How To Calm An Anxious Stomach: The Brain
Ever wonder why you get butterflies in your stomach before doing something stressful? Or why you feel like your stomach is tied in knots after an argument? Ever had a meeting with a toilet that went longer than expected and it wasnt caused by anything you ate? Stomach problems are one of the most common symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Researchers have identified a powerful connection between the gut and the brain. Like the brain, the gut is full of nerves. It contains the largest area of nerves outside the brain with the digestive tract and the brain sharing many of the same nerve connections.
Whether its a single nerve-wracking event or chronic worry and stress over time, stress can exact a physical toll on your digestive system. When you are anxious, some of the hormones and chemicals released by your body enter your digestive tract, where they interfere with digestion. They have a negative effect on your gut flora and decrease antibody production. The resulting chemical imbalance can cause a number of gastrointestinal conditions.
Common stress-related gut symptoms and conditions include:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- and peptic ulcers
Six Tips for Reducing Stress and Anxiety
Can Anxiety Disorders Be Prevented
You cant prevent anxiety disorders. But you can take steps to control or reduce your symptoms:
- Check out medications: Talk to a healthcare provider or pharmacist before taking over-the-counter medications or herbal remedies. Some of these contain chemicals that may make anxiety symptoms worse.
- Limit caffeine: Stop or limit how much caffeine you consume, including coffee, tea, cola and chocolate.
- Live a healthy lifestyle: Exercise regularly and eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Seek help: Get counseling and support if you experienced a traumatic or disturbing event. Doing so can help prevent anxiety and other unpleasant feelings from disrupting your life.
Ways To Train Your Brain To Fight Anxiety
May 12, 2017Manpreet Lehal
Your brain is the control room of the body, this means your brain controls everything, including the body, its functions, how you feel and think. By training your brain, you can learn techniques and principles that will enable you to overcome the underlying cause of depression and anxiety.
Anxiety, simply put, is an advanced level of worry. It is worry that has evolved into a constant, worst-case scenarios and what ifs spinning round the brain with unrelenting nagging, doubts, and fears which drastically saps your emotional energy, sending your anxiety level soaring. Your anxiety, in turn, interferes with your daily life, goals, and relationships.
The good news is this chronic habit can be broken, and in this article you’ll explore ways you can train your brain to fight anxiety, stay calm and see life from a more positive perspective. But in order to do this, you must realize a few things. Let me take you through the journey of training your brain to fight anxiety.
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Tips For Anxious Students
Last month, Anxiety UK launched a student guide to anxiety. Here are Anxiety UK and Dr Rudkins top 10 self-help tips:
It Can Make You More Impulsive
People can make snap decisions in a bout of anxiety. This is, in part, because the cortisol’s effect on the prefrontal cortex. Anastasiou says that cortisol disengages the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of our brain responsible for helping us make decisions.
âThis can lead to impulsive behaviors, poor decision making and irritability,â Anastasiou says.
So next time youâre feeling anxious, it might be a good idea to put off making any big decisions.
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Your Cells Can Begin To Malfunction
When your brain is in a constant state of stress, it may start to change your brain on a cellular level. As Carpenter says, “There is increasing evidence from studies that chronic untreated anxiety can trigger stem cells to malfunction, which creates very rigid connections between two brain areas , which leads to your brain being in a near-constant state of the ‘fight-or-flight’ response.”
How Does Psychotherapy Treat Anxiety Disorders
Psychotherapy, or counseling, helps you deal with your emotional response to the illness. A mental health provider talks through strategies to help you better understand and manage the disorder. Approaches include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most common type of psychotherapy used with anxiety disorders. CBT for anxiety teaches you to recognize thought patterns and behaviors that lead to troublesome feelings. You then work on changing them.
- Exposure therapy focuses on dealing with the fears behind the anxiety disorder. It helps you engage with activities or situations you may have been avoiding. Your provider may also use relaxation exercises and imagery with exposure therapy.
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Track Your Mood To Identify Patterns
Weve talked about how useful mood tracking can be, and how to get started before, but Gil explains that its helpful for more than just clearing your mind and getting thoughts off your chest. It can also help you identify patterns and the underlying causes of your anxiety:
For example, if you suffer from social anxiety or awkwardness, keeping a thought journal like this can help you identify the types of situations that trigger your anxiety. If you can paint a clear picture, its easier to find methods to deal with respond to those scenarios positively.
When Should I Go To The Emergency Room For An Anxiety Disorder
Symptoms of an anxiety disorder can resemble symptoms of a heart attack or another health emergency. If youre experiencing an anxiety attack for the first time, or youre concerned in any way about your health, call 911 or head to the nearest ER. A healthcare provider will check you for serious or life-threatening conditions.
If youre having an anxiety attack and unsure whether you should head to an ER or not, its better to go. Healthcare professionals can make sure youre OK and give you any necessary treatment.
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The Science Of Anxiety
Increased heart rate. Heavy breathing. Maybe even sweating hands.
These can be symptoms of the fight-or-flight response, your bodys physiological reaction to perceived physical or mental threats. Generally speaking, these are signs of anxiety, your bodys reaction to stress. This type of anxiety is normal and can be expected to hit during certain life events and can last for brief periods of time.
However, individuals with anxiety disorders often experience these intense emotions for prolonged periods of time, which can impact their day-to-day living. There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and phobia-related disorders, like social anxiety disorder. And while each type has unique symptoms, generalized anxiety disorder is the most common and will often involve persistent worries regarding nonspecific life events and situations.
Anxiety is the most common mental health condition seen in our society, explains Danesh Alam, MD, medical director of Behavioral Health Services at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital.
Symptoms of anxiety disorders are thought to be a disruption of the emotional processing center in the brain rather than the higher cognitive centers. The brains limbic system, comprised of the hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus and thalamus, is responsible for the majority of emotional processing. Individuals with an anxiety disorder may have heightened activity in these areas.
