Worry May Actually Reduce Depression?

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Many people who are suffering from depression often worry and have symptoms of anxiety too. Now the findings of one recent study suggest that some worry can actually alleviate the symptoms of depression.

The study looked at depression and anxiety; however, there are two different types of anxiety. One type is called anxious arousal which is the panicky and fearful type of anxiety and the other is anxious apprehension, which we understand as normal worrying.

Using functional Magnetic Imaging (fMRI) the researchers looked at what was going on in the brains of people who were depressed and not feeling anxious, those who were anxious but not depressed, and those who had symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Professor Gregory Miller, who is a psychologist at the University of Illinois in the US maintains that although we think of depression and anxiety as separate, they often occur together and in a national study, three quarters of those diagnosed with depression also had another diagnosis like anxiety.

Previous studies have also shown that the two different types of anxiety involve different areas of the brain. The anxious arousal produces activity in the right inferior temporal lobe located just behind the ear, whereas normal worrying produces activity in the left frontal lobe which is also linked to production of speech.

In the most recent study, participants were scanned using fMRI whilst they were performing a task whereby they had to name the colours of words which either had a positive meaning, a neutral meaning or a negative meaning.

What the researchers found was that the part of the brain that was activated in response to the words was different if they were a worried or depressed person compared to those who were panicky and fearful.

Basically, those who were worriers performed better on the word task than those who were panicky and seemed able to ignore the negative connotations of the word and focus on the task in hand.

The study suggests that panic and fear can increase the activity in the part of the brain associated with depression, whereas worry can actually reduce some of the negative effects of depression and fear.

“It could be that having a particular type of anxiety will help processing in one part of the brain while at the same time hurting processing in another part of the brain,” said Miller.

“Sometimes worry is a good thing to do. Maybe it will get you to plan better. Maybe it will help you to focus better. There could be an up-side to these things.”

The study was carried out by the University of Illinois, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Colorado, and was published in the journal Cognitive, Affective & Behavioural Neuroscience.

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