How does anxiety affect the brain? Most of us experience anxiety at least once in our lives. And while there’s no denying it’s a normal human emotion, what exactly happens behind closed doors in our brains?
Anxiety affects everyone differently, but if you’ve ever experienced panic attacks, you know that these emotions can mess with your head. That’s why it’s essential to understand how anxiety works in the brain.
Anxiety is something everyone has experienced at least once. People often find themselves anxious because of their surroundings or situations. It’s estimated that around 40% of people suffer from anxiety disorders. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders affect approximately 18 million Americans.
This blog post will show you how anxiety affects the brain.
So, what is an anxiety attack? You might have felt uneasy or distressed this morning over a school submission or a work presentation. This is normal. However, if you find that your worries and fears are getting out of hand and have become debilitating, then you might consider that you’re living with an anxiety-based condition.
Anxiety Effects of Brain
Your brain is responsible for controlling all of your actions and reactions. Your brain also influences your emotions. There could be many causes of anxiety. So, when we talk about “brain effects,” we mean those things directly related to your brain.
So let us try to understand that how anxiety impacts your brain.
- The Amygdala: The amygdala is part of your limbic system. One of the most important parts of your brain and plays a fundamental role in processing fear. The amygdala processes information that is associated with stress and danger. When the amygdala detects something that causes us concern, it sends signals to the hypothalamus, regulating hormones like cortisol.
- Hippocampus: The hippocampus integrates memories and stores them as long-term memories. It also helps form new memories. If you recall, the hippocampus is where many of your emotional memories are stored. It also serves as a sort of “memory bank.”
- Hypothalamus: The hypothalamus receives messages from the amygdala and other brain parts and controls hormone levels. It also produces hormones like cortisol.
- Cortisol: Cortisol is a steroid produced in response to stress. It influences how your body reacts to stressors and can make you feel tired, angry, stressed, fearful, anxious, etc.
- Norepinephrine: Norepinephrine is another neurotransmitter that regulates moods, energy, and arousal. Usually, it is released during times of high stress and anxiety.
- Serotonin: Serotonin is a chemical messenger that helps regulate sleep patterns, appetite, sexual behavior, mood, and more. It’s involved in regulating feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, fatigue, motivation, and pleasure.
- Dopamine: Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that contributes to reward-seeking behaviors and addictive substances. It’s involved in learning, memory, movement, attention, and mood.
- Acetylcholine: Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that helps control muscle movements, salivation, breathing, digestion, vision, and hearing.
- Glutamate: Glutamate is a major excitatory neurotransmitter found primarily in the central nervous system. It is essential for transmitting nerve impulses throughout the body and is required for learning and memory.
- GABA: Gamma-aminobutyric acid is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that reduces excessive activity in the brain. It’s involved in maintaining muscle tone and inhibiting involuntary movements.
Mental diseases caused by anxiety
Anxiety disorders are chronic mental illnesses characterized by intense apprehension or dread and physical symptoms such as restlessness, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, irritability, muscle tension, and frequent headaches. Anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder.
- Panic disorder.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Social phobia.
- Specific phobias.
- Posttraumatic stress disorder.
- Separation anxiety disorder.
There are several types of anxiety disorders. These common conditions affect millions of people worldwide. Most are treatable with medications and psychotherapy. There are also natural treatments available to help manage anxiety.
Generalized anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder affects 6% of Americans and is defined as having persistent worry and trouble relaxing. In this case, the person has what is known as a “fear of the unknown” and cannot focus on anything else. They constantly think about how they will react to any situation and anticipate adverse outcomes. Although these thoughts may seem irrational to others, they are genuine to the sufferer.
Panic attacks occur suddenly with physical anxiety symptoms and without warning. People who experience them often describe shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, numbness, cold sweats, chest pain, and nausea. The attack lasts from five minutes to an hour, but it feels much longer.
During the attack, the sufferer is unable to function. This includes not talking, eating, drinking, using the bathroom, driving, working, or even taking care of their children. Afterward, they may be left feeling exhausted, drained, and unable to cope with daily life.
Anxiety attack vs. Panic attack
People can have both an anxiety attack and a panic attack simultaneously. An anxiety attack does not last as long as a panic attack. However, the symptoms are similar. Both involve sudden episodes of extreme fear.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a neurological disorder, and it is characterized by unwanted thoughts or images, called obsessions, which cause distress or prevent someone from functioning normally. A person suffering from OCD tries to eliminate the idea or notion through repetitive rituals, which can become almost impossible to stop.
One example of this would be checking things repeatedly to ensure nothing wrong happens, despite knowing there is no danger. Another would constantly be washing hands, eyes, hair, or other parts of the body until they believe they are clean enough to handle food or contact others.
Social phobia results in significant distress and impairment in areas of everyday life because of fear of interacting with other people in certain situations, especially public places. Physical symptoms of anxiety characterize social phobia, and it involves a fear of embarrassment, humiliation, rejection, ridicule, criticism, disapproval, scrutiny, or failure.
Posttraumatic stress disorder
Posttraumatic stress disorder occurs after exposure to a terrifying event that causes death or serious injury to oneself or another person. It is observed that more than 1.5 million people have PTSD annually in America alone. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, depression, anger outbursts, problems sleeping, and hypervigilance for possible future trauma.
Anxiety Disorders could well be prevented by using various health supplements and brain oils. Antidepressants can be helpful; however, they usually affect the brain after consumption for more than two weeks. However, other modalities such as psychotherapy and electroconvulsive therapy may also be required in the treatment of chronic stress anxiety.
In terms of supplement consumptions, you’ll need to make sure you start slow and build up gradually.
Final Note Most of the damage to the brain, however, may not be completely irreversible, where plasticity allows the brain to achieve some level of regrowth and regeneration. You can also take a few simple steps to fight anxiety, starting with your lifestyle:
- Take a timeout as you need it.
- Eat a raw, wholesome, well-balanced diet.
- Get enough restful sleep.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine intake, which can trigger panic attacks.
- Exercise regularly, favoring high-intensity interval training if you can.
- Practice taking deep breaths and mindful meditation regularly.