Author: Dr Sallee McLaren (Clinical Psychologist & Author)
Keywords: Anxiety; Anxiety Disorders; Attention; Prefrontal Control; Smart Therapy
Full Article: Uploaded 13th Feb 2014
Anxiety is a serious social problem. Some biomedical researchers identify anxiety as an internal pathological disorder, driven by genetic predisposition and chemical imbalance requiring medication to correct. More behaviourally orientated researchers (ACT and BT) claim anxiety to be caused by dysfunctional avoidance that requires exposure and submersion in anxiety phenomena to habituate and recover. Other more cognitively orientated researchers (CBT) argue that anxiety sufferers have dysfunctional thinking patterns maintaining their anxiety.
In contrast, Smart Therapy (ST) contends that anxiety is simply a habit created by normal processes of learning and memory. According to ST, anxiety arises following stressful life events (SLEs) which cause increases in CRF, making the brain and body more vigilant to threat and giving rise to distressing physiological feelings. In response, threat-alert individuals who have encountered more past objective threat tend to pay greater attention to the troubling anxiety phenomena through over-worrying, body-scanning, visualisation and memory retrieval in an attempt to solve the problem and get the symptoms to go away.
The problem is that heightened attention directs the brain to learn the target material more efficiently, and facilitates the consolidation of these memories. The neurocognitive processes arising from heightened attention manifest in the brain as synchronous firing of pyramidal neurons, which culminates in the rapid proliferation of new dendritic spines (learning) and the enlargement of existing dendritic spine heads due to immediate early gene activation, facilitation of protein synthesis and AMPA receptor proliferation thereby more effectively consolidating the learned material into long term memory (LTM) storage. Anxiety-related phenomena are then retrieved more readily leading to a self-reinforced cycle of anxiety that can be ongoing for decades.
ST teaches people how to stop paying attention to their anxiety phenomena, thus enabling them to recover from all types of anxiety ‘disorders’.