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Brain can be retrained to reduce anxiety levels


By Georgia Parsonson 

According to findings published by researchers from the University of Western Australia and the University of Virginia, brains can be retrained to respond to everyday stimulus in a way that can reduce an individual’s anxiety levels.

The study found that a free online intervention program was successful in decreasing anxiety in highly anxious individuals.

The program was a response to research that found that anxious individuals tended to interpret anticipated situations in a threatening manner. Changing the way such cases were analysed could decrease a person’s anxiety.

Dr Juli Ji of the University of Western Australia’s School of Psychological Science said that multiple sessions of the intervention program could successfully alter the habit of anticipating worst cased scenarios, which helped reduce anxiety levels over time.

“This research is particularly important right now because most of the world has been operating under highly stressful and anxiety-provoking conditions for almost a year-and-a-half now,” Dr Ji said.

“Our study provides key evidence that it is possible to provide freely accessible, digital interventions that can help us change the thinking patterns that keep our minds and bodies in states of anxious arousal.”

Over 800 people with high levels of anxiety participated in this study. They were randomly assigned to three groups, where they received either positive training interpretations, balanced positive and negative interpretations, or no training control at all.

It was found that the positive interpretations were most successful at decreasing negative interpretations, increasing positive expositions, and reducing anxiety levels throughout the study.

“Although it is good to see increased mental health funding in this year’s Budget, that funding is for frontline mental health services and represents only the very tip of the iceberg in terms of addressing Australian’s mental health care needs,” Dr Ji said. 

“For the majority of people suffering from anxiety, having free online interventions that can help them cope better with everyday life and be accessible from their own home can make a big difference.”

The training program was funded by the US National Institute of Mental Health and developed at the University of Virginia. It is part of a larger research project and may be accessed at:

The study discussed in this article was published in Behaviour Research and Therapy.

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