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‘Safety signals’ may help slow down anxiety

A novel form of treatment has been identified for one of the most common mental health issues globally, anxiety.

Roughly one in three people will suffer from the condition at some point in their lives, experiencing irrational fear brought on by stressors ranging from spiders to public speaking.

Current treatment options are limited. Some medications provide relief, but can also cause side effects. Cognitive behavioural therapy can also be used, typically exposure-based therapies that allow patients to gradually face and overcome their fears. But for a substantial proportion of sufferers, these options are not effective.

New research conducted by researchers at Yale University focuses on the use of ‘safety signals’, a stimulus that is not associated with fear. When conditioned to associate one symbol with threat and another with safety, fear was suppressed in both human and mouse subjects when shown both symbols at once. Brain imaging studies of the subjects showed that safety signals activated a different neural network than exposure therapy.

“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,” explained co-senior author Dylan Gee. “This competition makes current therapies subject to the relapse of fear—but there is never a threat memory associated with safety signals.”

This new approach may offer a way to improve existing anxiety treatments, particularly for the millions who have so far found no relief.

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Source: Medical Xpress