Research Question: How are Anxiety Disorders Correlated with the Brain?

Anxiety disorders, like other disorders, are not a choice to have and people cannot just decide to turn it on or off. People cannot control the anxiety they feel when they are put in certain situations. Anxiety disorders are often brought up due to environmental factors that include excessive fear (which could be caused by a traumatic experience), which then can lead to post-traumatic stress or phobias. This means that when put in certain situations, people with an anxiety disorder feel an excessive amount of fear. They feel anxious when they are put in situations that are not necessarily dangerous, like meeting someone for the first time (“Psychological Treatments for Panic Disorder”). Even though symptoms of anxiety disorders are shown due to an environmental factor, they are still closely correlated with the nervous system. This both has to do with what happens in a brain when there is excessive anxiety, along with the nature vs nurture debate (that there may be a genetic factor to anxiety disorders).

Exposure therapy is a type of therapy that helps ease the extensiveness of an anxiety disorder. A stimulus that causes fear is exposed in a safe environment, and the fear responses are slowly suppressed (Gallagher). When this fear-inducing stimulus is created, some neurons in the amygdala are activated. The amygdala is the part of the brain that deals with the emotions a person has (which explains why a fear-inducing stimulus would affect the amygdala). With exposure therapy, these neurons can be silenced, meaning they are less active and the response is not as strong.

Even though the amygdala plays a large role in anxiety disorders, other parts of the brain are also involved. The brainstem, diencephalon, and insular cortex may also be included in the process (Bergland). These parts of the brain could sense the body’s inner signals of danger when basic survival is threatened. When someone feels an excessive amount of panic or fear, this may be due to a part of the brain outside of the amygdala. Although outside world information is filtered through the amygdala to generate fear, signs of danger from inside the body can provoke fear even without an amygdala present.

Anxiety disorders can leave to many other emotional and physical problems. For example, children or adolescents who had anxiety disorders have a higher risk for depression, suicide, a poorer quality of life, social difficulties, and increased mortality due to cardiovascular disease (DeSousa et. all). In children especially, anxiety disorders can involve dysfunctional processes in various emotional and cognitive processes, each of which is in turn regulated by several brain regions that may support anxiety disorder pathophysiology. This includes the amygdala (as mentioned before) along with the prefrontal cortex and the basal ganglia.

Anxiety disorders are partially due to the genes that run within a family and are heritable. However, there is also an environmental to how prevalent these disorders are. For example, a person many have an anxiety disorder from their genes, but it wouldn’t affect them until a specific environmental factor came about and caused them to feel the extreme fear and anxiety.

 

Bergland, Christopher. “Decoding the Neuroscience of Fear and Fearlessness.” Psychology Today. N.p., 6 Feb. 2013. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

DeSousa, Diogo, Giovanni Salum, Maria Rosário, Daniel Pine, and Gisele Manfro. “Pediatric Anxiety Disorders.” Scielo. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

Gallagher, Siobhan, and Jennifer Kritz. “Neuroscientists Determine How Treatment for Anxiety Disorders Silences Fear Neurons.” Tufts Now. N.p., 31 Oct. 2013. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

“Psychological Treatments for Panic Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder.” Oxford Neuroscience. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

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