I'm currently writing a paper and one of the points is about cognitive performance being impeded on in general anxiety disorder patients.

The issue I have is that I found a great paper:

The stressed prefrontal cortex and goal-directed behaviour: acute psychosocial stress impairs the flexible implementation of task goals


that has identified how stress hinders cognitive flexibility.

At the same time though the consensus, drawn by another paper is that

Experimentally induced and real-world anxiety have no demonstrable effect on goal-directed behaviour


Basically one papers points out that stress works against cognitive flexibility and goal directed behaviour, while anxiety seems to have no effect. The acute anxiety paper references the stress paper, suggesting their findings are complementary rather than mutually exclusive.

Im not sure how this can make sense, aren't anxiety and stress co-occuring phenomena in GAD?


1 Answer 1


I think you need to be clear about the terms you are using:- Stress describes the feeling of pressure we experience in meeting the demands made upon us, everyone is dealing with multiple stressors all the time, its what keeps us moving. If it wasn't for stress (the demands) we wouldn't get up in the morning. Its possible when people are faced with lots of stressors that they can overwhelm a persons coping resources. Anxiety is different, its the feeling we experience when faced with a perceived threat, its a cognitive state, we call dealing with actual threat, fear. All feelings have a function, they motivate certain types of behaviour, with stress we are motivated to manage or remove the cause, we even get pleasure, a sense of achievement when we are successful. With things outside of our control or skills, we can get stuck in ineffective problem-solving and it can lower mood. Stress by definition requires some form of adaptation to successfully manage it. Anxiety "captures" our cognitive resources, we focus our attention on the perceived threat and it significantly biases our thinking. It motivates escape or safety behaviours, for example a person having a panic attack usually thinks they are at immediate threat of dying and experience extreme physical symptoms that support this. I have to say I think your second reference bordered on the bizarre, to claim that they have no effect of behaviours, effectively dismisses the theoretical frameworks of emotions, all the research in the clinical management of anxiety and centuries of human experience.

  • $\begingroup$ You separate the definitions of stress and anxiety, but what about anxieties created by ineffective measures to reduce stressors? In these instances, the stressors are creating anxiety as well as overwhelming levels of stress. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 5:13

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