mature anxious woman
Anxiety (Panic Disorders, Phobias)

Anxiety and the Wandering Mind

It’s great to stay focused, but experts say that when you’re anxious, mental wandering can actually do you some good.

According to an article in the Harvard Health Blog, there are circuits in your brain that promote mind-wandering. Far from being a bad thing, these circuits can help you understand others more accurately, maintain a sense of self and even work to predict the future.

But in the brain of a person with generalized anxiety disorder, the article says, the connections may be off. The anxiety processor (the amygdala) has strong connections to the “inner eye” (attention), but it doesn’t have a connection to the brain circuits that signal how important a threat is. And without the ability to analyze the significance of every threat, they can all feel the same.

As a result, the article says, the inner eye becomes preoccupied with negative thought. Anxious people, the article says, focus in an exaggerated way on external threats – in fact, they “become glued to the threats.” Additionally, the article says, subliminal threats that the person might not be aware of are also perceived as dangerous.

To deal with this, psychologist Kalina Christoff and her colleagues found, you need to give your inner eye a break from the obsessive attention it is focusing on the threat. Christoff’s work is cited in the Harvard Health Blog article.

The article recommends that you “up the ante on the mind wandering – wander even more.” You could start an activity like knitting or coloring when anxiety strikes; try going outside, the article says, and doing some gardening. Meditation may also help – anything to start your mind on a path away from its negative pattern.

The bottom line: if you’re feeling anxious or threatened, go wandering!

For more information health issues from Harvard Medical School, click here.