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How Math Can Help Solve Your Anxiety? The Story Behind Barbara

As always this is a lightweight blog post that includes a couple of scientific references if you want to deepen your understanding of the science behind it. You are more than welcome to share your thoughts in the contact form on my website.

What Are Affective Disorders?

Imagine your brain as a quirky office where memories and emotions are the eccentric staff. Affective disorders, like anxiety and depression, turn this office into a chaotic circus. Usually, we handle life's problems by retrieving memories and applying some basic calculations, but with anxiety, it’s like trying to work with a fire alarm blaring in your ear.

In your brain's office, the hippocampus is the meticulous librarian, storing and retrieving memories. Next to it is the amygdala, the overzealous security guard who’s always on high alert, ready to scream "FIRE!" at the slightest whiff of tequila after a rough night out (we’ve all been there) .

Man raising a shot of tequila
Our Amygdala ready to scream "FIRE!" at the slightest whiff of tequila after a rough night out

The boss of this quirky office is the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the cool-headed executive making rational decisions and overriding those impulsive freak-outs. And connecting the PFC and the amygdala is the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), like the office switchboard operator, routing calls between the cool-headed boss and the paranoid security guard .

Emotional Dysregulation in Mood Disorders

Now, in the circus of anxiety and depression, this office turns into pure pandemonium. The amygdala is hyperactive, the PFC is on an extended coffee break, and the ACC is exhausted from juggling too many calls and isn't picking up the CEO's calls anymore . This means people with anxiety, like myself, approach problems with fear and negative references first, turning even a simple decision into a nail-biting ordeal .

The Flexibility of the Brain

But here's the twist: our brains are like Play-Doh—they can be reshaped! What if we could train the brain to call the boss (PFC) everytime the security guard (Amygdala) is having a fire drill?

A Private Study: Math as a Tool for Anxiety Reduction

To test this idea, I conducted a study with 120 individuals. They were split into two groups:

1. Control group: Took the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7 (GAD-7) questionnaire, which is the standard anxiety self-assessment.

2. Experiment group: Took the same GAD-7 questionnaire, but after each question, they had to solve a simple math problem (like 3 + 7 * 2).

The results? The math group showed a significant reduction in perceived anxiety between questions. Why? Because math tasks activate the PFC, the rational boss, helping to override the amygdala's alarm bells .

How This Concept Works

When an emotion is triggered, asking a simple math question interrupts the process, forcing the brain to switch from panic mode to problem-solving mode.

Introducing Barbara

Meet Barbara, my latest brainchild (pun intended). Barbara is a chatbot designed to help you deal with anxiety by combining emotional queries with simple math tasks. Think of Barbara as your brain's personal trainer, helping it flex those rational muscles and calm the heck down .

Try Barbara for just three minutes a day. If chatbots aren’t your thing, grab a kid’s math workbook and start solving problems whenever you feel overwhelmed. It’s like giving your brain a workout at the mental gym.

By adding simple math exercises to your routine, you can help your brain develop healthier, more rational responses to anxiety-inducing situations. So, why not give it a try and turn your brain's office from a chaotic circus into a well-oiled machine?

Who knows, math can help solve your anxiety :)

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