02/16/2014 05:00 EST | Updated 04/17/2014 05:59 EDT

Scott Stossel: Dealing with a lifetime of extreme anxiety

Last year a prominent psychology magazine published a list of quotes about how to cope with anxiety. Quote number one: “You don't have to control your thoughts. You just have to stop letting them control you.”

Which is easier said than done if you’re Scott Stossel.  

He is the editor of The Atlantic magazine and has been wrestling with extreme anxiety since he was a toddler.  From the age of two he’s been a “twitchy bundle of phobias, fears and neuroses.” By age 10 his parents had taken him to a mental hospital for testing.  

His separation anxiety was so extreme that he wore grooves in the carpet in his bedroom from pacing in circles, worrying that his father would not come home.

“And then my Dad would come home and I would be filled with euphoria and relief and I’d think. ‘Oh thank God he’s still alive, this is great. Even though I had the confirmation of the 50 nights in a row he would come home, the next night I would be equally convinced that he was not coming home.”  

When Stossel is in the throes of a panic/anxiety attack it is all-consuming.

He’s tried just about everything to minimize the  impact of his phobias – myriad therapies, truck-loads of medication, lots of booze … and even something called “Stoic philosophy.” “I’ll start sweating and sometimes trembling uncontrollably, almost as if I’m having a seizure, and have acute gastric distress and dizziness and paresthesia, which is tingling in the fingers. It’s sort of this overwhelming set of sensations.”

According to the psychiatric bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), anxiety disorder is “a persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others.”

Twelve per cent of Canadians – more than four million people - are affected by an anxiety disorder. In the U.S., an astonishing 40 million people have some kind of anxiety. 

In his new book, My Age of Anxiety, Scott Stossel writes vividly about how anxiety is “woven into his soul” and “hardwired into his body.”  

Stossel does for anxiety what Andrew Solomon did for depression in the Noonday Demon: an Atlas of Depression, by weaving personal memoir together with a flotilla of fact and historical research.

Listen to Scott Stossel's full interview with The Sunday Edition host Michael Enright - "Battling Anxiety" - in the link at the top of this page, or on The Sunday Edition's website.