Anxiety spikes risk of misinterpreting expression and misidentifying emotions
September 11th, 2017
Filed under: Anxiety disorder, Mental Health by Rachael

Anxiousness or anxiety is an emotion indicated by an uneasy state of inner disturbance that is often accompanied by nervous behavior, such as biting nails, pacing back and forth, feeling an urge to vomit or butterflies in the stomach, and constant worrying and rumination. While going through such an overwhelming state, it becomes quite demanding for a person to pay heed to others and the surroundings. Moreover, people going through such psychiatric disorders are likely to witness marked impairment in their cognitive-behavioural skills.

One of the major repercussions of the severe levels of anxiety is an incredible deficit in interpersonal skills. Due to the above-mentioned factors, people are likely to experience difficulties in interpreting the facial expressions of others. Such a major hindrance has the potential to affect one’s life, work and relationships.

Several empirical studies have highlighted the problem related to facial recognition accuracy among children with extreme levels of anxiety. Anxiety decimates the capacity to identify facial expressions, such as joy, anger, sadness, disgust, etc., and leads to misidentification of emotional expressions.

Participants display 8% inaccuracy in identification of expressions

The fact that perceptions are often distorted when one is feeling anxious has been established in a new study wherein subjects going through the high levels of anxiety wrongly interpreted facial expressions that led to misidentification of emotions.

The results published in the journal Royal Society Open Science revealed that participants were 8 percent poorer at accurately identifying the correct emotion of a face while breathing in the air rich in carbon dioxide (results were adjusted for factors like age and gender and for participants who were generally more anxious than normal).

The study was conducted by a team comprising Marcus Munafo and other researchers from the University of Bristol. To understand the impact of anxiety-triggering situations, the researchers recruited 21 healthy volunteers from the students and staff at the university and each participant was given an oro-nasal face mask to wear. While none of them was suffering from anxiety disorders, the level of worrying varied.

Through this apparatus, either normal air or a high concentration of carbon dioxide was pumped to the participants. The high carbon dioxide content was used to trigger anxiety attack because of its capability to increase heart rate and thereby blood pressure. The participants were shown the images of people with various facial expressions, such as sadness, happiness, fear, disgust and anger, and asked to identify the emotion that each portrayed while inhaling the air through the oro-nasal mask.

After analysing the data, the researchers found that participants were incorrect by 8 percent in identifying the emotions while breathing in the air rich in carbon dioxide that triggered an anxiety attack compared to those who took in the normal air. They also discovered that people tend to misinterpret happy facial expressions as anger when going through the feeling of anxiety.

Self-help tips to manage anxiety

Although anxiety disorders require intervention from mental health experts and can be treated with medications and psychological counseling, there are a few measures an individual can take to help himself or herself:

  • Food and drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks and chocolate should be avoided because caffeine tends to alter mood and can worsen anxiety symptoms.
  • Exercise in any form helps in releasing brain chemicals that can improve mood.
  • A good night’s sleep helps in mitigating stress and anxiety. Before bedtime, relaxing activities, such as reading a book, listening to soothing music or dimming the lights and lying in bed, are good bedtime routines that can ensure a speedy shut-eye.
  • Newspapers, television and social media are some of the channels that spew a lot of negativity about the world. Although it is a good thing to be aware, it is better to avoid such mediums to keep oneself calm and sane.
  • Irrational fears and beliefs need to be challenged and diluted to improve one’s well-being.

If you or your loved one is struggling with any type of anxiety disorder, it is imperative to seek professional help. The Anxiety Treatment Advisors of Colorado can be your best guide. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-891-2539 to connect with the best anxiety disorders treatment centers in Colorado. Alternatively, you can also chat online with our medical representatives for accessing information pertaining to anxiety disorders treatment in Colorado.

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