Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Facing uncertainty.

REGION IN BRAIN FOUND TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH FEAR OF UNCERTAIN FUTURE
Findings could lead to new ways to identify and treat individuals at risk for anxiety disorders
WASHINGTON -- People who struggle to cope with uncertainty or the ambiguity of potential future threats may have an unusually large striatum, an area of the brain already associated with general anxiety disorder, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Uncertainty and ambiguity of potential future threats are central to understanding the generation of anxiety and anxiety disorders,” said lead author Justin Kim, PhD, of Dartmouth College. “Our research suggests a relationship between an individual’s ability to deal with this uncertainty and the volume of gray matter within a specific area of the brain.”

The research was published in the APA journal Emotion.

In the study, 56 students had MRI scans taken of their brains after filling out a survey designed to measure their ability to tolerate the uncertainty of future negative events. Kim and his colleagues analyzed the MRIs and compared them with the intolerance of uncertainty scores. They found the volume of the striatum was significantly associated with intolerance of uncertainty.

“People who had difficulty tolerating an uncertain future had a relatively enlarged striatum,” said Kim. “What surprised us was that it was only the striatum and not other parts of the brain we examined.”

Previous studies focusing specifically on patients with obsessive compulsive disorder and general anxiety disorder have also found increased gray matter volumes in the striatum, but this is the first time it has been found in association with intolerance of uncertainty in the absence of a confirmed diagnosis, according to Kim.

“Our findings demonstrate that the relationship between increased striatal volumes and intolerance of uncertainty can be observed in healthy individuals,” he said. “Having a relatively enlarged volume of the striatum may be associated with how intolerant you are when facing an uncertain future, but it does not mean you have OCD or generalized anxiety disorder.”

While the striatum has been primarily known for its role in motor function, animal studies have also suggested that it plays a role in how we predict whether or not we will receive a reward for a particular behavior while learning new tasks, according to Kim. “To put it another way, the striatum encodes how predictable and expected a reward is – a higher form of reward processing compared to simply responding to a reward. Given that an important component of intolerance of uncertainty is a desire for predictability, our findings offer a biological marker related to our need for predictability,” he said.

Since the findings came from psychologically healthy individuals, Kim suggested that that the volume of the striatum in young adults could predict those at risk for developing generalized anxiety disorder or OCD later in life, but that remains to be seen. More important, he said, the findings could serve as a starting point for treating symptoms specific to these disorders by monitoring the striatum and tracking its volume over the course of treatment. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

More anxiety from smaller brains?



Study links brain structure, anxiety and negative bias in healthy adults

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Healthy college students who have a relatively small inferior frontal cortex - a brain region behind the temples that helps regulate thoughts and emotions - are more likely than others to suffer from anxiety, a new study finds. They also tend to view neutral or even positive events in a negative light, researchers report.
The researchers evaluated 62 students, collecting brain structural data from neuroimaging scans and using standard questionnaires to determine their level of anxiety and predilection for negative bias.
Previous studies of people diagnosed with anxiety have found similar correlations between the size of the IFC and anxiety and negative bias, said U. of I. professor of psychology Sanda Dolcos, who led the study with graduate student Yifan Hu. But the new findings, reported in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, are the first to see these same dynamics in healthy adults, the researchers said."You would expect these brain changes more in clinical populations where anxiety is very serious, but we are seeing differences even in the brains of healthy young adults," Dolcos said.
The study also found that the relationship between the size of the IFC and a student's negative bias was mediated by their level of anxiety.
"People who have smaller volumes have higher levels of anxiety; people who have larger IFCs tend to have lower levels of anxiety," Dolcos said. And higher anxiety is associated with more negative bias, she said. "How we see this is that the higher volume of the IFC confers resilience."
"We found that larger IFC volume is protecting against negative bias through lower levels of trait anxiety," Hu said.
According to the American College Health Association, anxiety is rampant on college campuses, where nearly 60 percent of students report at least one troubling bout of anxious worry every year.
"There is a very high level of anxiety in the student population, and this is affecting their life, their academic performance, everything," Dolcos said. "We are interested in identifying what is going on and preventing them from moving to the next level and developing clinical anxiety."
Anxiety can interfere with many dimensions of life, causing a person to be on high alert for potential problems even under the best of circumstances, Hu said. Negative bias also can interfere with a person's commitment to activities that might further their life goals, she said.
Understanding the interrelatedness of brain structure, function and personality traits such as anxiety and their behavioral effects such as negative bias will help scientists develop interventions to target specific brain regions in healthy populations, Hu said.
"We hope to be able to train the brain to function better," she said. "That way, we might prevent these at-risk people from moving on to more severe anxiety."

