Category Archives: Anxiety

Scientist creates scale or ‘ACCE’ for determining levels of anxiety

A Scientist from Washington and Lee University has created a new diagnostic tool for determining how much anxiety a person is suffering from.

Dan Johnson developed the Attention Control Capacity for Emotion or ‘ACCE’ and tested it on over 400 people from the general population over a five year period.

Up until now, doctors and psychologists haven’t had an effective method for diagnosing levels of anxiety in their patients and had to rely on patients telling them how they feel which may not be a true representation.

For example, some people may be feeling more anxious than what they are willing to admit, and others may say they are more anxious than they actually are.

“Psychologists are heavily reliant on self-reporting to diagnose a patient’s level of anxiety. This is a big problem” said Johnson.

“Although self-reporting is important, patients can distort, exaggerate or minimise their condition. And there is no way to tell if they are doing this. The ACCE task can also be used to track the effectiveness of therapies,” said Johnson.

Johnson initially asked 80 students from Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute to look images on a computer screen.

There were two types of images, one displaying different emotional facial expressions like anger for example, and the other were just neutral shapes that didn’t elicit an emotional response.

Johnson asked the students to focus on the emotional facial expressions and then on the neutral shapes and to switch between the two.

Johnson could determine levels of anxiety by comparing reaction times of how quickly the individual clicked the mouse button to indicate that they had switched their attention from one image to another.

“At this point I’m using the normal population to develop this instrument. There is tremendous variation in peoples’ ability to keep their emotions in check, and this instrument can help us capture people who are effective at doing so and those who aren’t so effective” he said.

ACCE will now undergo testing in a clinical setting, which will take place at Manchester University in the UK.

The findings of the study have been reported in the Journal Cognition and Emotion.


Anxiety – depression linked to increased brain activity in childhood

A new study from the US has pinpointed areas of the brain that could possibly predict whether or not a child is likely to develop anxiety and depression during adolescence.

“Children with anxious temperaments suffer from extreme shyness, persistent worry and increased bodily responses to stress” says Ned H. Kalin, chair of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, who led the research.

“It has long been known that these children are at increased risk of developing anxiety, depression, and associated substance abuse disorders.”

The researchers looked at the brains of 238 young rhesus monkeys using Positron emission tomography (PET) scans and found that increased activity in the Amygdala part of the brain and in the hippocampus could predict anxiety later on.

It has already been found in previous research that young monkeys behave very similar to young children when they are anxious.

“We believe that young children who have higher activity in these brain regions are more likely to develop anxiety and depression as adolescents and adults and are also more likely to develop drug and alcohol problems in an attempt to treat their distress” says Kalin.

The researchers also looked at the genetic profiles of the monkeys and found that increased activity in the hippocampus area was inherited whereas increased activity in the Amygdala was not.

“We expected that all of the brain regions involved in anxious temperament would be similarly affected by genes and environment, but found that activity in the anterior hippocampus was more heritable than in the amygdala,” said the researchers.

“Even though these structures are closely linked, the results suggest differential influences of genes and environment on how these brain regions mediate AT and the ongoing risk of developing anxiety and depression.”

The findings, which have been published in the Aug. 12 edition of the journal Nature, could lead to new ways of identifying and treating children who are at risk.

“My feeling is that the earlier we intervene with children, the more likely they will be able to lead a happy life in which they aren’t as controlled by anxiety and depression. We think we can train vulnerable kids to settle their brains down,” Kalin said.

The researchers are now measuring brain activity in young children who are already showing signs of anxiety and depression to confirm their findings.

Doctors are less likely to seek help for depression and anxiety

Now you’d think that doctors would be the first to recognise the signs that they themselves are suffering from depression and anxiety and seek help but the truth is they’re not.

Even though doctors may know they have symptoms of depression a new review by mental health group “Beyond Blue” in Australia, says they don’t seek help and that’s despite being aware of the possible consequences of untreated mental illness.

The review involved analysing 68 studies from around the world. Apparently mental health problems are common in the medical profession. There is also a higher rate of suicide amongst doctors when compared with the general population and female doctors are particularly at risk.

“What’s also of great concern is that doctors in Australia have a higher suicide rate compared with the general population, and this is particularly true of female doctors in whom the rate is more than twice as high as females in the general population” says Professor David Clarke, a Beyond Blue research adviser.

The review also revealed that although alcohol use was lower amongst doctors than the rest of the population, self prescribing and use of prescription drugs like sedatives and benzodiazepines was common.

So why won’t they seek help?

