Emotional Resilience Blog from The Fear Course

The latest research, realisations and thinking in the world of emotional resilience, anxiety and fear reduction from around the world.

Dealing with anxiety - important new research

Dealing with anxiety - important new research

It has been known for a long time that people suffering from anxiety process information differently compared to people who don't have anxiety. People who suffer from anxiety are much more likely to appraise a situation, even a neutral situation as a threat than people without an anxiety disorder. In effect people with anxiety disorders are invariably hyper-sensitive to situations, and are frequently searching for threat or something to worry about compared to those who don't suffer from anxiety.

This hyper sensitivity is associated with significantly increased activity in a couple of areas of the brain, particularly the older limbic parts in the centre of the brain and the prefrontal cortex, just behind our forehead. Additionally anxiety sufferers display higher and different heart rate functioning when they perceive a threat.

This new study by colleagues at my own university, the University of Oxford, and the University of Bristol, University College London (UCL) and Universitaire Vaudois in  Switzerland carried out a ground breaking series of experiments looking at the responses of a group of anxiety sufferers compared to an equal umber of non-sufferers.

What they did was present everyone (both anxiety and non-anxiety sufferer) with a set of images whilst they were in an fMRI scanner and whilst they were also monitoring their heart response.

They got the subjects to do two tasks whilst their brain activity and heart responses were being monitored and they were being presented with the images.

The first task was to do nothing but watch the images. A number of the images were considered to be threat images. In this condition they found what they expected. The anxiety sufferers responded with anxiety to each of the threat images faster and with a greater response than the non anxiety sufferers. The anxiety sufferers also frequently reacted to the non-threat images. No surprise there.

They then taught all of the people in the experiment an emotion regulation technique based on a couple of techniques we use on the Fear Breakthrough Course. These techniques, known as reappraisal techniques basically get people to see things differently.

This time, when anxiety sufferers used the emotion regulation techniques they saw the effect immediately both in the brain and with their heart responses. Not only did the techniques reduce the hyper-activity within the brain, it also had an immediate effect of reducing the heart response to the threat. What surprised the researchers was that in many cases the techniques actually reversed the effects of the anxiety induced hyper-activity.

In effect what this means is that the techniques we use not only reduce the level of anxiety at the time but have the power to reverse the effects of the anxiety and stop it happening altogether.

Reference

A Reinecke et al (2015) Effective emotion regulation strategies improve fMRI and ECG markers of psychopathology in panic disorder: implications for psychological treatment action. Translational Psychiatry (2015) 5, e673; doi:10.1038/tp.2015.160

 

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What is anxiety? New video

 

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Is the music you listen to increasing your anxiety?

Is the music you listen to increasing your anxiety?

A new study from scientists in Finland and Denmark looking at the effects of music on emotional states like anxiety, neuroticism and depression has found that a significant number of us use music (whether consciously or unconsciously) to regulate or deal with our emotions. Most people prefer happy upbeat music which has been shown in past experiments to help elevate our mood. Indeed we have been using music in one of our techniques for dealing with anxiety triggers for years with stunning success.


This study however shows that people who habitually listen to sad, ‘moody' or aggressive music are significantly more likely to suffer from anxiety and neuroticism than those that don’t.


Importantly the researchers also discovered during fMRI studies that such music suppresses part of the brain that helps us regulate or change our emotions. This effect was particularly prevalent in men.


This means that sad and aggressive music not only induces anxiety but can also prevent us from getting out of anxious and down moods.

Reference

Carlson E, Saarikallio S., Toiviainen P., Bogert B., Kliuchko M., and Brattico E. (2015) Maladaptive and adaptive emotion regulation through music: a behavioral and neuroimaging study of males and females. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 9:466. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00466

 

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Suffer from anxiety? Your reaction times could have predicted it...

Suffer from anxiety? Your reaction times could have predicted it...

A number of research studies over the years have shown that people suffering from anxiety and depression tend to take longer to react to situations, particularly new and unusual situations. This effect is made worse when there is a potential for loss or any form of perceived risk in the new situation or circumstances or the individual is under stress.

