The Science Behind Anxiety.

As an anxious person, I have come to understand that information is key, knowledge is power. I like to know as much information about something as possible, so my anxious brain can asses the “risks” and prepare me for what comes next. If you suffer from anxiety, I am sure you can relate to that train of thought more than you’d care to admit!

Since I have decided to dedicate this blog to mental health and my progress in regards understanding my anxiety more, I have been doing a lot of research. It occurred to me that I had never really took the time to look up the biological and psychological reasoning for anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, I know small amounts of information about it but I never really delved into the science behind it, until now.

And what I discovered, was strangely comforting.

First off, I want to make it clear that everyone one has their own issues and experience(s), that has led them to developing anxiety. However, the way anxiety works is always the same. It is a physiological result of your body reacting to stress. In short, your body is literally trying to protect you from danger by producing a fight-or-flight response.

The fight-or flight response is a reaction your body produces to protect yourself from perceived, impending danger. Back in the cave man days, this was really useful for fighting off wild animals etc. and essentially kicked our brains into survival mode. During this response, the brain releases a chemical in an area of the brain called the hypothalamus. During this time, chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) are released into our blood streams. Blood rushes to the lower half of our body, our heart rate increases and our senses sharpen, keeping us incredibly alert to the potential dangers that surround us. So, ironically, stress doesn’t set out to kills us, it actually wants us to survive! But sometimes, it sure doesn’t feel that way.

The problem with anxiety in modern, western society, is that we aren’t avoiding dinosaurs or hunting for food daily to survive anymore, but our bodies still react the same way to perceived danger. Prolonged stress can often result in a list of physiological and psychological problems, such as irrational thoughts, irrational fear, headaches, stomach cramps etc. Anxiety affects the entire body if external and internal stressors aren’t dealt with. Anxiety doesn’t need to know specifically why you are stressed, it just reacts to stress accordingly.

In regards to the anatomy of the brain, the stress hormones and stress regulatory systems at play are the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala and the hippocampus. The prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain that helps us with planning and contributes to personality development, it is the “higher thinking” part of our brain. The amygdala is located behind each ear and this part of the brain is responsible for survival instincts, emotional behavior and fear. When signaled, the amygdala will interact with the hippocampus, which will in-turn allow the brain to connect emotion to events, releasing stress hormones. Basically, anxiety trips your poor amygdala, which is trying to act like a house alarm by letting you know danger is near, when really there is nothing life threatening happening externally at all.

Your brain is literally “triggering” you. If you are in a situation similar to something stressful you experienced in the past, your memory has stored that as an unpleasant event. Which will fire up your amygdala, conjuring up all of the emotions and frightening memories you had in the past, as it prepares your body to deal with impending doom.

Neurologically speaking, your overactive amygdala wants the best for you but your prefrontal cortex is really fucking tired of it’s shit. All the while, your hippocampus is trying to regulate your stress hormones to calm you down but because your amygala is firing loads of warning signals, it can’t do it’s job properly. Too much cortisol (stress hormone) can actually create disfunction in how your brain stores and recalls memories. That’s right, anxiety isn’t just a bad mood, it’s literally something that chemically changes how your brain functions and reacts.

Isn’t it sort of nice to know that it’s not just you? This is how every anxious brain chemically reacts.

I discovered a lot of this mind-blowing information from the author Caroline Foran and her book Owning It, which I would highly recommend to anyone suffering with anxiety. (This is not sponsored, I just really like the book and am finding it very informative!) 

Thank you for taking the time our of your day to check out my blog. I hope you found this post useful. Make sure to check back next week, where I will be sharing more tips, thoughts and useful (hopefully!) information. Let’s break the stigma together!

You are not broken, you are not a freak and you are certainly not alone.

Ellie. xo

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