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Understanding How an Anxious Brain Works

By Christopher Jacoby | Anxiety | Rating:

Our brains take in information about the surrounding through sight, taste, touch, sound, and smell. Constantly scanning the perceived reality for meaning, brain blends information taken from the present moment with the past and decides what actions to take. Usually, the brain does its functions really well. But for those with severe anxiety, something often goes awry. Billions of neurons (nerve cells) reside in the brain. They are arranged into a variety of complicated structures or circuits. Certain structures are particularly related to producing feelings of anxiety, stress, and fear. These brain structures talk to one another by transmitting chemical messengers, called as neurotransmitters, back and forth.

Think of our brain as having plenty of interconnected circuits, for example the frontal lobes and the limbic system. The frontal lobes use reason and thought to process incoming information, while the limbic system (especially the amygdala) registers threats and dangers and induces reflexive fear responses. For instance, the limbic system might set off alarms reflexively in your brain upon seeing a huge furry spider. However, the frontal lobes could signal the system to cool off as it processes an affirmation that the spider is confined inside a glass cage. In people with anxiety disorders, either the frontal lobes or the limbic system (or both) may unable to function smoothly. Thus, you limbic system may trigger fear responses too often and too easily, or the frontal lobes may unable to use logic to eliminate the fears sparked off by the limbic system. If your brain signals danger, your body responds by preparing for corresponding physical actions.

Neurotransmitters in our brain help nerve cells transmit feelings of fears, emotions, actions, and thoughts through a convoluted orchestration. Four important neurotransmitter systems are:

Noradrenergic system, which controls the excretion of epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. It also provokes organs involved in the fight-or-flight responses.

Cholinergic system, which triggers the noradrenergic neurotransmitters and helps the formation of memories.

Dopaminergic system, it involves in physical movement and is also associated to feelings of reward and pleasure. Dopamine disruptions will cause problems with alertness, motivation, and attention, and seem to be quite important in developing fear reactions.

Serotonergic system, it is related aggression, anxiety, and moods.

As neurotransmitters pulse through our brain, the brain segments involved in anxiety and fear lights up, our body then reacts in a full system alert, often referred to as fight-or-flight response.





Christopher Jacoby

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