Can I Experience Anxiety Even When I’m Safe?

Mar 18, 2022 | Blog, Anxiety, Mental Health, Overwhelmed, Panic

Anxiety is a familiar feeling, and we all experience anxiety at some time. Usually, this occurs when there are obvious threats to our safety or when we anticipate failure, criticism, or judgment. But can a person experience anxiety even when there is no apparent reason for it?  According to a study conducted at The University of Rochester, the answer is “yes.”  

The researchers determined that a person who suffers from an anxiety disorder “may not  control their feelings and behavior even if they wanted to.” 

Benjamin Suarez-Jimenez, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester and first author of the study published in Communications  Biology, revealed their findings. “These findings tell us that anxiety disorders might be more  than a lack of awareness of the environment or ignorance of safety, but rather that individuals  suffering from an anxiety disorder cannot control their feelings and behavior even if they  wanted to.”  

“The patients with an anxiety disorder could rationally say – I’m in a safe space – but we found  their brain was behaving as if it was not.” 

Observable Brain Activity as It Relates to Anxiety 

The study states: “Using fMRI, the researchers observed the brain activity of volunteers with  general and social anxiety as they navigated a virtual reality game of picking flowers. Half of the  meadow had flowers without bees, and the other half had flowers with bees that would sting  them – as simulated by a mild electrical stimulation to the hand.” 

“Researchers found all study participants could distinguish between the safe and dangerous areas. However, brain scans revealed volunteers with anxiety had increased insula and  dorsomedial prefrontal cortex activation – indicating their brain was associating a known safe  area to danger or threat.” 

 The research article states, “These findings point towards the need for treatments that focus on helping patients take back control of their body. The brain differences were the only differences seen in these patients. For example, sweat responses, a proxy for anxiety, also measured, failed  to reveal any apparent differences.” 

Implications From the Research 

Suarez-Jimenez’s research aims to understand the neural mechanisms by which the brain learns about the environment. And to identify how the brain predicts what is threatening and safe. In addition, “he uses virtual reality environments to investigate neural signatures of anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His goal is to understand how people build 

maps in the brain based on experience and the role of those maps in psychopathologies of  stress and anxiety.” 

Further Exploration into Other Disorders 

The study concludes: “For the next steps in this recent research, we still need to clarify if what we found in the brain of these patients is also the case in other disorders, such as PTSD.  Understanding the differences and similarities across disorders characterized by deficits in behavioral regulation and feelings in safe environments can help us create personalized treatment options.

New Dimensions Can Help!

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.

Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit to learn more.