AUG 15, 2015 5:20 PM PDT

Anxiety Attack Antidote

WRITTEN BY: Ilene Schneider
Michigan State University researchers have done a study to show that a surprisingly easy but targeted brain game reduces anxiety by helping people to focus. In an article in the journal Behavior Therapy that was reported in a post called Can a basic shapes game quell anxiety? on Futurity, research leader Jason Moser says that nervous college students who completed a video game-like exercise that involves identifying shapes stayed more focused and demonstrated less anxiety.
Brain game reduces anxiety. 
The article explains that anxiety disorders constitute the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults, and the primary time for the disorders is between the ages of 18 and 25. The researchers believe that their study is “the first scientific step toward addressing the effects of distraction on anxiety,” which “could eventually lead to an everyday solution.” Moser, associate professor of clinical psychology, says, “Down the line we could roll out an online or mobile game based on this research that specifically targets distraction and helps people stay focused and feel less anxious.”

According to Psychology Today, anxiety is a normal reaction to stressful situations, but it sometimes becomes excessive and can cause sufferers to dread everyday situations. Steady, all-over anxiety is called generalized anxiety disorder. Other anxiety-related disorders include panic attacks — severe episodes of anxiety that happen in response to specific triggers — and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is marked by persistent invasive thoughts or compulsions to carry out specific behaviors (such as hand-washing). Anxiety so often co-occurs with depression that the two are thought to be two sides of one disorder. Both strike twice as many females as males. Usually, anxiety arises first, often during childhood. Both biology and environment are believed to contribute to the disorder. While some people may have a genetic predisposition to anxiety, this does not make development of anxiety inevitable. Sometimes, early traumatic experiences make the body more prone to react to stress.

Moser’s study asked participants with both low and high anxiety to complete a focus task in which they identified a specific shape in a series of shapes. For instance, they might identify a red circle among red squares, diamonds, and triangles. Then they were asked to do an exercise that was designed to distract them by mixing in different colored shapes. According to Moser, it did not, because the focus task had improved concentration and lessened anxiety especially for the anxious participants, even following the distraction exercise.

While there are many “brain-training” games on the market, they are highly controversial and offer no independent scientific proof they help sharpen focus, let alone reduce anxiety, Moser explains. He concludes, “There have been other studies of video game-type interventions for anxiety, but none have used a specific and simple game that targets distraction.”
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
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