Ten new psychology studies reveal why some people are anxious, how to reduce anxiety and much more.
→ Get Dr Jeremy Dean’s new anxiety ebook.
1. Acts of kindness can help reduce social anxiety
Performing acts of kindness can help people with social anxiety mingle with others more easily.
People recruited into the study were put into one of three groups for four weeks:
- One group performed acts of kindness, like doing their roommates’ dishes.
- Another group were exposed to various social interactions without the acts of kindness.
- A third group, who did nothing special, acted as a control.
At the end of the study it was those who’d performed the acts of kindness who felt more comfortable in social interactions.
2. Three dietary supplements which reduce anxiety
The supplements generally had mild to moderate effects without producing any serious side-effects.
Of the supplements included, kava has been the most extensively studied.
The researchers found that taking kava on its own…
“… significantly reduced anxiety symptoms in a variety of patient types.
This provides good evidence for the use of kava in patients with GAD, non-psychotic anxiety and other anxiety-related disorders.”
3. Why anxiety can be socially isolating
Anxiety interferes with the ability to take other people’s perspective, new research reveals.
Anxiety makes people focus more on themselves and reduces their empathy for others, psychologists have found.
The study’s results may help explain why anxiety can be such an isolating emotion.
4. You can inherit anxiety from your parents
An over-active network of brain areas is central to how children inherit anxiety and depression from their parents.
The network consists of three regions in the brain which work together to control the fear-response.
The study found that around 35% of the difference in anxiety was explained by family history.
5. Sedentary behaviour linked to anxiety
Sitting down all day has been linked to increased anxiety, a new study finds.
Low energy activities like watching TV, working at a computer or playing electronic games may all be linked to anxiety.
The cause of the link could be down to disturbed sleep, poor metabolic health or social withdrawal.
6. Social anxiety linked to higher serotonin levels
Social anxiety disorder is linked to higher levels of serotonin in the brain, not lower as previously thought.
People with both social anxiety actually produce more of the neurotransmitter serotonin in their brains.
The more serotonin they produce, the more anxious they become.
The result is a surprise as social anxiety are often treated with SSRIs like Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft.
SSRIs actually increase the levels of serotonin in the brain.
7. Fermented foods can reduce social anxiety
People who eat more fermented foods have lower social anxiety, a new study finds
The benefit is particularly noticeable amongst people who are highly neurotic.
Neurotic people are prone to anxiety.
Fermented foods that are a regular part of the Western diet include milk, cheese, yoghurt and bread.
They typically contain probiotics, which are likely behind the benefit.
8. Anxiety is ‘contagious’
Anxiety is ‘contagious’ and can be passed from parents to children and the other way, a new study finds.
The ‘catching’ nature of anxious thoughts and behaviours exists over and above the effects of genetics.
Anxious children can also pass on their anxiety to parents, even when they were not initially anxious.
9. Prebiotics can reduce anxiety
Consuming a prebiotic can have an anti-anxiety effect, the first ever human study of its kind has found.
Researchers at the University of Oxford have discovered that a prebiotic can reduce levels of anxiety in a clinical trial.
Like foods containing probiotic bacteria, prebiotics are functional foods: they have benefits beyond their purely nutritional value.
The positive influence of the prebiotic was similar to that obtained by taking existing anti-depressant or anti-anxiety drugs.
10. How exercise and relaxation help reduce anxiety
New research suggests this is because it changes the way people perceive the world.
After exercise or relaxation, people are less likely to interpret neutral social signals as threatening — something that people with social anxiety have a tendency to do.
→ Get Dr Jeremy Dean’s new anxiety ebook.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Kevin Gebardt