**5++ Goodreads Stars**
“Anxiety is a thief that steals the present moment.” (183)
“Anxiety is an isolation chambers where worry and fear elbow out human connection.” (188)
I wavered on requesting Andrea Petersen’s On Edge precisely because I, too, suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, and it can be a bit nerve-wracking to read about the tyranny of it on the human psyche and body. Thanks to GAD, reading any scary research studies about GAD’s toll on my health and my children’s well-being can be anxiety-provoking, making me worry endlessly about what is likely not going to happen to any of us. Petersen describes this reaction perfectly:
“Anxious people aren’t just constantly on guard; they actually see more peril in the world. If a situation is ambiguous, they are more likely to perceive it as a negative or threatening. That’s why when I have a headache, I think of brain tumors.” (31)
“Besides being constantly ready for crisis, anxious people have a hard time with uncertainty. What if? What if? What if? is the endless refrain of the anxious mind. Uncertainty far too easily morphs into inescapable catastrophe. Scientists call this ‘intolerance of uncertainty,” and it actually makes parts of the brain light up on a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan.” (31)
I also was a bit concerned that the book would be very similar to Scott Stossel’s My Age of Anxiety, which I read last year. It is a tome of research and personal reflections on generalized anxiety disorder.
However, I am really glad I did request it, because it is a frank, well researched study on how anxiety has pervaded Petersen’s life and family’s life. While there are some minor overlaps with Stossel’s book, Petersen’s experience and family history provides a unique perspective on generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.
She bounds the book in an interesting way; each chapter delves into a different aspect of her life or moment in time punctuated by Petersen’s anxiety and panic disorder. Each chapter is peppered with relevant, associated research on the chapter’s topic. For example, Petersen has a chapter on the effect of anxiety on pregnancy and parenting. I found this chapter useful as a parent, and found the case studies on what happens to children of anxious parents fascinating. Another chapter deals with her grandmother’s mental health (likely related to anxiety), and how, left-untreated, she suffered immensely (as did her family, unfortunately).
I saw so much of myself in my book. Knowing that I am not alone, and knowing that many of the strategies I’ve used to quell my anxiety are grounded in fact and scientific findings was reassuring and comforting. I learned a lot about the genetic components of GAD, and the potentially interrelated illnesses. For instance, I suffer from asthma, and apparently there is a link “between respiratory illnesses and anxiety” (46); as she details, “a study of nearly one thousand young people by researchers from UCLA and New Zealand revealed that a history of asthma increases the risk of panic disorder in young women” (46). Insomnia increases one’s chances of developing anxiety, or and plays a role in increasing the chances of a GAD episode for those who already suffer from GAD. I discovered that children of mothers who were stressed or had difficult labors/pregnancies are more likely to have anxiety. I learned that there are genetic connections between ADD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorder, which is often why different variations of mental illness occur in multiple generations.
I also felt hopeful knowing that many people find release from their anxiety after they turn fifty (Petersen 2017:246), that there are new cognitive behavioral therapies that are helping children who are genetically predisposed to anxiety, and that there are some benefits to having anxiety (though most sufferers would not choose to have it!).
Finally, Petersen is a brilliant writer. There is some lovely prose in the book, which makes for an enjoyable read on a difficult, but important subject matter. Even if you don’t suffer from anxiety, I recommend reading the book to help you understand and empathize with those who do.