Inside-the- anxious-mind-article-cover

Article

May 28, 2024 / by Marcella Peixoto

Inside The Anxious Mind: How does the brain work?

Anxiety is way more complex than many people know. Neuroscience has provided significant insights into the mechanisms underlying anxiety, revealing how certain brain structures and neurochemical processes contribute to this heightened state of worry and fear.

The Role of the Amygdala

The amygdala is central to the experience of anxiety. It is responsible for detecting threats and triggering emotional responses. In individuals with anxiety, the amygdala is often hyperactive, meaning it overreacts to potential threats. This hyperactivity can lead to excessive fear and worry, even in situations that are not truly dangerous.

Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have shown that people with anxiety disorders often have increased amygdala responses when exposed to stressors or anxiety-inducing stimuli. This overreaction can result in a constant state of alertness, as the brain continually signals that there is danger present, even when there is none.

The Prefrontal Cortex and Regulation

While the amygdala generates fear responses, the prefrontal cortex (PFC) helps regulate these emotions. The PFC, located in the front part of the brain, is involved in higher-order functions such as decision-making, problem-solving, and controlling impulses. In a healthy brain, the PFC works to moderate the amygdala’s responses, ensuring that fear and anxiety are kept in check.

However, in an anxious brain, the connection between the PFC and the amygdala can be weakened or dysregulated. This means the PFC has a reduced ability to calm the amygdala, leading to prolonged and intense feelings of anxiety. Individuals with anxiety disorders often have less activation in the PFC when faced with stress, making it harder for them to rationalise their fears and manage their anxiety.

Neurotransmitters and Anxiety

Neurotransmitters are the brain’s chemical messengers and also play a crucial role in anxiety. Key neurotransmitters involved in anxiety include:

1) Serotonin: Often dubbed the "feel-good" neurotransmitter, serotonin is essential for regulating mood and anxiety. Low levels of serotonin are commonly associated with anxiety and depression.
2) Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA): GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps reduce neuronal excitability. It has a calming effect on the brain, promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety.
3) Norepinephrine: This neurotransmitter is associated with the body's "fight or flight" response. Elevated levels of norepinephrine can increase arousal and alertness, contributing to the physical symptoms of anxiety such as increased heart rate and sweating.

The Impact of Chronic Anxiety

Chronic anxiety can lead to structural and functional changes in the brain. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones like cortisol can damage the hippocampus, a brain region involved in memory and learning. This can impair cognitive functions and exacerbate anxiety, creating a vicious cycle.

Additionally, chronic anxiety can lead to neural plasticity changes, where the brain’s neural pathways are altered. This can make the brain more prone to anxiety, making it harder for individuals to break free from anxious thought patterns and behaviours.

The anxious brain operates through a complex interplay of hyperactive threat detection, weakened regulatory control, and imbalances in key neurotransmitters. Understanding these mechanisms is crucial for developing effective treatments and interventions. By targeting the specific brain regions and neurochemical processes involved in anxiety and using the right strategies to deal with.
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References

The Pain of Worry: The Anxious Brain, link here

Neuroanatomy of Anxiety: A Brief Review, Published online 2018 Jan 12. doi: 10.7759/cureus.2055

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Understanding-Anxiety-Article

Article

Understanding Anxiety

April 29, 2024 / by Marcella Peixoto
Anxiety is normal and can even be beneficial in certain situations, such as motivating us to prepare for challenges. But when we talk about pathological or excessive anxiety, it can have detrimental effects on mental and physical wellness, including simple daily tasks. It is very important to remember that each person experiences it in a different way.

Worldwide Effects:

Anxiety disorders are a health issue worldwide as noted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) affecting approximately 301 million individuals globally in 2019. This statistic highlights anxiety disorders as the prevalent, among all health conditions. Despite treatments being available, only one in four people with anxiety disorders seek treatment. Indicating a gap in mental health care provision on a global scale.

Recognising the types of anxiety disorders, investigating their causes and understanding the available treatment options is essential for promoting early intervention and effective management. Anxiety disorders can be a combination of genetic, environmental and psychological factors. Traumatic life experiences, chronic stress, imbalances in brain chemistry and family history of anxiety disorders can all be contributors to the development of anxiety.

Categories:

Let's explore the 11 specific types of anxiety disorders as classified by the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR):
1) Separation Anxiety Disorder - More than just missing someone, this is excessive anxiety over being away from home or loved ones.
2) Selective Mutism - Not just shyness, this is when someone consistently does not speak in certain social situations where they are expected to.
3) Specific Phobia - Intense fear or dread of a specific object or scenario that goes beyond general worry.
4) Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia) - Feeling overwhelmingly anxious and excessively self-conscious in everyday social situations.
5) Panic Disorder - Characterised by recurrent, unexpected panic attacks and an ongoing fear of more episodes.
6) Agoraphobia - The fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or that could lead to panic.
7) Generalised Anxiety Disorder - Excessive, uncontrollable worry about everyday issues.
8) Substance/Medication-Induced Anxiety Disorder - Anxiety directly triggered by drugs, medications, or exposure to toxins.
9) Anxiety Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition - Anxiety that is a direct physiological result of a medical condition.
10) Other Specified Anxiety Disorder - Anxiety that doesn't fully align with any specific disorder but still significantly affects well-being.
11) Unspecified Anxiety Disorder - Anxiety that presents with symptoms typical of an anxiety disorder but does not meet the full criteria for any of the disorders.

Remember, anxiety is a universal human experience, manifesting in various forms and intensities. It is a natural emotional response characterised by feelings of worry, nervousness, and unease, often accompanied by physical sensations like sweating, nausea, muscle tension, and increased heart rate.

Strategies:

Taking charge of your anxiety requires you to not only understand and deal with your thoughts and feelings, but also managing how your body reacts, especially your nervous and vagal systems. The vagus nerve plays a role in the “rest and digest” system of your body (nervous system) which can be utilised to soothe both your mind and body, ultimately reducing anxiety. Methods like breathwork, mindfulness and grounding techniques can activate the vagus nerve promoting a sense of peace and relaxation, reducing anxiety signs and improving overall well-being.

Seeking guidance can be especially helpful in this situation. A mindset coach can aid you in creating strategies to effectively manage your physical reactions to stress. I will offer you support, in incorporating practices that stimulate the system into your life nurturing a healthier mental state and more adaptive coping mechanisms.
By using these methods and considering teaming up with a mindset coach you have the potential to change how you deal with stress, moving towards a lifestyle marked by stability and decreased anxiety signs.
It would be my pleasure to guide along and provide you with tools to manage your anxiety, moving towards a fulfilling life. Excited to embrace this guided journey with me?
Click the link below to get started.

References

Mental health. WHO. Retrieved April 29, 2024, from here.

Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed., text rev.). APA.

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