Activity in our brain is shaped by how we see and process the world around us, which in turn affects the types of hormones our brain instructs our bodies to produce. The human fight-or-flight response is a clear example of this.
Take for example two kids getting into a scuffle on the playground. After trading barbs or getting into a shoving match, the heightened threat of the situation triggers the release of adrenaline or cortisol, causing them to either escalate the aggression or run away. Those hormones are a key part of human evolution and survival. However, in the modern world, they’re sometimes triggered at inconvenient and inappropriate times.
Emotional states like anxiety have a powerful effect on the brain—here are some of the most common ways your anxiety may be impacting you.
How Anxiety Works
Anxiety is an outgrowth of our fight-or-flight response and can be triggered by a wide variety of situations. Like beauty, anxiety is in the eye of the beholder. Any situation which creates a sense of dread or uncertainty can cause it—even everyday activities like driving to work, shopping for groceries, or cooking dinner. Usually, our fears or past experience with trauma play a key role in shaping our anxiety triggers.
The key areas of the brain that play a role in governing our fight-or-flight response are:
Responsible for processing and handling emotions, the amygdala also plays an important role in looking out for danger. In people who suffer from anxiety, the amygdala can sometimes become overactive. Always on, and always looking for the next problem or source of danger.
This part of the brain is active in learning new information and storing memories. In people with anxiety, we often see that increased activity in the amygdala is offset by changes in how the hippocampus functions. Sometimes, this leads to difficulty with the formation of new memories and learning new skills—which isn’t surprising!
After all, if your brain is always busy looking for threats, how carefully are you keeping track of where you left your keys?
The Prefrontal Cortex
Like the amygdala, the prefrontal cortex is involved in the regulation of emotions, however, it’s also involved in the decision-making process. Often, people suffering from anxiety have less activity in their prefrontal cortex. This may lead to irritability, outbursts, and other impulsive behaviors.
Anxiety & Brain Development
Our brains develop quickly in childhood, adapting to our environments to help us cope with the stresses we encounter. When we suffer trauma or prolonged exposure to stress, our brains adapt as a survival mechanism. Those same physiological changes may last well into adulthood, echoing into the future in ways we may not understand.
It’s important to note, however, that those changes are not permanent. Our bodies are capable of extraordinary feats of self-healing thanks to the elasticity of the human brain.
Anxiety Management & Treatment
You can manage your feelings of anxiety without medication in a number of ways. Hormone imbalances in our bodies are one of the biggest causes of anxiety. As a result, some of the most common ways to balance out your system are very low-impact. Improving your diet and exercising regularly have a huge impact. So does cutting back on your intake of caffeine and alcohol, both of which can increase your stress levels. Getting a good night’s sleep and taking time for meditation or mindfulness exercises are also great ways to level out your stress hormones.
In my practice, I regularly use principles from Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in combination with Psychodynamic Therapy, as well as other types of therapy. These therapies work by helping clients identify, process, and resolve the experiences and beliefs that form the basis of their anxiety.
Reach Out Today
Reach out today for help getting a handle on your anxiety. I find helping people work through their anxiety gratifying and fulfilling. I would love to be a part of your healing journey with anxiety treatment.