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Dr. Richard McNally

Anxiety is one of the most commonly experienced psychological phenomena on earth. Not everyone’s occurrence of anxiety is the same though. Despite the fact that we all have encountered moments in our lives where we’ve felt worry or dwelled on future threats, not all of our anxieties become pathological. According to Dr. Richard McNally, Professor and Director of Clinical Training at Harvard University, explains that “anxiety disorders are conditions where a person’s anxiety is disproportionate to the magnitude of the threatening event that the person envisions might happen to them.” These disproportions tend to be chronic, repetitive, and generally impair the person’s life. Most anxieties fall into one of a few categories, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, and a few more. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) once fell under anxiety disorders, but after the latest iteration of the DSM-5 (2013), they were shuffled into different categories. The broad range of symptoms include feeling restless, getting easily fatigued, being irritable, having difficulty concentrating, headaches, and difficulty controlling feelings of worry. It’s once these symptoms push you past a threshold where your work, school, or personal life is dysfunctional where professional help is suggested.

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During our conversation, Dr. McNally goes on to describe the types of situations you might find yourself in that can be tell-tale signs of these disproportionate encounters of anxiety. In one of his lab's studies, he found that individuals who are diagnosed with social anxiety are making over-exaggerated inferences about social situations, specifically in the area of Theory of Mind. ("Theory of Mind" refers to the capacity to understand other people by ascribing mental states to them.) These individuals were reading much more into social scenes and over-interpreting certain cues. Thus, causing increased symptoms to flood that person and finally making social interactions associated with negative experiences.

"People with PTSD, GAD, and social anxiety tend to have a sort of intentional bias for threat".

Can we go overboard with self-expression or self-disclosure? Dr. Clark posit indeed, too much self-disclosure can be detrimental in certain situations. Every person has a different idea of emotional expression. Some people think that it's a good thing whereas there are others who feel that it's mainly harmful. Being mindful of this and knowing what type of person your friend, family member, or significant other is will provide an insight into how to manage expectations for emotion expression between each individual. One major takeaway from my conversation with Dr. Clark was that we each have different needs for emotional exchanges and, thus, navigating each person's emotional expressions is a skill to be mastered. How does one do that? Listen to my conversation with Dr. Clark below to gain insight into this and more. 

(Recorded August 2021.) 


Listen Below

Dr. Richard McNally - Anxiety
00:00 / 33:33

Books by Dr. McNally

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