxiety, I couldn’t help but feel a kinship with the author. After all, my own journey through anxiety is a big part of this blog (see Comfortable in My Own Skin).
My first impression as I was reading through the various causes of adult anxiety, was that poor Bud was doomed from a very young age. As the author says, “Anxiety disorders almost certainly have multiple causes – from genetics to childhood trauma to how your parents interact with you. And for any given person, the mix of these factors will be as singular as a fingerprint.” However, some major factors popped up which specifically fit our youngest child.
First, there is evidence that what happens to the mother can alter the development of the fetus. According to Petersen, “This means that children of anxious moms don’t just have a genetic predisposition to anxiety; anxiety may actually be transmitted in utero.”
In addition, a study surveying nearly 700 high school students “found that a serious illness or infection during the first year of life strongly predicted anxiety disorders by the teenage years.” Bud had chicken pox at 2 months and pneumonia at six months old.
The research is inconclusive on whether or not parenting can actually cause anxiety. However, it does seem that for a child who is predisposed to anxiety, an anxious, hovering parent certainly doesn’t help. I’m sorry to say that I was that parent, in many ways. Bud remembers me telling him that he couldn’t be out of my sight when he was playing outside because someone could “snatch him off the street.” I suppose there is a fine line between teaching your child safety and leaving them permanently scarred.
There were so many insights in this book that I have decided to break my review into three parts. Look for part two next week.
I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of review. All opinions are 100% my own.