Anxiety – neuroscientific bodily effects

When you feel under threat, anxiety and fear will put the body on alert to deal with the crisis. Hormones, such as adrenalin will be released, which causes your heart to beat faster to carry blood where it’s most needed.This is preparing the body to tackle the threat or problem or if necessary run away as fast as possible. This is usually known as preparing for fight or flight`.   You will breathe faster to provide the extra oxygen required for energy and then sweat to prevent overheating. Your mouth may feel dry, as your digestive system slows down to allow more blood to be sent to your muscles. Your senses become heightened and your brain becomes more alert.

Once the danger has passed, other hormones are released, which may cause you to shake to help your muscles start to relax.

This response is useful for protecting you against physical dangers; for example if someone is physically attacking you. However many tense situations such as public speaking or taking an exam where you need to be alert and focussed mean you don’t want your body to be so highly charged because there is no physical threat. However the effects of adrenaline subside more slowly, and you may go on feeling agitated or `hyper` for a long time.

  • Body chemistry: Anxiety has been associated with abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are special chemical messengers that help move information from nerve cell to nerve cell. If the neurotransmitters are out of balance, messages cannot get through the brain properly. This can alter the way the brain reacts in certain situations, leading to inappropriate anxiety. Again where your brain may have developed certain ways of being wired up by previous experiences it can usually be relearned and re-wired.
  • Family history: If you are born into a family that often gets hyper anxious you can learn & absorb this way of dealing with situations. Some say strands of fear and anxiety can also be inherited from our genes.
  • Life Trauma: It can be quite normal to be very anxious in response to an unusual or abnormal experience. If there are cumulative experiences that haven’t been successfully dealt with these will also create a build up of anxiety. If a car suddenly smashes into yours as you are happily driving along – and you and your passengers are seriously injured, you can also understandably become anxious about driving and fearful of other drivers. Any experiences of such as abuse, the death of a loved one, divorce, changing jobs or schools that generate stress can lead to Anxiety.
  • The use of, and withdrawal, from addictive substances, including alcohol, caffeine and nicotine, can also worsen anxiety.

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