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A Short History

Allan V. Horwitz

Publication Year: 2013

More people today report feeling anxious than ever before—even while living in relatively safe and prosperous modern societies. Almost one in five people experiences an anxiety disorder each year, and more than a quarter of the population admits to an anxiety condition at some point in their lives. Here Allan V. Horwitz, a sociologist of mental illness and mental health, narrates how this condition has been experienced, understood, and treated through the ages—from Hippocrates, through Freud, to today. Anxiety is rooted in an ancient part of the brain, and our ability to be anxious is inherited from species far more ancient than humans. Anxiety is often adaptive: it enables us to respond to threats. But when normal fear yields to what psychiatry categorizes as anxiety disorders, it becomes maladaptive. As Horwitz explores the history and multiple identities of anxiety—melancholia, nerves, neuroses, phobias, and so on—it becomes clear that every age has had its own anxieties and that culture plays a role in shaping how anxiety is expressed.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Johns Hopkins Biographies of Disease


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

...Disease is a fundamental aspect of the human condition. Ancient bones tell us that pathological processes are older than humankind’s written records, and sickness and death still confound us. We have not banished pain, disability, or the fear of death, even though we now die on average at older ages, of chronic...

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pp. xv-xviii

...The first known representations of anxiety are found in cave paintings from the Paleolithic era. They vividly depict sources of fear— usually dangerous predators such as lions, wolves, and bears— among our primeval ancestors. Sophisticated discussions of the nature and sources of anxiety emerged during the fourth...

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Chapter 1. Afraid

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pp. 1-18

...Scientific views in the twenty-first century attempt to root the psychological and the physiological aspects of anxiousness in biological processes that include brain circuitry, neurochemicals, and genes. Anxiety and its disorders involve brain regions that are devoted to fear recognition, including the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and hippocampus, and neurochemicals, such as...

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Chapter 2. Classical Anxiety

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pp. 19-35

...The roots of current conceptions of anxiety and its disorders date back to the emergence of Classical Greek civilization in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. Medical and philosophical writings during this period reoriented thinking about human behavior away from mythology and religion and provided an empirical and observational foundation for the study of health...

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Chapter 3. From Medicine to Religion—and Back

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pp. 36-55

...The Roman emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the early fourth century heralded a new era in the West, marked by a religious worldview that largely supplanted empirical conceptions of anxiety and other mental illnesses. The Christian emphasis on the immateriality and immortality of the soul thoroughly contrasted with the empirical tradition of Hippocrates and...

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Chapter 4. The Nineteenth Century’s New Uncertainties

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pp. 56-74

...Current Western conceptions of anxiety were shaped in the nineteenth century. During this period new technologies, which created railroads and factories, powered unprecedented rates of social change. These changes in turn created mass migration, urbanization, and industrialization that tore individuals from more settled ways of life. The newly industrialized world created a wide range...

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Chapter 5. The Freudian Revolution

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pp. 75-97

...The emergence of Sigmund Freud as the dominant psychiatric theorist of the first half of the twentieth century was a central turning point in the history of anxiety. Previous diagnosticians usually viewed anxiety as an aspect of a broader entity, be it Hippocratic melancholia, Cheyne’s nervous disorders, or Beard’s neurasthenia; they did not distinguish anxiety-related conditions from depression...

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Chapter 6. Psychology’s Ascendance

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pp. 98-117

...During the first six decades of the twentieth century, psychoanalytic approaches dominated the study of anxiety within psychiatry. Outside of medicine, however, psychologists developed a behavioral view that contrasted with the biological and intrapsychic conceptions that psychiatrists had favored since the middle of..

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Chapter 7. The Age of Anxiety

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pp. 118-142

...The prominence of anxiety was largely due to Freud’s immense popularity among intellectuals and the media. Anxiety was also a central topic in the works of popular existential philosophers and liberal theologians, including Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Buber, and Reinhold Niebuhr. Existentialism, in particular, placed anxiety at the heart of the human predicament...

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Chapter 8. The Future of Anxiety

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pp. 143-162

...Modern developed societies are the safest, healthiest, and most prosperous that have ever existed so we might expect that their citizens would have low levels of anxiousness. “Hasn’t one of the central accomplishments of modern civilization,” Norwegian philosopher Lars Svendson asks, “been the overall reduction...


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pp. 163-184


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pp. 185-190

E-ISBN-13: 9781421410814
E-ISBN-10: 1421410818
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421410807
Print-ISBN-10: 142141080X

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 9 halftones, 3 line drawings
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Johns Hopkins Biographies of Disease