What Is An Anxiety Disorder
An anxiety disorder is a type of mental health condition. If you have an anxiety disorder, you may respond to certain things and situations with fear and dread. You may also experience physical signs of anxiety, such as a pounding heart and sweating.
Its normal to have some anxiety. You may feel anxious or nervous if you have to tackle a problem at work, go to an interview, take a test or make an important decision. And anxiety can even be beneficial. For example, anxiety helps us notice dangerous situations and focuses our attention, so we stay safe.
But an anxiety disorder goes beyond the regular nervousness and slight fear you may feel from time to time. An anxiety disorder happens when:
- Anxiety interferes with your ability to function.
- You often overreact when something triggers your emotions.
- You cant control your responses to situations.
Anxiety disorders can make it difficult to get through the day. Fortunately, there are several effective treatments for anxiety disorders.
What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder
With GAD, you may feel extreme and unrealistic worry and tension even if theres nothing to trigger these feelings. Most days, you may worry a lot about various topics, including health, work, school and relationships. You may feel that the worry continues from one thing to the next.
Physical symptoms of GAD can include restlessness, difficulty concentrating and sleeping problems.
Genes’ Effect On Mood And Depression
Every part of your body, including your brain, is controlled by genes. Genes make proteins that are involved in biological processes. Throughout life, different genes turn on and off, so that in the best case they make the right proteins at the right time. But if the genes get it wrong, they can alter your biology in a way that results in your mood becoming unstable. In a person who is genetically vulnerable to depression, any stress can then push this system off balance.
Mood is affected by dozens of genes, and as our genetic endowments differ, so do our depressions. The hope is that as researchers pinpoint the genes involved in mood disorders and better understand their functions, depression treatment can become more individualized and more successful. Patients would receive the best medication for their type of depression.
Another goal of gene research, of course, is to understand how, exactly, biology makes certain people vulnerable to depression. For example, several genes influence the stress response, leaving us more or less likely to become depressed in response to trouble.
The evidence for other types of depression is more subtle, but it is real. A person who has a first-degree relative who suffered major depression has an increase in risk for the condition of 1.5% to 3% over normal.
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Whats The Outlook For People With Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders can often go undiagnosed and untreated. Fortunately, treatment can help. The right treatment can help improve your quality of life, relationships and productivity. It can also support your overall well-being.
You dont need to live with constant worry and fear. If you notice symptoms of an anxiety disorder, talk to your healthcare provider. Its best to get diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. Doing so can limit the problems that anxiety disorders can cause. Often, a combination of medications and counseling for anxiety can help you feel your best.
Is There A Test To Identify A Chemical Imbalance In The Brain
There are no reliable tests available to help diagnose a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Tests that use urine, saliva, or blood to measure neurotransmitters in the brain are unlikely to be accurate.
Not all neurotransmitters are produced in the brain. The tests that are currently marketed dont distinguish between neurotransmitter levels in your brain and in the rest of your body.
In addition, neurotransmitter levels in your body and brain are constantly and rapidly changing. This makes such tests unreliable.
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What Causes Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders are like other forms of mental illness. They dont come from personal weakness, character flaws or problems with upbringing. But researchers dont know exactly what causes anxiety disorders. They suspect a combination of factors plays a role:
- Chemical imbalance: Severe or long-lasting stress can change the chemical balance that controls your mood. Experiencing a lot of stress over a long period can lead to an anxiety disorder.
- Environmental factors: Experiencing a trauma might trigger an anxiety disorder, especially in someone who has inherited a higher risk to start.
- Heredity: Anxiety disorders tend to run in families. You may inherit them from one or both parents, like eye color.
A Permanent Solution Involves Changing The Brain
The only permanent solution is to change your neural pathways and associations. This can only be done by learning new strategies, rational concepts, and new methods to extinguish social anxiety. Then, these new strategies and methods must be practiced and practiced. This is why we always talk about repetition.
