Synaptic Sunday #2

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This Sunday, a few links on excessive anxiety.

1) Anxiety May Hinder Your Sense of Danger

The result implies that worriers are less aware of potential danger—challeng­ing the common theory that anxious individuals are hypervigilant. Frenkel be­lieves that worrywarts’ low sensitivity to external warning signs causes them to be startled frequently by the seemingly sudden appearance of threats, which leaves them in a state of chronic stress.

Further study is needed, but it’s an interesting example of how the brain might work against itself. High anxiety and stress are not meant to be chronic states of being, but reactions to specific situations.

2) Anxious Girls’ Brains Work Harder

A young woman could be intelligent, competent and knowledgeable, but if she has problems with anxiety her brain might not be functioning as efficiently as possible.

“Anxious girls’ brains have to work harder to perform tasks because they have distracting thoughts and worries,” Moser said. “As a result their brains are being kind of burned out by thinking so much, which might set them up for difficulties in school. We already know that anxious kids — and especially anxious girls — have a harder time in some academic subjects such as math.”

Initially the article points out that high brain activity was observed in the more anxious women when they detected an error in their performance on a task (had they not been able to tell when they were making a mistake, would the results have been different?) At least part of the problem could involve fixating on errors: worrying that you’ll repeat them, that you’re no good at this… and any other self-defeating thoughts. But I haven’t seen the original paper, just the write-up at the Sciencedaily link.

3) New Study Suggests Depression May Increase Vulnerability to Anxiety

Depressive disorders and anxiety disorders often go hand-in-hand. Why that is, is not 100% clear at this point. They might have similar neurological underpinnings and can both arise (and interact with each other) as a reaction to adverse circumstances in life. One kind of disorder might also make you more vulnerable to the other (as this study suggests, speculating about depression paving the way for anxiety). Anxiety could possibly make you more vulnerable to depression as well. If someone for example suffers from severe social anxiety, and in consequence experiences poor academic performance, difficulty securing a job, and personal relationships that are strained or nonexistent, depression could set in.

Don’t neglect any problems you have with anxiety. Even if you don’t have a formal diagnosis of an anxiety disorder, you might still be worrying too much and experiencing more stress than is good for you; excessive worrying can hinder cognitive performance and have other adverse effects on your mental activity and physical health. Finding healthy ways to manage anxiety is one of the best things you can do for yourself (here’s one set of suggestions, also making the important point that people with anxiety disorders often have more difficulty coping with life’s uncertainties; here’s another interesting discussion about worrying, with tips to cut down on it and further links to relaxation techniques).

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