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How Does Anxiety Affect The Brain

How Anxiety Disorders Affect Your Brain

How stress affects your brain – Madhumita Murgia

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, over 40 million people in the US over the age of 18 suffer from some anxiety-related disorder. Millions more go undiagnosed every year. These statistics are a reminder of the many individuals that live with anxiety disorders and their effects everyday. Anxiety doesnt just affect your mental health it also affects your physical health. Anxiety can make you physically ill. These sicknesses can be temporary, but excessive worry and stress can cause serious health problems including:

  • Digestive issues
  • Higher risk for substance abuse
  • Behavioral changes
  • Heart problems

Now that were familiar with the physical effects of anxiety, lets discuss what happens to the brain when youre experiencing anxiety. Before you begin to feel the physical effects of anxiety, your body is at work processing your emotions. Im sure youve felt that familiar feeling of anxiety increase in heart rate, a pit in your stomach, etc. Anxiety is part of your bodys natural response to fear and stress. Sometimes referred to as your fight or flight response, anxiety triggers this and your system floods with norepinephrine and cortisol which are both designed to give you a boost to perception, reflexes, and speed in dangerous situations. Your body is essentially preparing itself for survival. An increase in heart rate sends more air into your lungs to prepare you for whatever may lay ahead.

Stress Anxiety And Depression Affect Your Brain Health But Exercise Can Help

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Stress, anxiety and depression play a big part in the American culture. Sixty-one percent of Americans are stressed over work. A little over 18 percent of Americans have an anxiety disorder and 13 percent are taking antidepressants. Its important to get these issues under control they can affect your brain.

When youre stressed Everyone experiences stress. Most of us deal with it on a daily basis whether its a traffic jam, an unexpected bill or an overwhelming work project.

Stress triggers a chain of physiological effects, beginning with amygdala portion of the brain, which processes emotions and sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus — the brains command center. This signal initiates the bodys natural fight-or-flight response, which raising your blood pressure and increases heart rate, breathing and blood flow to muscles to prepare your body to fight the crisis or run from it.

This process expends a lot of energy. To compensate, the hippocampus, which is the portion of the brain involved with memory and learning, releases cortisol, a hormone involved in various functions such as increasing appetite. The cortisol release is designed to restore energy levels, but it has side effects. This is why many people overeat when theyre stressed. Once the threat is over and the stress subsides, cortisol levels wane and your body resumes its relaxed state.

Want To Live A Long Life

You may have to curb your chronic stress. Thats because it has even been associated with shortened telomeres, the shoelace tip ends of chromosomes that measures a cells age. Telomeres cap chromosomes to allow DNA to get copied every time a cell divides without damaging the cells genetic code, and they shorten with each cell division. When telomeres become too short, a cell can no longer divide and it dies.

As if all werent enough, chronic stress has even more ways it can sabotage your health, including acne, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, headaches, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and irritability.

So what does all this mean for you?

Your life will always be filled with stressful situations. But what matters to your brain and entire body is how you respond to that stress. If you can view those situations as challenges you can control and master rather than as threats that are insurmountable, you will perform better in the short run and stay healthy in the long run.

So dont feel defeated by the pressure of daily life. Get in control of your stress before it takes control of you.

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Brain Scans Show Distinctive Patterns In People With Generalized Anxiety Disorder In Stanford Study

This image shows, in red, brain regions with stronger connections to the amygdala in patients with GAD, while the blue areas indicate weaker connectivity. The red corresponds to areas important for attention and may reflect the habitual use of cognitive strategies like worry and distraction in the anxiety patients. For a high-resolution version, click here.

Scrambled connections between the part of the brain that processes fear and emotion and other brain regions could be the hallmark of a common anxiety disorder, according to a new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine. The findings could help researchers identify biological differences between types of anxiety disorders as well as such disorders as depression.

The study published Dec. 7 in the Archives of General Psychiatry, examined the brains of people with generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, a psychiatric condition in which patients spend their days in a haze of worry over everyday concerns. Researchers have known that the amygdala, a pair of almond-sized bundles of nerve fibers in the middle of the brain that help process emotion, memory and fear, are involved in anxiety disorders like GAD. But the Stanford study is the first to peer close enough to detect neural pathways going to and from subsections of this tiny brain region.

