Yale University researchers have found a novel way to help combat anxiety – using safety signals…

If you often feel crippled by anxiety, you are not alone.

As many as one in three people experience anxiety when faced with events or situations that pose no real danger. It’s a hallmark of anxiety and stress-related disorders.

What about therapy and medication?

Cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressants help about half the people suffering from anxiety, but millions of others do not find sufficient relief from existing therapies.

In humans and in mice, a ‘safety signal’ – a symbol or a sound that is never associated with adverse events – can relieve anxiety through an entirely different brain network than that activated by existing behavioural therapy.

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What is a safety signal

“A safety signal could be a musical piece, a person, or even an item like a stuffed animal that represents the absence of threat,” says Paola Odriozola, Ph.D. candidate in psychology at Yale and co-first author.

The approach differs from behavioural therapy, which slowly exposes patients to the source of their fear, such as spiders until a patient learns that spiders do not represent a significant threat and anxiety is decreased. And for many people, exposure-based therapy does not truly help.

“Exposure-based therapy relies on fear extinction, and although a safety memory is formed during therapy, it is always competing with the previous threat memory,” explains Dylan Gee, assistant professor of psychology at Yale and co-senior author.

“This competition makes current therapies subject to the relapse of fear – but there is never a threat memory associated with safety signals.”

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Source: Yale University via www.sciencedaily.com

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