Alfred A. Knopf

What Are You Worried About? The Fascinating History of Anxiety

Excerpted from My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel.Copyright © 2013 by Scott Stossel. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. This excerpt was previously published in Psychotherapy Networker.


In April 1869, a young doctor in New York named George Miller Beard, writing in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, coined a term for what he believed to be a new and distinctively American affliction, one he had seen in 30 of his patients: neurasthenia (from neuro for “nerve” and asthenia for “weakness”). Referring to it sometimes as “nervous exhaustion,” he argued that neurasthenia afflicted primarily ambitious, upwardly mobile members of the urban middle and upper classes—especially “the brain-workers in almost every household of the Northern and Eastern States”—whose nervous systems were overtaxed by a rapidly modernizing American civilization. Beard believed that he himself had suffered from neurasthenia but had overcome it in his early 20s.

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