April 17, 2012

Worry Gets Worse: Anxiety Disorders

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Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Anxiety disorders and the act of worrying linked to individual fear response

(dailyRx News) Anxiety disorders are not always linked to traumatic experiences. The source of these disorders is often times a minor negative event, but the reason a disorder develops in some remains a mystery.

Worry, some believe, can help increase the association of ‘fear memories’ to completely neutral objects or situations.

For example, news of robberies or muggings may lead a person to worry about strangers (a neutral person). This worry may lead to a fear of all strangers.

"Be open about your fears - then challenge them."

The study was conducted by Femke J. Gazendam, a PhD student, and Merel Kindt, PhD, at the University of Amsterdam.

The researchers experimentally induced worry in 69 undergraduate students in their early twenties. Participants were shown one of two neutral pictures that was then paired with a small electronic stimulus. To induce worrying, half of the participants were presented with worrisome questions, while the other half, the control participants, were presented with difficult but neutral questions.

Fear reactions were measured by monitoring specific facial muscle activity around the eye, called fear-potentiated startle reflex, by measuring electrodermal activity, called galvanic skin response, and by registering participants’ expectancies of an electric stimulus.

The researchers found that the worry group developed a stronger fear to the feared picture and an enhanced fear response to the previously safe picture, while the fear response remained unchanged in the non-worriers. Fear responses became greater over time for the worry group, while in the non-worry group fear responses remained the same.

Additionally, the worry group had a more difficult time ‘unlearning’ the fear response than the group of non-worriers.

“To worry is the habit of the mind,” says anxiety expert Vijai Sharma, PhD. “Over imaginative and anxious minds very early on form the habit of worrying by imagining all misfortunes, failures, losses, breakdowns and accidents.”

“Break the habit!” he continues. “As soon as you catch yourself worrying, snap your fingers and challenge the worrying thought with the positive possibility. Do this within the first minute of the worry thought.”

The study was published on April 13th, 2012, in the online journal PLoSOne and was funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
April 17, 2012

Last Updated:
May 31, 2012