Most people experience anxiety in their lives. For some, it is just a bad, passing feeling, but, for many, anxiety rules their day-to-day lives, even to the point of taking over the decisions they make.
Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh have discovered a mechanism for how anxiety may disrupt decision making. In a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, they report that anxiety disengages a region of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is critical for flexible decision making. By monitoring the activity of neurons in the PFC while anxious rats had to make decisions about how to get a reward, the scientists made two observations. First, anxiety leads to bad decisions when there are conflicting distractors present. Second, bad decisions under anxiety involve numbing of PFC neurons.
Although Western medicine has radically transformed our world for the better, and given rise to some of the most remarkable breakthroughs in human history, in some ways it is still scratching at the lower slopes of the bigger picture. Only recently have our health systems begun to embrace the healing power of some ancient Eastern traditions such as meditation, for example. But overall, nowhere across the human health spectrum is Western medicine more unknowledgeable than in the realm of mental health. The human brain is the most complex biological machine in the known Universe, and our understanding of its inner workings is made all the more challenging when we factor in the symbiotic relationship of the mind-body connection.
When it comes to the wide range of diagnoses in the mental health spectrum, anxiety is the most common — affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population). And although anxiety can manifest in extreme and sometimes crippling degrees of intensity, Western doctors are warming up to the understanding that a little bit of anxiety could be incredibly beneficial in the most unexpected ways. One research study out of Lakehead University discovered that people with anxiety scored higher on verbal intelligence tests. Another study conducted by the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel found that people with anxiety were superior than other participants at maintaining laser-focus while overcoming a primary threat as they are being bombarded by numerous other smaller threats, thereby significantly increasing their chances of survival. The same research team also discovered that people with anxiety showed signs of “sentinel intelligence”, meaning they were able to detect real threats that were invisible to others (i.e. test participants with anxiety were able to detect the smell of smoke long before others in the group).
Another research study from the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York involved participants with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The findings revealed that people with severe cases of GAD had much higher IQ’s than those who had more mild cases. The theory is that “an anxious mind is a searching mind,” meaning children with GAD develop higher levels of cognitive ability and diligence because their minds are constantly examining ideas, information, and experiences from multiple angles simultaneously.
But perhaps most fascinating of all is a research study published by the National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Biotechnology Information involving participants with social anxiety disorder (i.e. social phobia). The researchers embarked on their study with the following thesis: “Individuals with social phobia (SP) show sensitivity and attentiveness to other people’s states of mind. Although cognitive processes in SP have been extensively studied, these individuals’ social cognition characteristics have never been examined before. We hypothesized that high-socially-anxious individuals (HSA) may exhibit elevated mentalizing and empathic abilities.” The research methods were as follows: “Empathy was assessed using self-rating scales in HSA individuals (n=21) and low-socially-anxious (LSA) individuals (n=22), based on their score on the Liebowitz social anxiety scale. A computerized task was used to assess the ability to judge first and second order affective vs. cognitive mental state attributions.”
Remarkably, the scientists found that a large portion of people with social anxiety disorder are gifted empaths — people whose right-brains are operating significantly above normal levels and are able to perceive the physical sensitivities, spiritual urges, motivations, and intentions of other people around them (see Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED Talk below for a powerful explanation of this ability). The team’s conclusion reads: “Results support the hypothesis that high-socially-anxious individuals demonstrate a unique profile of social-cognitive abilities with elevated cognitive empathy tendencies and high accuracy in affective mental state attributions.” To understand more about the traits of an empath you can CLICK HERE. And to see if you align with the 22 most common traits of an empath CLICK HERE.
Empaths who have fully embraced their abilities are able to function on a purely intuition-based level. As Steve Jobs once said, “[Intuition] is more powerful than intellect,” and in keeping with this appreciation, writer Carolyn Gregoire recently penned a fascinating feature entitled “10 Things Highly Intuitive People Do Differently” and you can read it in full by visiting HuffingtonPost.com. And to learn why Western medicine may be misinterpreting mental illness at large, be sure to read the fascinating account of Malidoma Patrice Somé, Ph.D. — a shaman and a Western-trained doctor. “In the shamanic view, mental illness signals the birth of a healer, explains Malidoma Patrice Somé. Thus, mental disorders are spiritual emergencies, spiritual crises, and need to be regarded as such to aid the healer in being born.” You can read the full story by reading “What A Shaman Sees In A Mental Hospital”. For more great stories about the human brain be sure to visit The Human Brain on FEELguide. (Sources: Business Insider, The Mind Unleashed, Huffington Post, photo courtesy of My Science Academy).
On this year’s World Mental Health Day, some info from Lifeline and Mental Health Australia:
Mental Health Begins with Me
Did you know 70% of people with mental health issues don’t seek help? […] As a community we can encourage others to take care of their mental health by breaking down the barriers that stop people seeking help when they need it.
How can you help?