The main barriers to doctors seeking help include the stigma surrounding mental health, career progress, the impact it would have on their colleagues and patients, confidentiality, and even embarrassment.

“International research indicates medical students and doctors are less likely to seek help for depression from colleagues and health services because they fear it will stifle their careers and that colleagues will question their professional integrity,” says Prof Clarke.

“They are also less likely than the general community to seek help from family members and friends, or they won’t seek help at all because they are embarrassed or worried about stigma in the profession.”

In order to address this problem Beyond Blue in consultation with other professionals including medical schools and colleges and doctor’s health advisory services amongst others, developed the Doctor’s Mental Health Program.

Chairman of the Advisory Committee for the program, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, says the program will help increase awareness and intervention programs for doctors in Australia.

“It’s important that doctors are on the lookout for depression in the people they treat and that they realise they are at risk too – they can’t look after other people if they don’t look after themselves first” said Dr Haikerwal.

Feeling anxious? Anxiety increases risk of heart disease

Most of us feel anxious at some point or other, like before an important exam or a job interview, and that is perfectly normal. However, when someone is generally anxious, the effect on physical health can be devastating according to recent research.

Most of us are aware that feeling anxious over an extended period of time could have a negative impact on our health but how many of realise just how much.

Two recent studies from Sweden have now established that anxiety can increase the risk of coronary heart disease and death from heart attack.

The first study was carried about by Dr Annelike Roest and colleagues from the Tilburg University in the Netherlands and involved a meta-analysis of data from 20 studies originating in the US, Europe and Asia. An analysis of data on around 250,000 individuals was carried out and the results are pretty worrying.

The researchers discovered that anxious people had a 26 percent greater risk of heart disease than non anxious people and almost a 50 percent higher risk of dying from a heart attack over a follow up period of 11 years.

The other study by Dr Imre Janszky from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, involved an assessment of 50,000 Swedish men undergoing a medical for military service who were followed up for over 3 decades.

The researchers here found that anxiety disorders and not depression were predictors of heart disease and heart attack and this was after other factors like smoking and high blood pressure were taken into consideration.

The researchers are keen to point out how important it is for doctors to look out for symptoms of anxiety and to take this as seriously as they take physical symptoms when dealing with their patients.

Both studies were published in the June 29th Issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

If you are suffering from anxiety or anxiety related disorders then it’s vital that you do what you can to alleviate that anxiety. This will inevitably mean some lifestyle changes and maybe also a visit to the doctor who may prescribe medication or some form of therapy or even both.

Regularly exercise, a balanced diet and a regular sleeping routine will also help not only to reduce anxiety levels and improve your mental health, but will a positive effect on your physical health too.

What is social anxiety disorder?

We’re all pretty well acquainted with terms like depression and anxiety but what about social anxiety disorder, which is apparently extremely common and yet is often misdiagnosed as something else.

It is believed that as many as 10 percent of the population suffer from social anxiety disorder at some point in their lives and the symptoms usually first appear in young adulthood.

Researchers don’t yet agree on any one cause of social anxiety disorder although it is believed that the Amygdala is involved, which is the part of the brain that deals with fear responses and emotions.

Some research using magnetic resonance imaging scans has shown that the brains of people suffering from social anxiety disorder or social phobia respond differently to negative comments than people without the anxiety disorder. This study was published in the General Archives of Psychiatry back in 2008.

It is also believed that biochemistry may play a role and that increased sensitivity to what others may think may be down to hormones.

Now it’s normal to get a little nervous when facing social situations but social anxiety disorder is much worse and is characterised by severe anxiety surrounding any sort of interaction with others in social situations or in situations the individual is being watched or observed, severe enough to interfere and disrupt normal routines.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Anxiety and extreme nervousness long before an impending social situation
  • Fear of being embarrassed or causing embarrassment and humiliation, or others noticing your embarrassment and nervousness
  • Blushing and shaking
  • Sweating, racing heart, nausea and feeling dizzy before and during social interactions
  • Feeling self conscious around others
  • Fear that people are watching and judging what you look like, and what you do or say, particularly strangers

It’s important to note that we’re not just talking about social gatherings like parties and other sorts of social get-togethers here, the symptoms can occur where any kind of interaction is required like talking to colleagues at work, shopping, or having to use public transport.

An individual with severe social anxiety disorder may turn to drugs or alcohol to help them cope and are at an increased risk of suffering from depression.

The main treatments for social anxiety disorder are drugs and/or some sort of therapy or counselling. However, an understanding of the condition and realising that you are not alone in your suffering can help recovery. If you believe you may be suffering from social anxiety disorder then speak to your doctor for advice.

