In addition to knowing which civilizations contributed to the history of anxiety study and treatment, it's also important to discover how the passage of time affected the phenomenon. From the middle ages to present day, study, treatment, and understanding of anxiety have evolved by leaps and bounds; however, many of the theories and techniques of the past are still used today.
The Middle Ages (A.D. 500A.D . 1300)
The toppling of the Roman Empire saw the collapse of the Roman and Greek belief in natural causes for disease and mental afflictions. The belief in magic, mysticism, and demonology returned, and Catholicism became the official religion. Theories of the causes of disease included: the four humors, magic and superstition, astrology, and punishment by God. Cures included: purging, bleeding, herbal remedies, prayer, and exorcism.
The Renaissance (1300s-1600s)
Beginning in the fourteenth century, there was renewed interest in Greek and Roman ideas. This signaled the end of the rigid beliefs of the Middle Ages with its emphasis on the supernatural. This was the beginning of the Renaissance, a time of intellectual freedom and great contributions to art, literature, science, and medicine. It was also a time of development of scientific methods, for example, the microscope was invented, as well as the study of the body by dissection. For the most part, anxiety was still treated with magic, including potions, astrology, palmistry, and suggestion.
The four humors were: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. Blood was associated with a sanguine personality, a passionate person. A phlegmatic personality was said to be dull and sluggish. Yellow bile, was connected to a quickness to anger and a depressed personality was represented by black bile.
The humanist movement that arose at this time made a significant contribution to modern psychology. Theirs was a realistic view of the world and human nature, and unlike the theories of the Middle Ages, they believed that human emotions were dominant over intellect, and that man had free will, thus taking us into modern thought.
Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), along with such stalwarts as William James, trained with the most eminent neurologist of his time, JeanMartin Carcot (1825–1893). Carcot's research in the area of hysteria drew Freud's interest. He studied both hypnotism and hysteria and with a colleague, Josef Breuer (1842–1925), offered the concept that hysteria was a condition caused by psychological trauma. In 1893 Freud and Breuer published their first paper on hysteria treated by psychoanalysis. Freud described “anxiety neurosis,” which expanded his previous study by covering mild anxiety and panic attacks. Two years later they published Studies in Hysteria. The book comprised Breuer's history of a young woman he called “Anna O.” Freud speculated that often anxiety and hysteria could be interpreted on the grounds of patients' repressed trauma and unconscious memories from childhood.
By the latter half of the 1890s, Freud and Breuer discovered that hysterical symptoms could be diminished and relieved when traumatic memories, and the feelings they had engendered, were put into words. This method of treatment became the basis of modern psychotherapy. Within the waning years of the century, Freud was in the process of revamping a number of his theories. As Freud's theories were undergoing revision, so too were the medical profession's views of Carcot. Eventually, hypnosis fell into the category of the occult and would not again be seriously considered as a major diagnostic tool.
Freud's continuing experimentation resulted in new methods of treatment, including free association, dream interpretation, and psychoanalysis. His work and that of other researchers led to the escalation of talk therapies, shock therapy, and psychosurgery. Before the mid-nineteenth century, researchers studied the more severe forms of mental illness, but Freud was interested in people who functioned though neurotic, thus separating the milder forms of mental illness like the anxiety disorders.
Freud suffered from anxiety, was given to “spells,” and was treated for agoraphobia. When he lectured he was racked with nerves and he had panic attacks. At times his anxiety was so extreme he would faint while having dinner.