What if I don't finish my project on time?

What if the investors back out?

What if the website crashes?

What if the sun eats the world and then explodes and all the particles are sucked into a black hole, and we all careen into an alternate dimension where all of our limbs sprout from our foreheads like broccoli florets?

OK. So maybe you're not anxious about that last one. But as you lead and grow your career or business, it's pretty normal for those other thoughts--and millions like them--to flourish into your own little anxiety garden.

But scientists think they might have a way to help. As outlined in a news release from the University of California, Davis, researchers previously had focused on the dorsal amygdala, an area of your brain involved in emotional processing. They suspected anxiety could connect to molecular alterations in that area, so after some RNA sequencing, they honed in on one specific molecule--neurotrophin-3, which stimulates neurons to grow and make new connections--to study more. Then the scientists used an altered virus to increase how much neurotrophin-3 was present in the brains of preadolescent rhesus macaques monkeys.

The researchers discovered that when there was lots of neurotrophin-3, the monkeys didn't show as many behaviors associated with anxiety, including inhibition. What's more, when the researchers did additional brain imaging, they found the molecule actually changed the activity throughout distributed regions of the brain that play a role in feeling anxious.

The researchers are quick to point out there are potentially thousands of molecules that could influence your tapestry of emotions and contribute to worse or better mental health. But the study, published August 15 in Biological Psychiatry, is important because it suggests a potentially new avenue to treating both anxiety and depressive disorders. The thought is that if medical and psychology professionals can provide proper screening for anxiety disorders earlier in life, when they're known to develop, they might be able to increase neurotrophin-3 as a viable treatment.

That could mean that a huge number of children and adolescents around the world would have a better shot at becoming adult workers who are happy and function well on the job, and that employers wouldn't have to manage as much of the loss in productivity that anxiety can cause. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America points out that anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million people. Only about 37 percent of those individuals receive treatment, and nearly half of those diagnosed with depression are given an anxiety diagnosis, as well.

Arguably, a little anxiety isn't necessarily bad for you. It can motivate you, for example, to double-check your work or go more into depth when analyzing risks. It's a normal part of life that doesn't always warrant a prescription. But for those who are more prone to suffer anxiety for biological reasons, the study is a much-needed ray of hope for a better life.

Published on: Aug 19, 2019
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