Without repetition, neural pathways and associations cannot change. To have a permanent solution for social anxiety, our neural pathways and associations MUST change.
When our neural pathways and associations change, our brain chemistry also changes. This is a permanent change, because you have practiced the new methods and concepts into your brain repetitiously, thus creating new neural associations. The more dense these neural associations are, the more you have recovered from social anxiety.
Everything in life works like this. Whatever you really learn causes new neural pathways in the brain, and, over time, with repetition, you gradually become better and better at something. Find the best method of support for you and get started.
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Permanent Changes Take Consistency Persistence And Repetition
It does work, but it takes persistence, practice, and repetition. The brain’s neural pathways must change so that your beliefs, thoughts, and perceptions become more rational. This can only occur if you change your neural pathways by practicing repetitiously the new methods and concepts learned in cognitive therapy.
Cognitive therapy is nothing more than “learning” the appropriate methods, strategies, and concepts to help your brain develop new neural pathways that are more rational than the old anxiety-ridden pathways.
This is more fully explained in the audio therapy series, “Overcoming Social Anxiety: Step By Step” and the cognitive therapy provided throughout this series directly relates to overcoming social anxiety altogether.
This, as you can see, takes practice, persistence, and repetition. But, it works. It has to work because, as you continue, your mind really does change. You are developing new neural pathways and associations as you learn appropriate cognitive strategies.
Introduction To Emotional Processing
Mood and anxiety disorders are characterized by a variety of neuroendocrine, neurotransmitter, and neuroanatomical disruptions. Identifying the most functionally relevant differences is complicated by the high degree of interconnectivity between neurotransmitter- and neuropeptide-containing circuits in limbic, brain stem, and higher cortical brain areas. Furthermore, a primary alteration in brain structure or function or in neurotransmitter signaling may result from environmental experiences and underlying genetic predisposition such alterations can increase the risk for psychopathology.
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Glutamate And Anxiety In Primates
First, the team tested each marmosets anxiety levels when introduced to an unfamiliar human . As expected, the animals with the greatest levels of anxiety or high-trait anxiety had significantly lower levels of glutamate in their hippocampus.
High-trait anxiety correlated with glutamate levels in the right anterior hippocampus.
Next, they artificially increased the level of glutamate in the highly anxious marmosets. They found that once glutamate levels reached normal levels, the animals responded less anxiously in psychological tests.
This second arm of the experimentation gave the researchers evidence of a causal relationship: Anxious primates naturally had lower levels of glutamate activity, and when glutamate was increased in the anxious primates hippocampi, anxiety was reduced.
To gain more information about the role of brain areas 25 and 32, the team carried out further experiments.
Blocking activity in these regions, they found that the anti-anxiety effects of increasing glutamate were abolished when area 25 was out of action. Blocking area 32, however, did not make a difference.
The study authors suggest that the hippocampal-area 25 pathway could be an interesting target for future pharmaceutical interventions. Overall, the authors outline their conclusions:
Though scientists are still unpicking glutamates role in anxiety, studies such as this bring us closer to having a full understanding.
What Happens In The Brain With Anxiety
Neuroimaging studies reliably show changes in brain function among those who experience chronic anxiety, and they involve dysfunction of connectivity among areas of the brain that work together to orchestrate emotional response. Under normal circumstances the brain region known as the amygdala flags threats and, in an act of protection, sends out a signal to many parts of the brain. The stress response system kicks in immediately, preparing the body for action. On a slower track, signals travel to the prefrontal cortex, the so-called thinking brain, where the threat can be evaluated and, if needed, action planned to ameliorate any potential danger. But in anxiety, often because the amygdala has been sensitized by early adverse experience, it overresponds, overwhelming the capacity of the PFC to rationally assess and manage any threat, however remote or hypothetical.