It Can Impact Your Serotonin Levels
“Serotonin is one of the body’s ‘feel good’ chemicals,”psychotherapist Avery Neal, M.A., LPC. previously told Bustle. “It affects mood, aggression, sex-drive, appetite, digestion, sleep, memory, the desire to socialize and more.”
So an imbalance in serotonin levels can alter your mood. And according to recent research from University of Cambridge, some people are at a greater risk for developed anxiety and depression due to the way our serotonin transporter gene interacts with our environment.
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You May Become Stuck On High Alert
The whole point of anxiety is that it serves as a signal to alert you to danger, and prepares you to either fight or flee.
The thing is, when anxiety is left untreated, our brains can become stuck in that mode â even when nothing threatening or dangerous is actually happening.
“Another word for this is the ‘arousal’ in your brain ,” Erin Carpenter, LCSW, owner of Thrive Counseling, tells Bustle. “This means your brain is on high alert for danger, scanning the environment for possible threats. This all happens on a level of course, so you may not be aware of it happening. But you will be aware that, over time, you will become more reactive to stressors, and find it difficult to come back to a calm ‘baseline.'”
Tips For Seeking Medical Treatment
If your anxiety or tinnitus symptoms progress or do not respond to home remedies, you may need to seek medical treatment.
Your doctor will likely do an ear exam for tinnitus and ask about your health history. Make sure to bring a list of your symptoms, noting the frequency of them and any remedies youve tried.
If your primary care physician cannot find a cause, they may refer you to an otolaryngologist for a more thorough exam or an audiologist to measure your hearing.
Whether or not a medical professional finds a cause for your tinnitus, there are currently no FDA-approved drugs to treat it. But some physicians may use certain medications off label to treat your symptoms. This is a conversation to have with your doctor.
If your symptoms include anxiety, your doctor may refer you to a mental health expert, such as a psychologist or psychotherapist. Treatment for anxiety may help relieve your tinnitus symptoms.
Be sure to bring a list of your symptoms, noting their frequency and severity. Mention any home remedies or other forms of treatment youve tried.
More specifically, a treatment regimen called tinnitus retraining therapy uses CBT and supplemental sound masking to help you adapt to tinnitus.
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Being Consumed By An Anxiety Spiral Can Happen Quickly
More hormones are then released, accompanied by catastrophic thinking that tries to frame and explain intellectually what can feel like the end of the world. The sensations feed back into the anxiety spiral, amplifying themselves, and in some cases, even leading to a panic attack. What begins as thought is interpreted by the brain, which sends messages to the physical body, which responds biologically and in ways that confirm and compound the original anxious thoughts.
A break point like a panic attack can bring some relief, but the cycle can still continue in the long-term, because the body and mind have now strengthened the false belief that certain thoughts, feelings and sensations are to be feared. In the case of social anxiety or phobias, a person might deliberately alter their social behavior in response to this spiral, for example avoiding the people, situations or places that have triggered anxiety in the past. So, rather than exposing themselves to stimuli that may challenge their existing models, people behave in ways that further reinforce the very mechanisms of their anxiety.
It Can Lead To Depression
Anxiety and depression are two conditions that, while different, often go hand in hand.
âAnxiety can often lead to symptoms of depression,â Anastasiou says.
According to the MayoClinic, depression can commonly be triggered by an anxiety disorder, and anxiety is typically a symptom of depression. These conditions also share similar treatments â primarily psychological counseling. If you are having difficulties coping with symptoms of depression or anxiety, it may be time to seek out professional help.
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How Brain Scans Can Lead To Future Treatments For Anxiety Disorders
Brain scans may change the future treatment of anxiety disorders. Some scientists are trying to use brain scans to match patients with the therapy that will work best for them, since anxiety disorders can vary greatly from person to person. For example, one study of post-traumatic stress disorder patients showed that a smaller volume of the anterior cingulate cortex predicted a poor response to cognitive behavioral therapy.
In addition, neuroimaging allows for the opportunity to monitor the changes that occur from these therapies as well as the changes in a patients behavior. By doing so, the technology may ultimately help to refine and optimize therapeutic strategies.
Bryant, Richard A. et al. Rostral anterior cingulate volume predicts treatment response to cognitive-behavioural therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience, 2008. Accessed September 24, 2019.
Holzschneider, Kathrin Mulert, Christoph. Neuroimaging in anxiety disorders. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 2011. Accessed September 24, 2019.
How Untreated Depression & Anxiety Affect The Brain
Without treatment, depression and anxiety disorders can cause measurable changes in key areas of your brain. Experts arent entirely sure all the ways in which these conditions can affect the brain, but heres what they know so far.
Anxiety & Depression Can Shrink Areas of the Brain That Regulate Cognitive Function
Brain imaging tests, such as MRIs, show that people living with depression and anxiety disorders have abnormalities in areas of the brain responsible for cognitive functions like problem-solving, memory, and planning and executing activities. But thats not all. Untreated anxiety and depression can actually shrink regions of the brain, including:
- Hippocampus, the region of the brain primarily responsible for long-term memory. The hippocampus also plays an important role in regulating our emotional responses. Constant, severe mood-altering symptoms cause this part of the brain to shrink. Doctors call this shrinkage atrophy, and its associated with Alzheimers disease and dementia. A 2014 study revealed that damage to the hippocampus can also hinder social behavior by preventing you from accurately interpreting and responding to information. Hippocampus atrophy can even affect your ability to use language effectively.
- Prefrontal cortex, which helps regulate your short-term memory and how well you plan and prepare for activities. A shrunken prefrontal cortex can cause short-term memory loss, difficulty planning and executing events, and increased irritability.
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