Imagine spotting that person you've been secretly crushing on for ages. Your heart races, palms get a little sweaty, and the prospect of approaching them sends your nerves into overdrive. If you are an anxious person, chances are you'd act like you never saw them, to avoid the embarrassing situation of having to talk with or ask them out on a date. If anxiety isn't a problem, you'll likely approach them.
Whatever the case, you're not alone. Research shows that anxious people use a less suitable part of their brain to control emotions and make decisions in socially difficult situations than non-anxious people. And such decisions usually lead to social avoidance.
This finding emerges from brain scans that unveil intriguing insights into our emotional control center.
So, what's happening inside the brain?
Understanding anxiety through brain scans
The researchers found that a different section of the forebrain takes center stage in the decision-making process for anxious and non-anxious people.
The study employed brain scans to observe the brain activity of both anxious and non-anxious participants during simulated social scenarios. Participants were asked to move a joystick toward happy and angry faces, switching directions as needed.
Although anxious individuals performed equally well as their non-anxious counterparts, their brain scans told a different tale.
Bob Bramson, co-author of the research, explains that when non-anxious people try to control emotions and act, a signal is often sent from the foremost section of the prefrontal cortex to the motor cortex, the section of the brain that directs your body to act. But anxious people use a less efficient section of that foremost brain section.
Why do anxious people avoid social situations?
Scans show that the 'correct' section of the brain responsible for emotional control in socially-difficult situations becomes overstimulated in anxious individuals, prompting them to avoid social situations.
The bad thing here is anxious people never realize that those "awkward" social situations may not be as awkward as they think.
This is the first time brain scans have revealed how the brains of anxious people work differently from non-anxious ones when controlling emotional behavior. Hopefully, this may lead to more targeted treatment for anxiety in the future.
But for now, it's best to get help. Do you feel like anxiety is stealing the joy from your life, preventing you from experiences that could have been incredible?
At Hope Mental Health, we handle anxiety disorder and a range of mental illnesses impacting the lives of millions around the globe.
Come, let's talk.