Jasmine can ease anxiety and is as good as valium says German researchers

Aromatherapy is generally considered to be beneficial for relaxing, easing stress and anxiety and helping to alleviate depression; however, there hasn’t been much in the way of scientific evidence to really back these claims up.

Now Professor Hanns Hatt from Ruhr University in Bochum Germany and colleagues, says that results of recent laboratory tests could “be seen as evidence of a scientific basis for aromatherapy” reports the Daily Telegraph.

In lab tests mice whose cages were filled with the aroma of Jasmine and its chemical substitute, quickly calmed down and sat quietly in the corner. The molecules of the scent were breathed into the lungs where they entered the bloodstream and were then transmitted to the brain to produce the effects.

Subsequent brain scans showed that this had an effect on a chemical called GABA, known as gamma-aminobutyric acid, which helps to lower anxiety. Drugs used to increase levels of GABA in the brain have an anti-anxiety effect.

“Vertacetal-coeur (VC) and the chemical variation (PI24513) have the same molecular mechanism of action and are as strong as the commonly prescribed barbiturates or propofol” said the researchers.

Drugs currently used to ease anxiety can also carry unwelcome side effects but if Jasmine has the same effect on humans, then using the scent of Jasmine would carry no side effects.

Apparently after testing hundreds of different fragrances the researchers found that Jasmine increased the effect of GABA by more than five times and acted as strongly as sedatives, sleeping pills and relaxants.

“We have discovered a new class of GABA receptor modulator which can be administered parentally and through the respiratory air” said the researchers.

“Applications in sedation, anxiety, excitement and aggression relieving treatment and sleep induction therapy are all imaginable.”

The German researchers are hoping that if they change the chemical structure of the molecules they may even be able to increase the effects of the scent. The study has been published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

However, before rushing out to smell the Gardenias, it’s important to note that the results of this study were based on mice and frogs and as such, it’s a bit premature to presume the same effect will be replicated in humans.

Still, the results are promising and future research will no doubt shed more light on the benefits of Jasmine and aromatherapy for anxiety and indeed other conditions.

Depression and anxiety higher in people with Celiac disease

Research shows that people with celiac disease and other inflammatory conditions have a higher rate of anxiety and depression than others.

A recent German study carried out by researchers W. Häuser et al of the Department of Internal Medicine of the Klinikum Saarbrücken in Germany is the first research showing that women in particular, who are suffering from celiac disease, are more likely to experience depression and anxiety than the rest of the general population.

The researchers used the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale to measure levels of anxiety and depression in 441 adults with celiac disease. They also measured anxiety and depression levels in 235 people with inflammatory bowel disease and 441 adults from the general population.

What they found was that the patients with celiac disease and those with inflammatory bowel disease had higher levels of depression and anxiety than those in the general population, but in particular, women with celiac disease.

The researchers concluded that women with celiac disease following a gluten free diet should be screened for anxiety.

The link between celiac disease and depression has already been well established by many previous studies but the underlying reasons why aren’t really that well understood. Although Celiac disease is classed as an auto immune condition, it is also a malabsorption condition because when the body ingests gluten, it cannot absorb certain nutrients. Some research has pointed to a lack of Vitamin B in the diet, particularly vitamin B6 as why people with celiac disease suffer from depression.

The question is, if you have celiac disease and follow a strict gluten free diet will it help ease depression in people with celiac disease. The answer is not quite so simple.

A Swedish study involving 13,000 people with celiac disease found a higher rate of depression in people who were gluten free but were not able to identify any particular reason for this.

One reason why celiacs following a gluten free diet may suffer from depression is that the dietary restrictions placed on people with celiac disease may cause anxiety and actually lead to depression.

Another explanation is that people who are sensitive to gluten and following a gluten free diet may be ingesting gluten without realising it so should be meticulous about checking labels and be aware of foods in which gluten may be hidden such as soy sauce, some stock cubes, curry powders, alcoholic drinks, and even play dough and some lipsticks.

Work Can Aid Recovery Of People With Depression And Anxiety

We often hear about people who are signed off from their work because of depression and anxiety related disorders, sometimes for months or even years, however that may not be the best thing to aid recovery according to a new report.

A research review carried out by The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health with support from the British Occupational Health Foundation (BOHRF) reports that people don’t have to be fully recovered from their depression before making a return to work as going back to work could actually help them to recover.

According to the review, people who are suffering from depression and anxiety should be offered specialist help and support in order to return to work as well as psychological therapy.

Common Mental Health Problems by Linda Seymour examined recent international research evidence on how to help people with depression and anxiety stay in work or return to work after a period of absence as a result of their mental health problems.

