Why is it so hard to control anxiety?


  • In France, one in five people will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetime.
  • Chronic anxiety or anxiety disorder is characterized by feelings of fear, loss of self-control, irritability, sleep disturbances, etc.
  • It is the result of a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors.

One-time anxiety is inevitable, when faced with a danger or problem, it is normal to feel nervous. For some people, it persists over time and becomes a hindrance, then becomes an anxiety disorder. British researchers wanted to better understand the causes of this pathology. In their study published in Communications biologyThey used virtual reality to determine the consequences of anxiety on the brain.

Virtual reality to better understand anxiety disorder

Sixty people took part in this research: half of them had been previously diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. All were fitted with a virtual reality headset, while the researchers performed an MRI to monitor the activity of their brains. In the helmet, the participants were shown a game where they had to pick flowers in the field. Half of the meadow had flowers without bees, and in the other half had flowers with bees that could sting them. With each prick, participants received mild electrical stimulation from the hand. “This is the first time we’ve looked at learning to distinguish in this way.”Explains Benjamin Suarez Jimenez, lead author of this study. He and his team found that participants were able to distinguish between safe and unsafe areas, but medical imaging showed increased brain activity in chronically anxious patients, even in safe areas. “Patients with an anxiety disorder might rationally say – I’m in a safe place – but we’ve found their brains behaving as if they weren’t.”, defines the scientist. The only noticeable differences were the results of brain imaging, for example patients with chronic anxiety do not experience excessive sweating.

necessary support

These findings show us that anxiety disorders can be more than a lack of awareness of the environment or ignorance of safety, but rather that people with an anxiety disorder cannot control their feelings and behavior despite their desire to do so.“, adds Benjamin Suarez-Jiménez. For him, these results are evidence that treatments are necessary to help patients regain control of their bodies. Management can be implemented on several levels: it can be medical but also psychological complementary techniques to them have also shown their interest such as meditation or Hypnosis or acupuncture.

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