Monday, September 24, 2012

Erase Your Fears Before They Begin!

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I'm really excited about some new research out of Uppsala University!  (See the exclamation point?  That verifies that I'm excited!)  Researchers at Uppsala have determined that emotional-based memories can be erased from your brain.  Well, actually, they have found a way to keep memories that may elicit fear from actually being stored in your emotional memory.  So, in essence, fearful memories are prevented! (Another exclamation point = more excitement!)
See, even Jr. is excited!
This is how your brain works:  You experience something scary.  You think about this scary thing that happened.  Your thinking about that scary experience helps "consolidate" the memory in the emotional memory portion of your brain (amygdala, in case you're curious).  Then, every time you hear, see or smell a stimulus that is related to that scary experience, up comes the memory.  You feel scared all over again.  This is an extremely powerful connection. Anxiety disorders like Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and phobias can be attributed to the power of emotional memory.

So, maybe you can see why I'm so excited?  If we can prevent fearful events from solidifying into emotional memory, than we may have the key to preventing many anxiety disorders. Yippie!

And the real exciting part is that it seems fairly simple. Those geniuses at Uppsala (by the way, anyone know where that's at?) prevented the consolidation of emotional memory by basically keeping the participants from thinking about the fearful experience.  First, they pulled a Pavlov's dog, and paired a picture with an electric shock. Remember how Pavlov paired his dogs' food with the sound of a bell and before long the doggies would go nuts just from hearing the bell?  Same kind of thing.  The Uppsala researchers' scary shock could easily be paired with the picture, causing an emotional memory connected to that picture.  But, in half of their participants, they followed the shock with repeated presentations of the picture.  The other half had some time to think about how scared they were.  Those that were given time to think about the experience were more likely to consolidate the memory, moving it from short-term memory into long-term emotional memory.

This makes sense to me. I used to have horrible nightmares after reading a scary book or seeing a scary movie.  That was until I started to purposefully avoid thinking about that scary story and instead thought of something more lovely and pleasant before bed.  Voila! No nightmares. 

So, when you're scared, just don't think about it.  Try to distract yourself by doing or thinking something else.  If your child experiences something scary, distract them immediately with something not so scary.  Only time will tell if this idea will be filed under "Easier Said Than Done Advice."  I'm sure that it will be very difficult to avoid pairing really traumatic events with emotional memories.  And, this intervention must be done immediately, before the proteins of emotional memory are created.  But, hopefully, this research may help us prevent some rather benign experiences from turning into full-blown anxiety disorders.

Yippie!

1 comment:

  1. Wow.. no wonder you are excited :) I get anxiety all the time but I've been learning cope with it



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