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J Affect Disord. 2000 Dec;61(3):217-24.

Anxiety and arousal: physiological changes and their perception.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 115 Meyer Bldg., Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD 21287-7144, USA. rhoehn@welchlink.welch.jhu.edu


Contrary to self-reports, most patients with chronic anxiety disorders exhibit increased muscle tension but not autonomic hyperarousal when at rest. Under everyday stress they tend to react with less physiological flexibility than normal controls. However, they overreact subjectively and physiologically to stimuli that are anxiety-provoking. Diminished physiological flexibility may be either a constitutional trait in anxious individuals, a partial but inadequate adaptation to prolonged stress or the result of a disregard for stressors that are not related to psychopathology. The effects of diminished physiological flexibility on general health are not known. There is only a weak relationship, and in some instances a desynchrony, between physiological changes and perception of change under stress. The inconsistencies between self-reports of physiological states and physiological recordings can be explained by alterations of body sensations through psychological factors, predominantly expectations and attention to bodily states, that lead to perceptual distortions.

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