Ever wondered what goes on in your brain when you’re anxious and why? Today we discuss this, symptoms and how to help when your anxious!
All of us experience anxiety at one time or another. A job interview, a high-risk test, attending a big meeting – feeling anxious is common, in fact, a natural response to such situations. However, some are affected by anxiety more deeply than others.
Fear and anxiety are closely connected as fear leads to anxiety and alerts the body to prepare for alarming and threatening conditions.
A natural and life-saving response in normal circumstances, however experiencing anxiety all the time is harmful to the person’s mental and physical health.
An anxious brain never shuts down the flight response leading to constant stress. This leaves the person in a constant state of fear, terror, and restlessness.
What Causes Anxiety?
Anxiety can be caused and triggered by different factors like:
- Chronic diseases
- Irrational thoughts
- Cognitive processing errors
- Mental trauma
- Chronic exposure to stressful and challenging situations
- Emotional vulnerability and drugs
- Traumatic events like loss of a loved one
What Happens When You Are Anxious?
These neurological processes are going on in the brain:
Amygdala – Almond-like in shape, this part communicates between the parts of brain processing the received sensory signals and the parts that read these signals. Amygdala is responsible for the fight or flight response.
The emotion-related memories (fear of spiders, dogs, or heights) are stored in the amygdala and can also contribute to causing the anxiety. Brain images were taken using fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Images) from two groups of participants.
The fMRI of those suffering from anxiety showed increased neural activity. The most noticeable activities were seen within the amygdala.
The different parts of the brain act differently towards anxiety and fear. However, the hippocampus and amygdala are known to play major roles during anxiety and stress.
Anxiety when felt can be a scaring feeling and is something that needs help to overcome.
Hippocampus -This part encrypts hostile events into memories. It’s known that the hippocampus shrinks in size.
War veterans or people who suffered from child abuse or childhood trauma also had a smaller hippocampus. It is yet to be known what role it plays in memories, flashbacks, fragmented memories (signs of PTSD), but the connection is undeniable.
Multiple studies conducted on the subject of neuroimaging of brain during anxiety also supports the hypothesis that amygdala is a critical for fear and anxiety.
Types of Anxiety
Anxiety manifests in multifaceted, complex ways and can manifest itself in many forms like:
- Social anxiety; fretting about interaction with the people
- Performance anxiety; doubting one’s own capability to perform well
- GAD anxiety (generalized anxiety disorder); the chronic feeling of tension and worry about the routine things, family, and health.
- OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder); repeating the same act like washing hands in means to reduce the stress.
Whatever the form be, it greatly affects a person’s life and relationships; both personal and professional.
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Anxiety or fear prepares the body to cope with the danger lurking around. Anxiety disorder keeps the mind in the constant state of fear and the body suffers from emotional and physical effects of anxiety. The body shows these symptoms of anxiety:
- Rapid breathing
- Disturbed sleep cycle; insomnia or sometimes drowsiness
- Tiredness and passivity
- Dry mouth
- Suffocation and choked throat
- Pain in chest
- Shaking and trembling
- Hot flushes
- Loss of appetite
How to Cope With Anxiety
Despite all the hopelessness and helplessness, anxiety is manageable. All you need to do is have the courage and seek professional help.
You can help your condition by letting your close friends and family help you cope better or you can seek therapy and professional help depending on the severity and extent of your condition.
But one thing is sure that you’d need to be your own hero and take the first step towards your freedom from this illness.
- Gather courage and be your own strength in situations when you feel like falling apart.
- Know that you can do it.
- Expose yourself to the situation you fear over and over again gradually without overwhelming yourself. This technique is called exposure therapy and is practiced in clinical therapy of psychological problems.
- Ask your close friends and family members to help you and keep challenging your fears until you don’t feel strange and helpless anymore.
Anxiety is debilitating and certainly very hard to live with. It is a taxing condition, however, very much treatable by psychologists such as TG Psychology. With a little courage and help from family and friends you can help reclaim your freedom and live a healthy life free of fear.
Todd is the Director and Principal Psychologist at TG Psychology, in Penrith, NSW. He has over 14 years of experience working with adults and young people in both public health and private practice settings. He has treated people from diverse cultural backgrounds, with a variety of emotional health and behavioural issues, including: depression, anxiety, relationship issues, anger, addictions, trauma and grief. He has also facilitated a number of group programs, treating a wide range of issues: from quitting cannabis, to social skills training, self-esteem development and deliberate self-harm behaviours.