Anxiety Influenced By How We View Our Problems
May 13, 2013

How You View Your Problems May Affect Your Anxiety Level

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

New research from the University of Illinois suggests that how a person reacts to good or bad times can determine how and even if they will suffer from anxiety.

According to the study, which appears in the journal Emotion, the researchers examined data from a series of questionnaires taken by some 180 people. Participants were asked about how they manage their emotions and how anxious they feel in various situations. The team analyzed the surveys to see how different emotional strategies were linked with more or less anxiety.

The research team found that people who tried to see their problems in a new way — an emotional strategy called reappraisal — tended to experience less social anxiety and less general anxiety than those who avoided personal difficulties.

"When something happens, you think about it in a more positive light, a glass half full instead of half empty," explained researcher Nicole Llewellyn, a graduate student at the university. "You sort of reframe and reappraise what's happened and think what are the positives about this? What are the ways I can look at this and think of it as a stimulating challenge rather than a problem?"

Anxiety disorders are a major public health issue across the world. In the US alone, an estimated 18 percent of the adult population is affected by some type of diagnosable anxiety, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

"The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, anxiety and depression — which tend to co-occur — will be among the most prevalent causes of disability worldwide, secondary only to cardiovascular disease," said co-author Florin Dolcos, a psychology professor at U of I. "So it's associated with big costs."

Dolcos acknowledged that not all anxiety is harmful, since low levels can actually serve as a source of motivation. He also noted that removing or hiding emotions can also be a good short-term strategy, for example, workers not reacting when being yelled at by a boss. An overly positive attitude can also be dangerous, however, such as when individuals engage in overly risky behavior or put off health concerns, Dolcos explained.

Previous research has found that people who tend to focus on producing positive outcomes were less likely to suffer from anxiety than those who are constantly worried about preventing harm, according to Llewellyn.

However, these studies did not focus on changeable behaviors or emotional strategies. This latest study attempts to draw a connection between certain pre-existing strategies and a person´s level of anxiety.

While anxiety is most commonly associated with mental anguish, another recent study showed that many individuals who suffer from chronic pain should be diagnosed for anxiety disorders as well.

The study, which was published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry, involved 250 patients at a veterans´ medical center in the US. All patients were diagnosed with moderate to severe chronic pain that had lasted at least three months despite receiving pain medications.

A survey of the patients´ anxiety symptoms and quality of life issues found that 45 percent of participants screened positive for at least one of the common anxiety disorders. Those patients with an anxiety disorder also reported considerably worse pain and quality of life than those without a disorder.