The neuroscientific community regards both “fear” and “anxiety” as separate entities; the former manifests as a physiological reaction to the stimuli received from both the internal and external environment. The latter is defined as a psychological impact to incitements experienced. The tendency to constantly worry and be at persistent unease is what characterizes anxiety, a mental disorder mostly misconstrued as a personality trait.
As per the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), nearly 18 percent of the American population suffers from anxiety disorders. This is a significant number despite the progress that has been made in the field of mental health care. Another field in which scientists have experienced profound success is regarding perception and response to threats by the brain.
Knowledge on threat processing has not translated into treatments
Prior studies have shown the nature of brain-behavior relationships that form the basis of threat processing in humans. Though the extent and nature of information collected and collated has helped a lot in advancing one’s knowledge of fear and anxiety disorders, it has not resulted in finding a cure for the illness. In a recent study, titled “Using neuroscience to help understand fear and anxiety: a two-system framework,” two American researchers suggested that there has not been much headway in the development of drugs needed to effectively cure fear and anxiety.
Elucidating on potential reasons that might have affected the progress in treating aggravated mental disorders, the authors of the study wrote, “Promising new treatments either have not turned out to be useful when tested with patients or exhibit potential adverse effects that limit their applicability to severe disorders. We argue that this state of affairs reflects how fear and anxiety have been conceived, and we offer a new framework to address the problem.”
Misinterpretation of brain wiring during fear is a big problem
Scientists, till date, had the notion that developments in neuroscience would bring about a change in the way psychiatric disorders are treated. The authors of the study observed that misinterpretation of the understanding of brain wiring during fear and anxiety has impeded thte advancement of effective therapeutic interventions.
The fear, as scientists noted, has been misconstrued to mean that it results in both experiences of fear, including the fear of being afraid of getting harmed and to behavioral and physiological signs. The authors wrote that a proper discerning of the distinction between fear and anxiety would help pave the way for further research and development.
Stressing on the nature of treatments that physicians need to include while addressing their patient’s conditions who are afflicted with fear and anxiety, the authors added, “Behavioral and physiological symptoms may be treatable with either medications or certain psychotherapies, such as cognitive behavior therapy, while conscious feelings may have to be addressed with psychotherapeutic treatments that are specifically designed to change these.”
Scope of recovery
Further study is required to understand the root and impact of emotions on the brain. The conscious and unconscious parts of the brain that affect its processes needs to be examined. Development of treatments is mostly based on an understanding of physiological processes but the psychological factors also need to be looked into with equal depth and understanding. The researchers of the study added, “If we have misunderstood what fear and anxiety are, it is not surprising that efforts to use research based on this misunderstanding to treat problems with fear and anxiety would have produced disappointing results.”
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