Increasing activity involving thinking and reasoning in brain areas could act as a buffer, shielding individuals from a deteriorating condition of anxiety, suggested a recent study by the Duke University.
According to the study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex in November 2017, individuals can fight their vulnerability to anxiety and depression if they have more activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DPC) region of their brains. Describing the DPC as the brain’s “executive control center,” the researchers said that this region helps people stay focused and plan complex actions besides regulating emotions.
The researchers collected data from 120 undergraduate students who took part in the Duke Neurogenetics Study, where they answered a series of mental health questionnaires and subject to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which is a type of non-invasive brain imaging technique. Further, the researchers asked each participant to answer basic memory-based mathematics problems to activate the DPC. The participants were also shown scared or angry faces to stimulate the amygdala, and then made to play a guessing activity involving rewards to stimulate the ventral striatum.
The study discovered that individuals whose brains show a great level of response to threat in the amygdala, and low level of response to reward in the ventral striatum are more likely to experience a surge in anxiety- and depression-related symptoms over a period of time. The researchers concluded that ensuring higher activity in brain regions participating in complex mental functions is the key to safeguard people from worsening anxiety.
The study could probably lay the foundation for a customized approach toward mental health treatment involving psychological therapies based on individual requirements. “These findings help reinforce a strategy whereby individuals may be able to improve their emotional functioning — their mood, their anxiety, their experience of depression — not only by directly addressing those phenomena, but also by indirectly improving their general cognitive functioning,” said Ahmad Hariri, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the Duke University.
Diagnosing and treating anxiety
Differentiating normal anxiety patterns from other chronic forms of the disorder is essential for every individual. People should check if their spiraling levels of anxiety adversely impacts their personal and professional lives. If anxiety seems to be a significant obstacle bringing down their quality of life, then they should seek professional treatment involving medications or psychotherapies or a combination of both to break free from their anxiety. A popular and efficient method to treat anxiety-related disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which involves the following three main components:
- Cognitive restructuring: Individuals battling anxiety often tend to magnify the circumstances they are going through and end up viewing things through the lens of an inevitable catastrophe. Cognitive restructuring aims to weed out such aberrant thought patterns and teach the patient how to replace them with more productive ones.
- Anxiety management: This method helps to cope with anxiety-producing thoughts by encouraging the patient to stop dwelling on anxieties that revolve around an unknown future, which may beyond one’s physical reach or control. Yoga, sensory focusing and relaxation exercises are some well-known anxiety management techniques.
- Exposure therapy: This therapy aims to eradicate all traces of anxiety and fear induced by any particular situation by continuously exposing the patient to such environments or situations that trigger anxious thoughts in them. Problems such as fear of travelling in an airplane, crossing a bridge, or staying in a location, which was the scene of an accident or crime, can be successfully overcome by exposure therapy.
Leading an anxiety-free life
Documentary filmmaker and writer Ruth Whippman, in her book America the Anxious, exposes the rising levels of anxiety in the U.S. The subtitle of the book, “How our pursuit of happiness is creating a nation of nervous wrecks,” further captures what the nation is going through in the current times. In fact, it is alarming to note that anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults (18 percent of the population) in the country.
Notably, anxiety disorders are treatable with timely medical interventions. Sovereign Health understands the plight of someone grappling with mental disorders like anxiety and depression. Clinicians at our state-of-the-art anxiety disorder treatment centers in California are trained to identify the underlying causes and prescribe customized treatment as well as group psychotherapy based on the patient’s requirements. If you or your loved one is battling anxiety or any other mental health problem, call our 24/7 helpline or chat online with one of our representatives to know more about our treatment for anxiety disorders in California.