If you're living with an anxiety disorder, you're not alone; the Anxiety Center of America estimates that around 18.1 percent of the American population have an anxiety disorder of some kind or another, from obsessive-compulsive disorder to panic disorder. As isolating and hugely unpleasant as having an anxiety disorder may be, it's definitely preferable to be dealing with anxiety now than it was at any other point in history. These days, you have the options of therapy, possible medications and a wide range of different treatment options. In the past, you might have been told your uterus was wandering around and driving you nuts, or that you were lovesick and needed to marry your cousin. Ain't medicine grand?
As with any discussion of medicine in history, it's important to remember that definitions have changed a lot, and that what we regard today as very clearly a manifestation of anxiety disorder has, in the past, been seen as everything from a feeling inspired by a god to a clear sign that your wits had utterly left your body. However, the word "anxiety" itself seems to have Latin and Greek roots, both of which referenced physical feelings ("to choke" or "to cause pain") — indicating how the sensation of anxiety and its corresponding physical effects are truly timeless.
Lure The Uterus To A Different Part Of The Body With Perfume
The Eber Papyrus, one of the oldest medical texts in existence, was written in around 1550 BC (though we can't be sure of the exact date) and it contains interesting descriptions of anxiety-esque symptoms. It noted that women in particular could experience seizures and a sense of suffocation and impending doom, and noted that there was an easy cure: the problem was clearly due to her reproductive organs being in the wrong place, so it was a good idea to "lure" them back to their correct position with certain smells.
The whole idea of the wandering uterus as a particular cause of anxiety in women shows up again in ancient Greece, in which Plato explained that it's prone to getting upset and moving around the body if the woman's spent too long as a virgin or without having a baby. The cure, though, was the same: put sweet smells in the direction you want the uterus to drift, and noxious ones in the direction you want it to leave. Perfumes and dung were accordingly placed either near the mouth or near the vagina, depending on how the uterus was meant to be re-routed.
Ingest Devil Peppers
This is an intriguing one...and probably also a terrible idea. Ancient Indian medicine prescribed rauwolfia serpentina, a variety of plant known as dogsbane, devil peppers or snakeroot, as an anxiety cure — which seems like an awful concept because it's actually toxic in regular doses and seems to cause depression. Devil peppers have had a weird afterlife in the modern age, though: alternative medicine practitioners often talk about its potential for reducing hypertension (which isn't really proven by science), and it's sometimes an additive in "fat-burning" herbal supplements, which is pretty obviously a bad idea.
Whip A Statue Of A God
Our concept of panic comes from the ancient Greeks and their god Pan, a goat-footed agriculture deity who was inclined, apparently, to cause utter paralytic terror when he came across shepherds and other people in remote places. (Myths of his birth say that he inspired horror in his own mother, who ran away from him.)
According to the historian Herodotus, Athenians believed that the famous runner Philippides, who ran from Marathon to Athens (and originated the idea of the "marathon" by doing it), encountered Pan on his run, and the god gave him such a fright that Athenians thereafter consecrated yearly festivals to him.
How you were meant to get out of Pan's clutches when he descended isn't entirely clear, but one idea comes from Pan's importance to farmers and shepherds in the region of Arcadia. If Pan was misbehaving and their crops and flocks weren't in full condition, they'd apparently whip a statue of the God to summon him back to correct his mistakes. Whether that was any help to somebody struck with terror in open spaces, though, remains to be seen.
Marry Your Cousin
This one comes from the renowned 11th century Persian polymath Avicenna, and reflects the idea in Arabic thinking at the time that anxiety and depression were often caused by one thing: love. Avicenna was reportedly brought in to help a young nobleman who was exhibiting signs of deep nervousness, anxiety and misery. The problem, Avicenna diagnosed, was that the man was in love with his cousin ("lovesickness," or ishk) and his pulse fluctuated wildly whenever anywhere near her house was mentioned. The nobleman thought he wasn't allowed to marry her for consanguinity reasons, but the king, when informed of his plight, decided that it was actually lawful, and the man "quickly recovered."
Drink Tea Made Of Volcanic Rock
Often we view Chinese traditional medicine as an unchanging bloc that has shifted little over the centuries, but while a lot of it has remained pretty constant, some therapies have come and gone. Fu hai shi, or pumice stone — the rock created when hot lava meets water — is mostly used in Chinese medicine today to help with complaints like urinary tract infections or phlegmy throats, but in the 18th century it went through a vogue as an anxiety cure. According to the geologist Christopher Duffin, it was put into a tea with "amber, cinnabar, mica and the bones of fossil vertebrates" and given to people with anxiety conditions. Crunchy.
Be Unexpectedly Pushed Into Holy Water
Ever heard of bowssening? Be grateful you weren't suffering from an anxiety issue in medieval Europe, particularly in medieval Cornwall, England. There was, at the time, a trend for giving those considered mad, lunatic or "frantick" a particularly shocking experience in the hopes of startling them back into their wits — pushing them into holy water:
"the frantick person set to stand, his back towards the pool, and from thence, with a sudden blow to the breast, tumbled headlong into the pond; where a strong fellow, provided for the nonce [occasion], took him and tossed him up and down, along and athwart the water, until the patient by foregoing his strength had somewhat forgot his fury."
Shockingly, it didn't seem to help —though that didn't really curb the practice. So if you do ever happen to find yourself in medieval Cornwall, it might be wise to stay away from the nearest holy pool.