In the UK alone, there are over 53 million prescriptions for anti-depressants given out every year by the NHS. This medication is used to treat anxiety or depression.
It is commonly acknowledged that possessing non-clinical anxiety detrimentally affects health. The scientific community suggested that cortisol – a stress hormone – was produced as a result of feelings of anxiety. This hormone is associated with cell damage and, therefore, scientists believed that those who suffer from anxiety are more susceptible to ill health. Furthermore, this anxious disposition was also previously thought to result in individuals being overly sensitive to a specific threat – having a detrimental impact on their capacity to react quickly.
However, last month it was discovered by the scientific community that these feelings of displeasure and stress do not negatively affect physical health. It was concluded that ‘happy-go-lucky’ individuals do not have longer life expectancies than those with anxiety.
A recent study conducted by Marwa El Zein, Valentin Wyart and Julie Grèzes (The PSL Research University, France and Université Pierre et Marie Curie, France) found that there are benefits to non-clinical anxiety. It was discovered that these individuals possessed a so called ‘sixth-sense’ which allowed them to detect danger in a completely different region of the brain from others – making them able to react quicker.
This study used 24 volunteers who were either considered to be “low-anxious” or “high-anxious” individuals. Their brain signals were then detected when they were shown different facial expressions of fear or anger in varied directions.
The difference in direction also alters the possibility of a threat. As explained by Dr Marwa El Zein, French Institute of Health and Medical Research: “In a crowd, you will be most sensitive to an angry face looking towards you, and will be less alert to an angry person looking somewhere else”.
When collecting the data from the 1080 trials, it was concluded that “high-anxious” individuals detected danger in the area of the brain associated with the “fight-or flight response” – where adrenalin is typically triggered. Whereas, “low-anxious” individuals detect this threat in the part of the brain associated with sensory perception and face recognition.
Therefore, it is concluded that those who sufferer with anxiety detect a threat in the motor circuits (which are responsible for movement) and others detect it in the sensory units. This puts those with anxiety at an advantage in their response to danger. It is also noted that these “high-anxious” individuals do not possess clinical anxiety. It would be interesting to test whether those on the clinical range also detect a threat in the motor circuits.
This proves that being an anxious person can improve an individual’s ability to avoid a threat. These findings should be beneficial in combatting the stigma attached with anxiety and the misconception that it promotes ill-health.