You Anxious? You See Things Differently Than Someone Who Is Not

I suppose it should come as no surprise.

But people who are anxious perceive things differently than those who are not.  It turns out, according to a new study, that people suffering from anxiety perceive the world in a fundamentally different way than others.

That means that people diagnosed with anxiety are less able to distinguish between a neutral, “safe” stimulus (in this case, the sound of a tone) and one that had earlier been associated with gaining or losing money. In other words, when it comes to emotionally charged experiences, they show a behavioral phenomenon known as “over-generalization,” the researchers say, newswise.com reports.

“We show that in patients with anxiety, emotional experience induces plasticity in brain circuits that lasts after the experience is over,” says Prof. Rony Paz of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. “Such plastic changes occur in primary circuits, and these later mediate the response to new stimuli. The result is an inability to discriminate between the experience of the original stimulus and that of a new, similar stimulus. Therefore, anxiety patients respond emotionally to the new stimuli as well, and exhibit anxiety symptoms even in apparently irrelevant situations. They cannot control this response: it is a perceptual inability to discriminate.”

 I had trauma in my childhood and things still come back to me, years later.  A certain photo or smell, the words of a song, can bring it all back to me, even when I'm in a perfectly safe place, like my living room.  Vets suffering PTSD find this all too (heart-breakingly) common, as well.

Functional magnetic resonance images of the brains of people with anxiety and those of healthy controls revealed differences in the activity of several brain regions, the web site notes. These differences were mainly found in the amygdala, a region related to fear and anxiety, as well as in the primary sensory regions of the brain. These results strengthen the idea that emotional experiences induce long-term changes in sensory representations in anxiety patients’ brains.

The findings might help explain why some people are more prone to anxiety than others. The underlying brain plasticity that leads to anxiety isn’t in itself bad, Prof. Paz says. “Anxiety traits can be completely normal; there is evidence that they benefited us in our evolutionary past. Yet an emotional event, sometimes even a minor one, can induce brain changes that can potentially lead to full-blown anxiety,” he says. Understanding how the process of perception operates in anxiety patients may help lead to better treatments for the disorder. 



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