A new study from a team of researchers from University of Edinburgh, University of Southampton, University College London, Sackler Institute of Psychobiological Research, University of Glasgow, and The Rockefeller University, New York City has shed some important new light on this phenomenon.

The researchers followed a group of 705 people from their 16th birthday until they were 36 years old and measured, among other things, their anxiety levels and reaction times.

They found that not only do people with anxiety and depression tend to react slower to situations and make slower decisions but that people who have slower reaction times as adolescents tend to be at significantly more risk of developing anxiety and depression later in life. This direction of effect was not expected. There appears to be some mechanism that increases an individuals susceptibility to anxiety and depression that is connected to how fast they react and make decisions at an earlier age.

Clearly some anxieties are created from increased levels of analysis (worry about possible outcomes etc.), and also that an individuals ability to process information is connected to the level of stress they are under (known as allostatic load). However it would appear that reaction and decision making time can be a predictor of anxiety and depression.

Reference

Gale, C. R., Batty, G. D., Cooper, S. A., Deary, I. J., Der, G., McEwen, B. S., & Cavanagh, J. (2015). Reaction Time in Adolescence, Cumulative Allostatic Load, and Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression in Adulthood: The West of Scotland Twenty-07 Study. Psychosomatic medicine.

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The 1 Thing That Predicts If You Will Get General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

The 1 Thing That Predicts If You Will Get General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

It is now generally accepted by professionals that people who suffer from GAD (General Anxiety Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder) tend to get into such a situation because they have been unwittingly engaging in what are termed 'maladaptive coping strategies'.

In other words people with GAD tend to have been using coping techniques to life in general and anxiety in particular, which actually end up making their situation worse. I have reported in previous blogs for example the role avoidance has in strengthening anxiety. It has been found for example that distraction and avoidance techniques used by some therapists can at first mask and then later exacerbate GAD.

A study just published by colleagues at the Department of Psychology, Ryerson University, in Canada has added considerably to our understanding of GAD and what contributes to the onset or creation of this disorder.

The researchers looked at the extent to which 217 people were able to tolerate distress, particularly distress emanating from what are considered to be the 6 prime trigger experiences for distress in humans:

  1. Uncertainty
  2. Negative emotions
  3. Ambiguity
  4. Frustration
  5. Physical discomfort, and
  6. The perceived consequences of anxiety

They then measured the subjects for symptoms of GAD and found that GAD sufferers were significantly less likely to be able to tolerate distress from each of the six prime trigger experiences than other people, including people with depression. In effect what they found was that a lack of tolerance for distress is a prime indicator for the development of GAD. This is not the case for depression.

Further they discovered that the level of tolerance an individual has for physical discomfort can be used as a sole predictor for whether or not an individual is likely to end up with GAD.

Whilst the study in itself is interesting, it does provide further insight into therapeutic interventions which can most effectively help GAD sufferers. Building emotional resilience is a key part of the process of recovery from GAD.

 

 

Reference

MacDonald, E.M. etal (2014) An Examination of Distress Intolerance in Undergraduate Students High in Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Journal of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Oct 2014 DOI: 10.1080/16506073.2014.964303

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Can you catch anxiety from your family?

Can you catch anxiety from your family?

Can you catch anxiety from your family?

Have your parents contributed to your anxiety and fear without even knowing about it?

If you can catch anxiety from your parents and it is genetic - can you do anything about it or are you just stuck with it?

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On the 1st October 2014 I will be holding a free live online seminar looking at what the latest research, much of it only published this year, has to tell us about whether or not anxiety is hereditary and what you can do about it.

There are only 100 places available worldwide on this free, live 'no jargon' seminar. Click Here to Book Your Place

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Is Anxiety Hereditary?

Is Anxiety Hereditary?

Is Anxiety Hereditary?

FREE Live Online Seminar

Wednesday 1st October 2014

19.00 (7pm) UK - 20.00 (8pm) CET - 14.00 (2pm) EDT - 11.00 (11am) PDT - 04.00 (4am) AEST

 

On the 1st October 2014 I will be holding a free live online seminar looking at what the latest research, much of it only published this year, has to tell us about whether or not anxiety is hereditary.

There are only 200 places available worldwide on this free, live 'no jargon' seminar. Book your place now before it fills up.

 

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