Anxiety & Panic Disorders

Perception of Our Physical State When Depressed or Anxious

Depression and anxiety have very different influences on how we perceive physical symptoms. Christie Nicholson reports

Past studies have shown that something called “negative affect” (which is an overall smorgasbord of anger, sadness, fear, irritation, etc.) causes us to inflate the number of physical symptoms we feel. But recent research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has found that individual emotions—like depression and anxiety—have very different influences on our perceived physical symptoms.

 

Depression and anxiety have very different influences on how we perceive physical symptoms. Christie Nicholson reports

 | Sunday, March 6, 2011 | Past studies have shown that something called “negative affect” (which is an overall smorgasbord of anger, sadness, fear, irritation, etc.) causes us to inflate the number of physical symptoms we feel. But recent research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has found that individual emotions—like depression and anxiety—have very different influences on our perceived physical symptoms.

In one study subjects were asked to write about something that made them feel depressed or anxious, happy or neutral. Then they were asked to report how many physical symptoms they currently felt. Those who were in the “anxious group” reported significantly more symptoms than the other groups.

Then a new group of subjects completed the same writing exercise. This time they had to think about present and past symptoms. Those who were anxious had about five symptoms in the present moment, whereas the depressed and neutral group felt only one or two symptoms. When asked to reflect back, those who were depressed recalled experiencing about seven negative symptoms where as the other groups only recalled three.

“Ideally, a doctor would engage with the patient briefly to get a sense whether they’re experiencing anxiety or sadness at the time of the visit,” one of the researchers noted. “In some cases, it may be worthwhile…to ask the patient to keep a symptom diary to ensure accuracy.”

—Christie Nicholson

© 2011 Scientific American


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