Research Into Anxiety

As a part of our Major Project, I delved into research into Anxiety, the disorders associated with it and what sort of ways in which we can portray this throughout our Short Film.

Initially I contacted a friend of mine, Dr. Ryan Oakley, a Mental Health Counselor and acquired his help in both tracking down valuable resources to inform myself from, and getting some aide directly from him in understanding how to better portray it.

One of the first sights I stumbled on was this article from NPR.org

http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2014/02/20/279661986/ape-dread-dog-worry-animals-and-anxiety

From this I got an initial direction of where to look for animals that were all capable of feeling anxiety in the same way a Human would.

The Initial list consists of:

  • Elephants
  • Primates
    • Including Chimpanzee’s, Orangutan’s and Bonobo’s.
    • Some Species of Monkey exhibit traits but lack deep enough study.
  • Dogs and other Canine Pack Animals
  • Rodents
    • Specifically Rats, Bats and Mice

Within the Rodent family, I found that Rabbits, a hyper-alert Prey Animal, that not only suffer Anxiety, but are the closest in terms of how the effects present themselves and in the way they cope with it.

From here, I focused in on the studies that surround these animals, looking mostly at relevant articles from WWF.org and other studies found in the NPR.org cultural section. Generally, there hasn’t been a lot of research into this area beyond identifying and confirming that these are indeed anxious animals, and so I focused my research on Anxiety itself.

https://www.rethink.org/diagnosis-treatment/conditions/anxiety-disorders

Rethink acted as an initial directory to point me to key information, and was used in parallel with the following websites.

www.mentalhealth.org.uk & www.anxietyuk.org.uk/  

I also took some time to read into the NHS and World Health Organizations stance on Anxiety and Mental Health as whole, and how they approach treating it and found that I was able to compile some initial bullet points to help me understand it.

Identifying the types of Anxiety is a highly researched subject, with some of the most common forms being exasperated phobias and conventionally ‘irrational fears’.

Types of Anxiety

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Specific Anxiety Disorder
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Panic Disorder
  • Selective Mutism

These are among some of the most common forms that present themselves, but other Phobias such as a fear of flying, a fear of heights and fear of loud noises are all steeped in Anxiety, being fears of what may happen regardless of evidence to the contrary.

Looking at the extensive list of different forms, I identified a few which we wanted to clearly express in our Short Film, a fear of isolation, loud noises and separation anxiety being chief among them.

Generally things like Selective Mutism and Panic Disorder are harder to convey on screen, due to their sudden and uncommunicative symptoms and so whilst many of their symptoms appear and were valuable for informing our character’s behavior, they were not the primary focus.

For how the character behaves when in a situation where their Anxiety would appear, I found a list of physical symptoms we could draw from as an influence.

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased muscle tension
  • “Jelly legs”
  • Tingling in the hands and feet
  • Hyperventilation (over breathing)
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Wanting to use the toilet more often
  • Feeling sick
  • Tight band across the chest area
  • Tension headaches
  • Hot flushes
  • Increased perspiration
  • Dry mouth
  • Shaking
  • Choking sensations
  • Palpitations

Some of these would be difficult to convey, and many would be unreadable or simply not show-able in the case of our short film, but we had the thought to use our sound-design to influence many (for example, showing Palpitations through a heartbeat effect that becomes ever-more erratic, or displaying strained gasping for air.)

  • Thinking that you may lose control and/or go “mad”
  • Thinking that you might die
  • Thinking that you may have a heart attack/be sick/faint/have a brain tumour
  • Feeling that people are looking at you and observing your anxiety
  • Feeling as though things are speeding up/slowing down
  • Feeling detached from your environment and the people in it
  • Feeling like wanting to run away/escape from the situation
  • Feeling on edge and alert to everything around you

The Above were listed as many of the perceived effects of Anxiety by the sufferer, the feelings they have when it is at the forefront of their being. These effects are also difficult to portray, but we were able to extrapolate some good visual concepts from them.

In the case of feeling as thought things are speeding up or slowing down, we can manipulate the pacing and motion of the Rabbit’s environment to represent it.

We can also have parts of the environment fade and move further away to create a sense of detachment and agoraphobia.

Running Away and Being Alert would come more across from the character’s actions, and would be lost in context, but are still easily portrayed.

From the MentalHealth.org.uk’s own statistics, I found that within the UK, over 8 Million people suffer from diagnosed Anxiety Disorders, with an additional estimate of 12 Million who suffer from it without seeking professional help.

Indeed, they seem to extrapolate that the majority of the UK’s population suffers from some form of Anxiety Disorder, or has an irrational fear that negatively effects their day-to-day life on a significant basis.

Polls of over 10,000 people in London in 2014, had identified that 1 in every 5 people, a 5th of the population feel that their lives would be improved if they could overcome their anxiety, with 3 in 4 believing that Mental Health issues should be addressed more prominently by the government and media.

Due to most Anxiety disorders being short-lived and existing for brief intense periods of time before either being overcome or treated, I looked at who is most likely to suffer, in order to influence the Gender and identity of our character. Through this, I found that women are twice as likely to suffer anxiety than men and 6.6% of all mental health diagnosis per week are for an Anxiety Disorder of some form.

Looking at how they actual overcome Anxiety Disorders, and therefore being able to influence the way in which our character overcomes their fear through the narrative, I found a short list of treatments.

Confirmed Treatment/Methods of Recovery

  • Animal Comfort – Service Animals
  • Traditional Breathing Exercises
    • Tai Chi
    • Yoga
    • Zen Kokyo
  • Cannabis Oil / Medicinal Marijuana
  • Short-term Therapy
  • Group Counseling
  • Flexible Work Environments
  • Regular Social Conditioning

A number of pharmaceutical treatments are also recommended, but we wanted to focus more on the self-help aspect of overcoming Anxiety, to give our character independence, and a feeling of hope and ambition to our story.

I identified that most cases of Anxiety are overcome through Immersion Therapy, forcing the individual to face their fears and realize it’s inability to harm them. Thereby enabling them to register past it and move on.

This was the particular aspect of the narrative we wished to involve and so incorporated it accordingly.


Following our initial presentation into our concept, the feedback showed that what we had uncovered so far in Anxiety was enough, with continued support from Dr. Oakley, to portray what we wanted, but that we should focus on advancing the story and artistic goals of the project, without limiting ourselves unnecessarily trying to accurately represent something intangibly unrepresentative like Mental Health.