Here are some great tips and promises to make to yourself this 10/10 (October 10th):
- Sleep well
- Enjoy healthy food
- Plan and prioritize your day
- Tune into the music you love
- Cut down on bad food and booze
- Switch off your devices and tune out
- Hangout with people who make you feel good
- Join in, participate and connect
- Exercise your body and mind
- Seek advise and support when you need it
[…] interactive flow chart for people who struggle with self care, executive dysfunction, and/or who have trouble reading internal signals. It’s designed to take as much of the weight off of you as possible, so each decision is very easy and doesn’t require much judgement.
Some readers may find it of use. I think it’d be useful to have the source code for this available so that a broad group of people can tweak and improve it, or make personalised versions.
This is something that I feel quite strongly about. Both of my parents have tried to commit suicide when I was young, at different times and stages of my life. The first one was when I was about 11 and I don’t remember too much about it, there was a lot of pain flying around the family at that time and I was probably shielded from the details. The second parent (by then long divorced from the other parent) tried when I was 21 and away at uni in a different city. That one I remember vividly, even though I wasn’t there.
My reactions to the second were still those of a child. Perhaps when it’s a parent, one’s reactions are always those of a child. For me the most devastating thought was a purely selfish one (as fits a child) “Do I mean that little to them? Am I not even worth staying alive for?” The pain of that thought was overwhelming.
At the time I was young, saw myself as an optimist and simply could not relate in any way to the amount of pain that would bring one to such an action. I was angry. I described suicide as “the most selfish act anyone could do”.
Now decades of time and a world of life experience later, I have stared into that dark abyss myself and I know the pain that leads one there. I know how all-encompassing the pain and darkness seems and how the needs of others fade. An end to the pain is all one wants and it seems inconceivable that one’s life has any relevance any more. In fact, one can even argue to oneself that others would be better off without one there.
In those dark times it was the certain knowledge of that pain I had experienced myself as one (almost) left behind that kept me from that road more firmly than anything else. By then I was a parent myself and there was just no way I was going to send my children the message that they meant so little to me they were not even worth living for. Although living seemed to be the hardest thing I could do, there was no hesitation that they were worth it.
And beyond the children there are always others. Others who will be affected by a suicide, no matter of whom. None of us is truly alone. We all have parents, we may have siblings. Even if all our family is gone and we feel we have no friends, it is likely that there are people who care. The person at the corner shop from whom you buy milk on weekends and who may think “should I have known? Is there anything I could have done?” Even if you can argue that there is no-one that would notice or care, let’s be frank, someone is going to have to deal with the body and winding up of financial and other affairs. And I’m sure it’s really going to make their day!
Whenever I hear about trains being delayed because of incidents on the track I am immediately concerned for those on the train, not least of all the drivers. What have they ever done to that person to deserve the images that will now be impossible to erase from memory, which will haunt their nights and dark moments and which may lead them to require therapy.
There are many people, working for many organisations, some sitting at telephones in shifts 24 hrs a day, who want more than anything else to help people wrestling with these dark issues. They care. They really do. About everyone.
Help is always available. So let’s all acknowledge that suicide Always causes pain to others.
Staring at screens right before sleep turns out to be a lot worse than previously thought. Dr. Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, lays out all of the negative effects that bedtime screen viewing can have on the brain and body.
And of course, that’s aside from the effects of the contents! If you read any news, you may find yourself all riled up and annoyed at something you can do absolutely nothing about (or at least not at that moment). If you check your work email, just as problematic.
I walked out of the loading dock, through a cloud of rotting garbage, and into the alleyway behind the theater. A curtain of rain fell between me and my destination, a little over a block away.
“Do you want to wait here, while I get you an umbrella?” Liz, the producer from Wizards of the Coast, asked me.
“No,” I said, stepping into the rain, extending my arms outward and turning my palms and face to the sky, “it’s been so long since I felt rain fall on my body, I’m not going to let this opportunity pass me by.”
I walked down the sidewalk, surrounded by other PAX attendees. Some were not bothered by the rain, while others held up programs and newspapers and other things to keep it away. A man walked his dog next to me. The dog was unperturbed by the weather. We got to the corner and waited for the light to change. The rain intensified and it was glorious.
“Are you sure this is okay?” She said.
“Oh yes, this is so much more than okay,” I answered, “this is perfect.”
I’ve been feeling pretty much the opposite of awesome for several weeks, now, and actually getting to sit down, face to face, in a semi-quiet few moments with real people who wanted to be there with me was … restorative, I guess is the best word. One player told me, “Thank you for everything you do. From Tabletop to Titansgrave — which is the best thing I’ve ever seen — to talking so openly about anxiety and depression.”
Read Wil’s entire post at http://wilwheaton.net/2015/08/tears-in-rain/
The New York Times published an interesting review of a book entitled “NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity”, authored by Steve Silberman (534 pp. Avery/Penguin Random House).
Silberman describes how autism was discovered by a few different people around the same time, but with each the publicity around their work is warped by their environment and political situation.
This means that we mainly know the angle that one of the people took, which in turn warps our view of Aspergers and autism. Ironically, the lesser known story is actually that of Hans Asperger.
I reckon it’s an interesting read.