We all experience ‘anxiety’ in some form throughout our lives.
We can describe this anxiety as a feeling of worry or nervousness about something.
And for many people, these uncomfortable feelings are both fleeting and surmountable.
In many situations, it may even be more appropriate to ascribe these feelings to ‘stress’, rather than anxiety.
But for those who suffer more seriously or frequently from anxiety, or even from generalised anxiety disorder, it can be hard for those who don’t to relate.
The symptoms of anxiety can be so unfamiliar to an outsider that they may not be able to empathise or sympathise with the person suffering from it.
For non-sufferers, symptoms such as tightness in the chest, inability to concentrate and heart palpitations may seem like an extreme response to something as simple as running late for an appointment or getting into a lift.
And while society as a whole has come a very long way in understanding the seriousness of anxiety, new research may help to validate the condition to many others who think it’s simply an issue of ‘mind over matter’.
According to a new study in the journal Current Biology, people suffering from anxiety percieve the world differently to those who don’t…
And it stems from a fundamental difference in the functioning of their brains.
This does not mean their brains are ‘dysfunctional’…
It’s simply a difference in the way that the brain is able to change or recognise itself by forming new connections, also reffered to as the ‘plasticity’ of the brain.
Researchers at the Weizman Institute of Science found that in anxiety sufferers, their brain was unable to distinguish new, non-threatening stimuli after they experienced an emotional or distressing event.
In contrast, someone who does not suffer from anxiety would recognise the difference between threatening and non-threatening experiences (stimuli), and react accordingly.
In other words, anxiety sufferers tend to over-generalise their emotional experiences, due to the wiring of their brain.
This is a concept that is analogous to what we have discussed as an ‘evolutionary mismatch‘…
When people with anixety percieve situations that are inherently safe as threatening or dangerous.
But most importantly, the scientists found that this activity was not something that the subjects with anxiety could control…
Because it is a fundamental difference in the plasticity and activity of their brain.
This is NOT to say that anxiety is something that cannot be overcome.
But the important take-away from these findings is that anxiety is not something that sufferers can simply ‘get over’ or ‘grow out of’ themselves.
It is a serious condition that should be addressed head-on.
And while there are no clear-cut explanations as to how and why anxiety develops in some people and not in others, growing evidence shows that anxiety has both genetic and psychological roots.
We have come a very long way in our understanding of various mental challenges such as anxiety and depression, and hopefully this kind of research will continue to destigmatise these conditions, while encouraging sufferers to get help.
If you think you or a member of your family is suffering from anxiety, have a look at the links below, and call us for a initial consultation.