Amit Etkin

Michael Greicius

  • Stephanie Pappas

What Anxiety And Depression Does To Your Brain

How Does Stress &  Anxiety Affect Your Body

Depression is a debilitating disease that runs rampant in todays world. It affects nearly 4.4 percent of the worlds population, a shockingly large number when looking at the size of the worlds population of 7 billion people, and the numbers keep growing. The disorders prominent status in society is followed closely by that of anxiety. Both disorders can deeply affect the life of the sufferer. The two psychiatric diseases pose a major concern for neuroscientists seeking to understand and find answers for sufferers of the disorders.

The great concern surrounding depression lies in its effect on the brain. Studies have shown that the condition causes the memory hub of the brain the hippocampus to shrink. While this may initially manifest as poor memory, it becomes far more problematic later in life. The presence of a shrunken hippocampus has become linked to the development of Alzheimers Disease and dementia in patients with neurocognitive disorder.

In the past, there have been fewer studies of the relationship between depression and anxiety when it combined in patients. However, more recent studies are taking steps to analyze the effect this comorbidity of the two disorders might have on the patient. Comorbidity of the two conditions has grown in concern as the conditions presence increases in society, particularly as the presence of both diseases in a patient have been noted to lead to poorer health and suicidal ideation.

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How Stress And Anxiety Affect The Brain

If youve ever been pulled over by the police or have had to give a speech in front of a large crowd, youre probably familiar with stress and anxiety in some form or another. These emotions can trigger not only a mental response but a physical one too. While some level of stress and anxiety is actually normal and healthy, these feelings in excess can severely impact a persons daily life not to mention their health.

Let Us Help Manage & Treat Your Anxiety

Here at StoneRidge Centers, we combine brain science with compassionate care. We know just how taxing anxiety can be on your brain. But we also know that with treatment and support, you can learn to manage anxiety. We created our mental health treatment program for that very reason.

Anxiety doesnt have to take over your life. You dont have to live in fear of the world or constantly worry about potential dangers. We can customize our comprehensive program to meet your needs. Contact us today at 928-583-7799 for a free and confidential conversation about managing your anxiety in a healthy way.


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Is All Stress Created Equal

While the effect of stress on the brain is well documented, it’s less clear exactly what type of stress will prove damaging and raise the risk of memory problems later in life. Do brain problems occur when you are under a small amount of stress or only when you experience long-term stress?

“That’s a tough question, because stress is a broad term that is used to describe a lot of different things,” says Dr. Ressler. The stress you might experience before you take a test is likely very different from the stress of being involved in a car accident or from a prolonged illness. “Certainly, more stress is likely worse, and long-term stress is generally worse than short-term stress,” says Dr. Ressler.

But there are additional factors that make stress more harmful, he says. In particular:

A Simplified Version Of What Goes On In The Brain:

How Anxiety Affects the Brain 9/30 How to Recognize and Turn off the Fight/Flight/Freeze Response

We can say that no one is “born” with social anxiety. You may remember circumstances and events from very early in life, but there is no “gene” that codes for social anxiety, and there is not an immutable set of genes that cause social anxiety to occur.

At best, we can say that some people have a predisposition toward anxiety symptoms in general. From what we know, this is not a predisposition to social anxiety per se, it is a predisposition to be anxious in general.

Why you develop social anxiety has more to do with environment than it has to do with genetics. However, there are always interactive combinations occurring.

People do not generally understand that even if something is genetically influenced, this does not mean it is genetically caused. Social anxiety can not occur unless events, situations, and circumstances in the persons’ environment “push” or “lead” the person to develop it.

Because we develop social anxiety over time , the brain is learning how to be socially anxious — this is cognitive structuring. The brain learns how and what to be afraid of. If you’re afraid of a certain event, and this event triggers your anxiety, then the neurons in your brain fire together, and over time, they wire together.

