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Is anxiety taking its toll on your career?

Anxiety has been linked to everything from a poor night’s sleep to heart disease. Now, new research suggests the distracting thoughts and worries associated with anxiety might be taking their toll on the female brain, and getting in the way of an otherwise successful career path.

According to researchers at Michigan State University, the female brain finds it harder than the male brain to function when consumed with worry, which leads it to stumble on even the simplest of tasks. The ‘worry’ is, therefore, that time spent stressing about work could be detrimental to your success at work.

The research team enlisted the help of almost 150 college students, half of whom were women, in order to examine what happens to the brain during times of stress. The students were asked to complete questionnaires designed to reveal how much – and how often – they worried. Using an electrode cap, the researchers then measured the student’s brain activity while they performed a simple task, which involved identifying the middle letter in a series of five-letter groups on a computer screen.

While those women who rated themselves as ‘more anxious’ performed the same as the men on the tasks, the data revealed that their brains had to work harder to achieve it. But as the test became more difficult, the anxious women did worse, which led the researchers to believe that worrying got in the way of successfully completing the task.

Published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, the study found that girls who identified themselves as “big worriers” recorded high brain activity when they made mistakes during the test.

“Our results suggest that anxiety impacts women’s frontal brain regions dedicated to decision-making more so than men’s,” Jason Moser, Assistant Professor at the department of Psychology at Michigan State University and lead investigator on the study said in a statement. “Anxious girls’ brains have to work harder to perform tasks because they have distracting thoughts and worries,” he explains. “As a result, their brains are being kind of burned out by thinking so much.”

Although it’s hoped the study will help mental health professionals predict the development of anxiety disorders, it still does not answer the question as to why anxiety disorders occur. And with anxiety-related disorders the most commonly experienced mental health problem in Australia, according to data from Beyond Blue, it’s imperative we find ways to cope with the, often inevitable, onset of panic.

If you’re prone to worrying, and fear it may be getting in the way of your career, try these simple steps to bring your nerves under control, and give your brain room to do what you need it to.

1.      Exercise daily – A number of studies have shown that people who exercise regularly experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than those who do not exercise regularly. The National Physical Activity Guidelines for Australians recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week.

2.      Say no to caffeine – According to Anxiety Australia, those prone to worrying should either avoid or limit caffeine. Chocolate, some high energy drinks, hot chocolate beverages, coffee, tea and cola drinks all contain caffeine which is a stimulant, and which exacerbates the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. Drinking your daily long black or flat white will send your nervous system into overdrive by triggering the production of adrenaline, so it’s best to avoid if you’re feeling uneasy

3.      Relax –Since the 1970s, meditation and other stress-reduction techniques have been studied as possible treatments for depression and anxiety. Most recently, yoga has been linked with a reduction in perceived stress and anxiety but, if yoga isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of techniques to choose from including meditation, breathing techniques and tai chi.

Tell us about you – how do you manage your levels of stress? Do you have any tried and tested techniques you can share with us?

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About the Author

Lizzy has more than ten years’ experience in the print and digital publishing arena and is the Editor at Single File. Having moved from the UK to Australia in 2008, Lizzy has worked for a number of leading publishers in Sydney and has particular expertise in the health, wellness and travel markets. If you have any questions for Lizzy, you can send them across by email to

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