By: Kristie Bray, LPCC
The brain's limbic system is comprised of the hippocampus, amygdala, and the hypothalamus. It is responsible for the majority of emotional processing, storage of memories, sexual arousal, and learning. Individuals with an anxiety disorder may have heightened activity in these areas. The main function of the amygdala is in emotional responses, including feelings of happiness, fear, anger, and anxiety. The amygdala is linked to your fight or flight response.
Anxiety happens when a part of the brain, the amygdala, senses trouble. When it senses threat, real or imagined, it surges the body with hormones and adrenaline to make the body strong, fast and powerful.
Lets touch base on a few of the hormones and chemicals in our bodies that can effect anxiety:
Adrenaline (epinephrine) increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies.
Norepinephrine is linked to alertness and attention. Norepinephrine activates the amygdala and is responsible for activating the fight or flight response.
Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain's use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. It's responsible for keeping your senses and reflexes, especially during fight or flight situations.
Serotonin is responsible for mood, sleep, and appetite. A serotonin imbalance may contribute to anxiety or mood disturbances. Besides being helpful for mental health, serotonin will also help with digestion, sleep, and bone health. It can effect the signaling of pain from the brain and nervous system.
Dopamine allows us to feel pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation; too much dopamine could lead the brain to weigh negative inputs too highly. There is some evidence showing that improved dopamine levels may help with social anxiety.
GABA is a neurotransmitter that is regulatory center for anxiety. It is an inhibitory neurotransmitter so it slows down or blocks signals. When it attaches to a GABA receptor is can produce a calming effect. There is some stronger research showing that GABA dysfunction is related to anxiety states.
The overproduction of our thyroid hormone, hyperthyroidism, has been linked to cause anxiety and panic attacks.
Some of these hormones and neurotransmitters require us to work with your PCP. An example is hyperthyroidism, once this is treated patients will show immediate improvements in their anxiety if not related to a mental health condition. They can also contribute to pain throughout our bodies; serotonin and norepinephrine are two that signal our brain and nervous system for pain.
It is also thought that B1 deficiencies are associated with anxiety, depression, irritability, insomnia, and memory loss. B-complex, vitamin E, vitamin C, and GABA are common vitamins that are used to help with anxiety.
Anxiety effects our bodies. We can have all or a few of these symptoms when discussing anxiety: rapid heart rate, chest pain, exhaustion, poor sleep, muscle pain, restless, grinding teeth, headaches feelings of dread, impending doom, and can’t stop worrying. We have to look at our whole body and treat it to help handle the mental strains as well.