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Major Anxiety Disorders Include:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder , is when you get anxious about most every day situations and are unable to remember the last time you were in a relaxed mental state. This state of anxiety is caused by an imbalance in the brain chemicals that are involved in the regulation of a persons moods, serotonin, and noradrenaline a combination of past trauma such as violence, abuse, or bullying chronic pain condition or hereditary factors, among others.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can cause a person to have obsessive, intrusive thoughts that can be distressing or an overwhelming desire or compulsion to perform a routine repeatedly. This could be reflected in his or her habits, be it cleaning or washing hands unnecessarily, arranging items in a drawer in a certain way, folding away clothes, etc.
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder , caused after a particularly stressful period such as being in a war zone, surviving an attack or a tragic accident, or incident due to a natural disaster, and so on.
  • Phobias, experienced due to an excessive and irrational fear of a creature, place or event, such as bees, spiders, heights, the dark, tight spaces, fire, and so on.
  • Panic Attacks, cause irrational and heightened anxiety periods accompanied by physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, sweating, cold hands and feet, inability to breathe or hyperventilate, etc.

Stress Shrinks The Brain

Even among otherwise healthy people, stress can lead to shrinkage in areas of the brain associated with the regulation of emotions, metabolism, and memory.

While people often associate negative outcomes to sudden, intense stress created by life-altering events , researchers actually suggest that it is the everyday stress that we all seem to face that, over time, can contribute to a wide range of mental disorders.

In one study, researchers from Yale University looked at 100 healthy participants who provided information about the stressful events in their lives. The researchers observed that exposure to stress, even very recent stress, led smaller gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain linked to such things as self-control and emotions.

Chronic, everyday stress appeared to have little impact on brain volume on its own but may make people more vulnerable to brain shrinkage when they are faced with intense, traumatic stressors.

The accumulation of stressful life events may make it more challenging for these individuals to deal with future stress, particularly if the next demanding event requires effortful control, emotion regulation, or integrated social processing to overcome it, explained the studys lead author, Emily Ansell.

Different kinds of stress affect the brain in different ways. Recent stressful events affect emotional awareness. Traumatic events have a greater impact on mood centers.

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Genetic Contribution To Social Anxiety Disorder

The Neurobiology of Anxiety Disorders Unfortunately, there are very few studies specifically examining the genetic underpinnings of SAD. Available data suggest that SAD has a high degree of familial aggregation. In a recent meta-analysis in which SAD was grouped with specific phobia and agoraphobia, an association between phobia in probands and their first-degree relatives was identified.

Twin studies in social phobics suggest that additive genetics is responsible for increased incidence of SAD in monozygotic compared with dizigotic twins and suggest no role for common environmental experiences. Adult twin studies of combined phobia diagnoses suggest that the additive genetics accounts for 20% to 40% of the variance in diagnosis. This result corresponds with a population-based twin study of adolescents diagnosed with social phobia, MDD, and alcoholism, in which genetics accounted for 28% of the risk variance for SAD. Again, the remaining risk was derived from non-shared environmental experiences. Unlike MDD and PTSD, there is little evidence that early-life trauma influences the risk for developing SAD in adulthood.

Genes associated with high behavioral inhibition include CRF and SERT. Internalizing neuroticism is associated with the gene encoding glutamic acid decarboxylase, the rate-limiting enzyme in the synthesis of GABA from glutamate .

Neuroendocrine And Neurotransmitter Pathways


In addition to the activity of each brain region, it also is important to consider the neurotransmitters providing communication between these regions. Increased activity in emotion-processing brain regions in patients who have an anxiety disorder could result from decreased inhibitory signaling by γ-amino-butyric-acid or increased excitatory neurotransmission by glutamate.

Well-documented anxiolytic and antidepressant properties of drugs that act primarily on monoaminergic systems have implicated serotonin , norepinephrine , and dopamine in the pathogenesis of mood and anxiety disorders. Genes whose products regulate monoaminergic signaling have become a prime area of research in the pathophysiology of mood and anxiety disorders, and they are thought to be critical for the mechanism of action of antidepressant drugs. Monoaminergic regulators include transmitter receptors vesicular monoamine transporter , which packages these neurotransmitters into vesicles the vasopressin , oxytocin, and vasopressin , oxytocin, and transmitter-specific reuptake transporters serotonin transporter , neurotonin transporter, and dopamine transporter the enzyme monoamine oxidase, which degrades 5-HT, DA, and NE and the enzyme catecholamine-O-methyltransferase , which degrades DA and NE.

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