Imagine a bear huffing, standing on its hind legs in front of you. A situation like that should be stress-inducing; you need to react immediately. But what happens when you live with the kind of anxiety that such a threat can produce, for a prolonged period of time? How does this condition affect your brain? Does your brain start working differently if you suffer from an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety and your brain
Anxiety is an intense, constant, and excessive state of fear or worry. Under these circumstances:
- There is an increase in limbic system activity – thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus
- The limbic system, which processes emotions, becomes hypersensitive
- On the other hand, the prefrontal cortex which can inhibit an emotional reaction, fails to do so
The effects of anxiety on your brain
When this constant state of worry allows your fears to take over for a prolonged period of time, it can have a detrimental effect on the way your brain works:
- It is detrimental on memory, shrinking the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for contextual memory
- Memory of fear, trauma, and stress becomes more pervasive
- Memories of success and certainty become less accessible
Additionally, anxiety could be a symptom of depression. On the other hand, a condition such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, could trigger depression. Anxiety can also increase the risk of the patient developing:
- Substance abuse
- Social isolation
To help a patient from falling into a situation in which their anxiety becomes more acute and affects their brain further, it is important to treat the mental health condition as soon as possible. Treatment can include a combination of medication with therapy that helps the patient develop coping mechanisms – which help with anxiety-inducing stressors.
Some of the medication that a mental health professional can prescribe for anxiety, will act to reverse some of the effects that this condition has on certain parts of your brain. For instance, SSRIs – Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. SSRIs do the following:
- Makes more serotonin available to improve message transmission in brain cells
- This can aid in communication between the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Another way to reverse some of the effects that anxiety may have on the brain, and help a patient develop proper coping mechanisms is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – also known as CBT. This kind of therapy challenges the perception that a patient has about the world and themselves, in order to alter certain behavioral patterns and emotional reactions. Cognitive behavioral therapy “teaches” the patient new information processing skills and coping mechanisms.
Talk to a mental health professional about anxiety
A number of different approaches been found to help patients who suffer from anxiety disorders. If you think that you suffer from anxiety, you can talk to one of our medical professionals. They can help you design a comprehensive plan to treat your anxiety disorder. Explore our medical service plans and get started on your treatment today!