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The Transition House, Inc.

How anxiety disorders affect your brain


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 doesn’t 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
  • Clinical depression
  • Higher risk for substance abuse
  • Behavioral changes
  • Heart problems

Now that we’re familiar with the physical effects of anxiety, let’s discuss what happens to the brain when you’re experiencing anxiety. Before you begin to feel the physical effects of anxiety, your body is at work processing your emotions. I’m sure you’ve felt that familiar feeling of anxiety; increase in heart rate, a pit in your stomach, etc. Anxiety is part of your body’s 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.

There are two other key factors in the production of anxiety and fear in your brain. Scientists have found that the amygdala (an almond-shaped mass of gray matter inside each cerebral hemisphere, involved with the experiencing of emotions) and the hippocampus (the elongated ridges on the floor of each lateral ventricle of the brain, thought to be the center of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system) play a significant role in most anxiety disorders. The amygdala processes incoming sensory signals and interprets them. The hippocampus is the part of the brain the encodes these threatening events into memories. Neurotransmitter production is also a factor in the development of anxiety. If you are born with a lower amount of neurotransmitters, you may be more susceptible to developing an anxiety disorder.

If you do suffer from an anxiety disorder, there’s hope. With counseling, and, if needed, medication, you can live a happy and healthy life. For more information on counseling for anxiety disorders, contact us at TTHI Counseling Center. We’re your go-to counseling center in Central Florida.  

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