Scientists trying to understand the physiology of déjà vu attempted to evaluate if anxiety and stress were contributing factors, if not the direct cause.
Though we have all experienced déjà vu, chances are we have dismissed the occurrences as mere tricks of the mind. French for “already seen,” déjà vu is that exhilarating, sometimes unnerving feeling we have when we feel we’ve experienced something before. While we have felt the tingling feeling for a few fleeting seconds, most of us have discarded it. However, there are many for whom déjà vu has become a recurring nightmare. These cases are forcing scientists to take a much closer look at the mechanics and physiology of déjà vu.
According to a report published late last year, a person who suffered from anxiety had also developed a severe case of recurring déjà vu that hindered his basic everyday activities. Although he assumed a break would help in easing his symptoms, they only worsened. While some episodes would last for just minutes, others went on for a long time. The patient felt as though he was constantly “trapped in a time loop.”
This case eventually persuaded researchers to take into consideration the involvement of stress and anxiety in either escalating or subduing the symptoms of déjà vu. Researchers had long believed that déjà vu was caused by a temporary glitch in the brain’s processing of incoming information. Additionally, in the past, the medical fraternity had seen recurring déjà vu occur only in patients suffering from seizures.
However, upon closer inspection and a battery of tests, it became apparent that there was nothing “neurologically wrong” with the man suffering from long-term and recurring déjà vu. Interestingly, some of the tests have led the researchers to believe that persistent déjà vu may also be a side effect for people who suffer from severe anxiety issues. Although the scientists agree that until extensive tests are conducted on a number of patients suffering from severe cases of déjà vu, it would be impossible to strongly correlate anxiety and stress with the constant feeling that we are reliving the experience.
Déjà vu is certainly rare and many people can only recollect a handful of episodes in their life when they have felt that have experienced this before. Moreover, unlike common assumption that déjà vu is experienced mostly by the elderly, research indicates that déjà vu is most frequently experienced by people between the ages of 15 and 20.
Undoubtedly, déjà vu occurs when a person encounters something that is genuinely familiar like the shape of a structure or the way a room is laid out. This causes the brain to believe that it has seen it all before, creating a sense of déjà vu, states Professor Anne Cleary at Colorado State University. But an overworked and tired brain, when stressed or experiencing anxiety, could have “misfiring neuronsm,” causing us to experience déjà vu, notes Dr. Akira O’ Connor, a psychologist from the University of St. Andrews.