Getting to Yes, And

Scott Stossel: My Age of Anxiety


Scott Stossel

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Kelly reconnects with editor and author Scott Stossel in a live recording at The Second City Training Center during their wellness week program. Scott wrote the best-selling book "My Age of Anxiety," that details his personal lifelong battle with anxiety disorders.

You’ve written that anxiety is a consequence of modern life. How so?

“Anxiety is a hardwired, evolutionarily programmed emotion that is adaptive, that helps to keep us alive. It is deeply woven into our limbic system and our nervous system. We are supposed to have powerful physiological and emotional reactions to things in the world because it will direct us to react in certain ways that keep us safe. And that is a root biological thing so, if you are confronted in the state of nature with a saber tooth tiger, you will be able to run away. In the modern world overlaid on top of that are all kinds of other anxieties that are sort of more existential like choosing breakfast cereals or what you should do for a living or whether you should get married or whether you should have that baby. All of these decisions that kind of get piled on that are part of being human. What's different about modernity? For a long period of time, in agrarian societies when you were growing up in tribes, you didn't have a lot of decisions to make that were hugely existentially significant. You were born into your tribe; your role was fairly circumscribed. Everything was very ritualized.”

You cite some data that shows that kids today are suffering from anxiety in unprecedented numbers.

“There are a lot of reasons why that might be in particular with high school kids, as we've seen with this college admissions scandal, to achieve. So therefore, you’re under all this pressure and then you've got these helicopter parents who out of well-meaning love and concern are doing everything for you. It sort of robs you of a sense of agency, which makes these kids more anxious and they feel like there's these huge mortal stakes about getting into college.”

You flew to Chicago yesterday. And traveling by plane sparks your anxiety. Any rituals for dealing with this that you can share with us?

“Yeah, I have a range of things that I do: Dramamine is a common thing. Beta blockers, which helps block your sympathetic nervous system.  I used to medicate very heavily with alcohol before every plane flight. In fact, I had a breakthrough moment when I would travel a fair amount for work, and I kept getting upgraded. So I eventually achieved whatever status that I would be flying first class. And I was flying on the same routes. And so they would just know I would get on the plane and they would like give me two or three little bottles of Scotch.”

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