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Fly or stay put?

Trying to just let it be and trust the process.

My plan was to take a plane to South Carolina this week to visit with family. But when I got pregnant, I decided not to travel. Tackling a plane ride is a challenge--one I believe I am ready to face. But life had other plans.

My family went, and I miss them. And I know it's for the better not to add the stress of trying to overcome that fear, but I feel sad for not going. Did I cop out? Was I really ready to fly after 15+ years of avoiding it at all costs?

I may never know. I'm working on overcoming another fear now....hospitals and childbirth. Never thought that one would be on my slate. But I've gotta trust. Planes will always be there. Right now, I'm just trying to keep the faith that I'm right where I am supposed to be.

In other news, this kicking baby is an amazing blessing and I'm grateful for the chance to feel life inside of me. Fascinating.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Curveballs and cravings.

I haven't forgotten about this blog, I was just going through a lot. We found out a few months ago that I am pregnant. It's been hard because I never wanted to be, plus this forces me to face a lot of fears. But it's also wonderful. I've chosen to find the blessing in it, and I am just trusting God that I am where I should be. I know I am.

This is the biggest curveball life ever threw at me though. They can really derail you, cause you to question everything or want to give up entirely. But I think the power is in seeing the good. Because of my faith in God, I've been able to do that, and I am so grateful to Him!

Have you had a big curveball thrown your way in life? What did you do to cope?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

2017.

Sorry I haven't written. Not sure if anyone is out there, but I am thinking of you all. Dealing with some internal struggles now and trying to take care of myself.
That's why it's like crickets up in here.

Leave a comment, I'd love to hear from you!!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Cold, dreary, dull.

Some days, I feel like I've taken a gagillion steps back. I guess I feel liek that today because of the weather. Lots going on. This sadness is something that I know too well, so when I start feeling it, I begin to panic inside.

I'm trying to put on the toolbelt, figure out what will work to help me feel better. I'm just not sure what the heck that is, or really if anything can help.

I swear, it's the time of year. Anniversaries. End-of-the-year "where am I" inventory. Plus, I am allergic to cold and hubs and I are headed to a Patriots game this weekend--normally, I am practically peeing in my pants. But I fear feeling trapped in the cold. That's odd, eh? I don't want to be cold. Cold makes me feel so depressed. I wonder WHY.

Well, think, Kristen. It makes me feel out of control and trapped--hello, the basis of all anxiety. So I guess in some DSM-5 way, it makes sense.

I also think maybe it's something to do with associating negative things with cold. Not just my hives. Deaths. Winter. I dunno. Does anyone feel good when you see everything gray and dying outside? Then this Christmas thing...trying to make me happy. Because really, I love Christmas and I celebrate the true meaning. But it's just SO HARD at the same time.

I am not doing cards this year, I thought that may cut out some stress. But at the same time, I feel disconnected from the people I love without that card...should I do them?

I don't know why it hits me so hard. I'm just trying to remember that it will pass. That I am okay. That things will look up.

Warm holiday hugs to all--especially if any of this rant resonates with you.

Monday, November 14, 2016

So far.

I'm at my dermatologist's other office....it's in the same building that I could hardly walk into 14 years ago.

Sometimes progress takes time. Just keep going forward.