The research revealed not only that going back to work can help people recover from depression and anxiety, but also that specialist advice can be as important as psychological therapy and both are needed to help people with common mental health problems stay in work or get back to work. Line managers and other members of staff can also make a difference.

“Our review has shown that people with common mental health problems can return successfully to work before they are completely recovered. But many need support from expert employment advisers as well as timely access to psychological therapy and a good GP” said Linda Seymour who is head of policy at the Sainsbury Centre.

“Existing research has shown that work is good for our health and that too many people lose their jobs as a result of mental ill health. We need to ensure that alongside the new ‘fit note’ that enables GPs to comment on what people can do as well as what they can’t, and the new Government’s continuing commitment to improving access to psychological therapy, good quality employment advice is provided to both employees and employers.”

Back in 2005, BOHRF published a systematic evidence review of published evidence for effective interventions that help people with mental health problems return to work and this latest Sainsbury Centre review is an update of the review by BOHRF.

Playing in the mud makes kids less anxious and smarter

A story just out in the Montreal Gazette, states that not only will playing in the dirt make kids less anxious, it might also improve their cognitive function.

They are referring to a study presented at the 110th general meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego which found that mice that had been exposed to bacteria found in soil were able to navigate a maze twice as fast as other mice used in controls and with less anxiety.

It was three years ago that Dr Dorothy Matthews started to look into a particular bacteria found in soil known as Mycobacterium vaccae, apparently after British scientists published findings that when mice were injected with a version of the microbe it stimulated their brain cells into producing serotonin.

“Serotonin is a molecule that has a number of different effects, but one of them is modulating mood and decreasing anxiety,” Matthews, an associate professor of biology at The Sage Colleges in Troy, NY is quoted as saying by the Montreal Gazette.

“If you’re nervous, if you’re frightened, you just can’t think straight” said Matthews.

So basically Dr Matthews wondered if the bacterium might also have an effect on learning in mice and by the sounds of things she was right.

The mice that had been exposed to the bacteria were able to run round the maze twice as fast as other mice and exhibited less anxious behaviour such as wall climbing, stopping, grooming, and defecating amongst others.

Then when the bacteria were removed, the mice slowed down, although not to levels as slow as the controls mice, and the researchers believe that this could have been because of less serotonin, in other words, they experienced serotonin withdrawal.

The researchers concluded that as we have lost touch nature, we have also lost touch with an organism that might actually be highly beneficial to humans.

According to Mathews, we are exposed to these bacteria when we are outside but in the last 100 years or so we have become more urbanised and are not eating naturally grown foods and instead are eating foods that have been washed, processed or grown with pesticides.

She reckons that if children played outside more or if schools made time in the curriculum for kids to get out in nature, then their ability to learn new tasks could improve and their anxiety levels could decrease.

Telephone Therapy For Depression And Anxiety, Does it Work?

A brand new study published in the June edition of Behaviour Therapy has found that telephone consultations with a therapist can be just as effective as clinic visits involving face to face meetings with a therapist for depression treatment.

The trial run was carried out by Brigham Young University and led by Diane Spangler, a psychology professor at the university.

The study included 30 people who had been newly diagnosed with major depression. The participants received no anti-depressant medication or visits to a clinic during the trial and instead had a series of phone calls to a therapist which covered the same information that would have been covered in a face to face meeting. The calls lasted between 21 and 52 minutes.

Six months later at a follow up, the researchers found that 42 percent of the participants had recovered from their depression. By comparison, the recovery rate is 50 percent for those who have face to face visits.

“Offering a phone or webcam option for psychotherapy does appear warranted from an efficacy point of view,” said Dr Spangler,

“It’s more user- friendly — no commutes, more flexibility of place and time — and has no side effects.”

However, it’s important to note that some people appear to prefer the face to face contact with a therapist as a third of those originally identified as suitable for the study, declined the offer of telephone sessions and opted for face to face sessions instead.

Although this was a small scale study, it still shows that for those who really don’t want the hassle of travelling to see a therapist, who don’t enjoy busy waiting rooms and who don’t mind sitting in the comfort of their own home whilst talking to an understanding voice at the end of the telephone, this type of therapy would not only be cheaper but could be just as effective.

Statistics show that around 1 in 4 people are suffering from some form of depression at any one time, which represents around a fifth of the population.

However, what isn’t known is how many people there are out there who might be suffering from depression and who for any number of reasons don’t go and seek help.

Perhaps if the option of telephone consultations was available, more people would seek help when they need it.