Researchers have recently identified a tiny brain region known as the BNST, the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, as a major node in brain circuits of anxiety. About the size of a small sunflower seed, it is considered an extension of the amygdala. Its primary function is to monitor the environment for vague, psychologically distant, or unpredictable threatssay, imagining that youll stumble badly and embarrass yourself when you give that upcoming talk. And when activated, it sends out alarms prompting alertness and hypervigilance to potential dangerthe hallmarks of anxiety.
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A Combination Of Influences
Currently, most professionals who treat panic disorder rely on a multidimensional theory to understand the causes of panic and anxiety symptoms. This theory is based on the notion that a combination of factors leads to the development of panic disorder, meaning that a chemical imbalance may be partly to blame.
Other influences, such as genetics and environmental factors, also likely play a role in a persons experience with panic disorder.
What Causes Depression And Anxiety A Controversial Question
This is an excerpt from Feeling Great by David D. Burns, MD
Feeling GreatFeeling Great
1. Do depression and anxiety result from a chemical imbalance in the brain?Many people today still believe this theory, but is it true?What is L-tryptophan, and what was the goal of the study?So what happened?To this day, I am still not aware of any consistent or convincing evidence that depression, or any other psychiatric problem, results from any chemical imbalance in the brain.2. What does cause depression?is
- Traumatic childhood experiences, like abuse, neglect, bullying, or intimidation
- Social pressures to be popular, perfect, or successful, which lead lots of people to conclude Im just not good enough
- Environmental factors, like poverty, social injustice, and prejudice, or a lack of loving, supportive relationships
- Poor diet or nutritional factors
- Poor self-care, such as a lack of exercise, or alcohol or substance abuse
- Chronic stress and more
Feeling GreatCheck out this ten minute video clip where I discuss these questions and more. And click here to order Feeling Great.Feeling GreatGet this revolutionary treatment for depression and anxiety…Feeling Good: The New Mood TherapyFeeling GreatMeet the Expert:David D. Burns, MDFeeling GoodFeeling Good Handbook
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The Major Chemical Messengers In The Brain
There are hundreds of neurotransmitters, but here are some of the main players:
- Serotonin is the happy and calming brain chemical that can improve your mood and help you to sleep well.
- Dopamine and noradrenaline are the feel-good neurotransmitters, helping you feel energized, focused, motivated, and in control.
- GABA is the cool neurotransmitter, calming you down during periods of stress.
- Adrenaline, made in the adrenal glands, is the motivator, stimulating you and helping you respond to stress.
- Endorphins promote that blissful feeling, a sense of euphoria often found in runners high, or even, paradoxically, in emergencies and after an injury.
- Acetylcholine enhances memory, cognition, alertness, and concentration.
- Melatonin affects your ability to sleep soundly and to dream. It helps you to keep in tune with the cycles of nature by responding to seasonal shifts and regulating your inner clock for day and night, known as your circadian rhythm.
When your neurotransmitters are out of balance, you may feel depressed, anxious, stressed, and unmotivated. You may be unable to fall asleep or stay asleep.
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.
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Could This Chemical Help Explain Anxiety
A recent study on anxiety examined the role of glutamate, which is a neurotransmitter. The findings could help scientists develop more effective interventions.
Almost everybody experiences anxiety in one of its forms.
Over time, evolution honed anxiety as a survival mechanism it forms part of our fight-or-flight response.
The heart pumps a little faster, and there might be a sensation of nausea as the body prepares for action.
Although anxiety is a natural response, it can spiral out of control for some people.
Rather than being a protective force that helps us navigate everyday life, it becomes a burden that impacts well-being. Also, being more prone to anxiety increases the risk of developing an anxiety disorder and depression.
Beyond mental health, anxiety might also have physical effects the authors of the new study write that sustained high levels of anxiety may increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America say that anxiety disorders impact almost 1 in 5 adults in the United States each year.
Anxiety disorders are as common as depression, but until relatively recently, they received much less attention.
Because of its growing prevalence, the neurological mechanisms that are involved are receiving increased attention. The latest study, which now appears in The Journal of Neuroscience, investigates the role of glutamate in the hippocampus.