Anxiety is defined by Medical News Today as a group of disorders that causes “nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying.” There are a number of anxiety-related illnesses which are recognized by professionals; to name a few: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Healthy individuals can experience high amounts of anxiety, but it usually lasts for a shorter duration depending on the circumstances.
There are two areas in the brain which are important in anxiety:
- the amygdala
- the ventral prefrontal cortex
The amygdala is important because it is strongly tied to the emotion of fear. According to Hartley et al. (2012), the amygdala is involved with the “acquisition, storage, and expression” of fear.
The ventral prefrontal cortex, conversely, is involved in the regulation of fear. How fast do you regain your composure after being startled? How easy is it to startle you? Your answer to these questions depends on the functioning of your ventral prefrontal cortex.
So, how does fear relate to anxiety and decision-making?
People who experience chronic anxiety, such as people who are diagnosed with a clinical phobia or some other anxiety condition, may have overactive pathways in the brain. The frequent, mostly unnecessary stress response in their brain and body makes them react more strongly to anxiety-provoking objects and situations. The ventral prefrontal cortex in people with high anxiety is typically less active than that of a healthy person.
Being highly anxious makes one more likely to make decisions based on excessive fear. People with anxiety conditions display avoidant behaviors that may limit their ability to live a healthy, fulfilling life (Hartley et al).
After the conclusion of the study, the researchers mention that when a person with high anxiety makes a decision, it is heavily influenced by his or her fear of a negative outcome. Essentially, an anxious person’s choices are based more on avoiding a potentially harmful consequence than attaining something he or she desires. Risk-taking behavior has been found to be greatly reduced in people who have an anxiety disorder. Again, this means that anxiety can cause one to miss out on good opportunities.
Other Implications of the Study
The researchers propose that working to reduce fear and maintain a calm state of mind in a stressful situation can help to gradually repair an overused brain pathway. Other research has shown similar results, further supporting the idea that certain kinds of therapy can work on a neuronal level to reduce anxiety.