Here’s How Anxiety Affects the Brain
What parts of the brain are affected by anxiety? Does untreated anxiety cause brain damage? Read on to discover the effects of anxiety on the brain here.
Did you know that nearly 40 million adults in the United States suffer from different anxiety disorders each year? That’s about 18.1% of the U.S. adult population. This makes anxiety a very common mental illness.
Anxiety has been well studied by professionals in the field of psychology because it’s so common. There’s been a lot of progress in treatment options.
Anxiety is a mental illness that a person can learn to cope with if they have the right professional help. Yet statistics state that only 36.9% of people suffering from anxiety receive treatment.
If anxiety is not addressed it can have some serious negative consequences on the brain. This is why finding out the effects of anxiety on the brain is crucial to addressing a person’s mental health. Keep reading to learn what they are.
Anxiety Changes How Your Brain Looks at Food
A constantly anxious brain will have trouble with the most basic functions. This includes thinking about or wanting to eat. Anxiety basically tells your brain and body that you’re in a dangerous situation, whether it’s something you perceive as dangerous or an actual emergency, and sends you into a fight or flight mode.
This type of survival mode is supposed to subside when the danger passes but dealing with constant anxiety will keep your brain in this mode indefinitely. While some people who struggle with anxiety disorders have trouble eating, others feel the need to eat more. These changes in appetite are a direct result of how anxiety affects the brain.
It Rewires the Connections in Your Brain
Anxiety and the brain are intrinsically connected because the effects of anxiety literally change your brain chemistry and rewire its connections. Studies have shown that a brain under constant anxiety will begin to create a stronger connection between the amygdala and the hippocampus.
The amygdala is primarily responsible for the emotions that come from a fight or flight response. The hippocampus is mostly involved in the processing of dangerous events into memories.
This rewiring of connections in the brain will make the amygdala overreact and perceive danger where there is none. This stronger connection between these two parts of the brain will heighten anxiety levels even further for a person suffering from this mental illness.
Can Affect Short Term Memory and Concentration
Some of the more serious anxiety effects on the brain include issues with memory and concentration. The constant activity in the hippocampus as it tries to process memories can slow it down and cause it to shrink. This shrinkage can lead to short term memory problems.
Being in a state of anxiety and having a rush of adrenaline works well when trying to fight off an attack but it’s not so great in everyday life. When attempting to work or study for an exam it becomes increasingly difficult to concentrate on the task in front of you if your brain is constantly on guard.
Anxiety Changes Your Sleeping Patterns
A brain with anxiety will always have trouble sleeping. Anxiety will change your sleeping patterns causing you to toss and turn all night. A brain that’s constantly on alert will have trouble relaxing and will keep you from falling asleep.
You’ll usually have very specific physical symptoms when experiencing anxiety, including a higher heart rate and faster breathing. This is not the most conducive environment for sleep, so you’ll most likely not get much if any when dealing with anxiety.
The surge of adrenaline you feel during an anxiety attack won’t allow your brain to shut off. A constant stream of racing thoughts when you’re trying to fall asleep will definitely mess up your normal sleeping patterns.
It Can Lead to Impulsive Behavior
An anxious mind doesn’t think as clearly as possible and doesn’t act clearly either. It’s hard to make good decisions when coming from a place of fear or anxiety. This is entirely a result of how your brain is affected by anxiety.
Cortisol, the hormone released when the brain feels anxiety, can slow down your prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex helps to regulate emotions and helps you in decision making. If the ability to make rational decisions is hindered by anxiety, impulsive decisions are inevitable.
Anxiety not only affects your brain but it affects your behavior and the decisions you make. The effects of anxiety can be felt in many areas of your life.
An Anxious Brain Can Cause Depression
Anyone who lives with a mental illness can tell you that they will oftentimes suffer from more than one. While anxiety is one of the more common mental illnesses in the U.S., many people with anxiety can also suffer from depression.
Having constant anxiety can lead a person to develop depression. Many people first diagnosed with depression can also experience many of the symptoms of anxiety.
A silver lining is that there are many treatment options that can help a person that struggles with both anxiety and depression. Not everyone knows the use of marijuana for depression and anxiety but it can help relieve many of the symptoms people experience.
The Effects of Anxiety on the Brain Explained
Anxiety can affect every aspect of a person’s life. It can lead them to struggle with the most basic decisions or something as complicated as their career or relationships.
Most people don’t realize the effects of anxiety on the brain, however. Some examples are listed above. Make sure to check out our other blogs to learn more about anxiety and the brain.