How Does Anxiety Impact The Brain?
Anxiety impacts millions of people across the globe. While its effect differs for everyone, it’s not just a mental health condition based on feelings. In fact, your brain actually changes when you have anxiety.
Before you read that and panic, take a deep breath. While anxiety does impact the brain, it doesn’t mean the changes caused by your anxious thoughts are permanent. Anxiety is often very manageable with the right help and support.
Understanding how anxiety impacts the brain can help to bring certain ideas, attitudes, and behaviors to light. Whether you were recently diagnosed with anxiety or you’ve been dealing with it for years, going deeper into what happens in the brain can help you see things more clearly.
Let’s take a closer look at how anxiety impacts the brain and what you can do about it.
Which Parts of the Brain Are Affected?
There are two main areas of the brain that are impacted by anxiety – the hippocampus and the amygdala.
The hippocampus is responsible for helping you form memories. It’s also necessary for learning and to help you process your emotions. Unfortunately, the hippocampus is susceptible to several issues, including depression and other neurological conditions.
When it comes to anxiety, the hippocampus can shrink, primarily due to the stress of dealing with anxious thoughts. Your memories can also be impacted. The memories that still exist in a smaller hippocampus are more likely to be linked to anxiety, creating a vicious circle that makes it hard to get better.
The amygdala is responsible for emotional regulation. It’s also the part of our brain in charge of the “fight or flight” response. When you have anxiety, the amygdala might signal to the brain that you’re in a dangerous situation, even when you’re not. That can lead to heightened feelings of anxiety more often than not. You’ll constantly feel like you’re “on” or that you have to be worried about something coming just around the corner when there isn’t a real threat. Not only can that cause a lot of anxiety, but your brain might eventually have difficulty recognizing a real threat from a believed one.
Can Anxiety Cause Damage to the Brain?
Research has shown that prolonged anxiety can, indeed, degenerate the overall structure of the brain – especially the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. What does that mean? While you might not see any changes for quite a while, that kind of damage can make you more susceptible to cognitive impairment.
How Can You Get Help?
Even though anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues, it’s also one of the most treatable. The first step in getting the help you need (and deserve) is to acknowledge what you’re dealing with.
When you work with a therapist, you’ll likely have to go back and dig into the root cause of your anxiety. While it’s not the most comforting activity, beginning the healing process is necessary. That includes healing the way your brain has been impacted by the condition.
Thankfully, brains have plasticity. If you can reduce the anxiety in your life and manage your symptoms, brain damage caused by anxiety might be able to be repaired. But you have to be willing to try to fight back against your anxious thoughts every day.
That starts by making some lifestyle choices. Try to reduce stress daily, practice mindfulness, meditate, and avoid triggers when possible.
Most importantly, don’t feel you have to deal with this alone. If you’re interested in learning more about how anxiety impacts your brain and what you can do to start healing, please contact me for information about anxiety therapy.