The Anxious Brain
To better understand and treat the anxious mind, it’s important to look at what’s happening to the brain at a chemical level.
The frontal lobe is known as the cognitive region of the brain that processes emotion, memory, language, problem solving and the like. The amygdala, located within the centre of the brain, regulates mood and emotions, and conditions such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and phobias are known to be attributed to dysfunction in this part of the brain.
Anxiety is experienced when the signals from the amygdala overpower those coming from the frontal lobe, i.e. when our cognitive reasoning is overcome by emotion.
The dorsal anterior cingulate amplifies amygdala signals, thereby making a person by anxious.
By contrast, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex dampens the signals of the amygdala, holting the brain’s reception of anxiety.
Thus, there are current treatments that
1) regulate the chemical levels of the brain – drug therapy, and;
2) manipulate cognitive and behavioural response to distressing situations – cognitive behavioural therapy
Studies conducted showed that the of anxiety medication is still a questionable area of study, with reported loss of effectiveness for long-term use, and can ultimately lead to drug dependence. These are classed under two types of drugs – benzodiazepines, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Benzodiazepines are a class of tranquilisers intended for short-term use, and is taken to promote a calming effect over the individual’s mental and physical state. This is achieved through the production of the neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which slows down the central nervous system. They’re are used to treat the symptoms of anxiety, rather than the cause and can be addictive. Unfortunately, it has also been found that these drugs can also heighten problems such as depression, anxiety, and anger.
SSRI Antidepressants are prescribed for long-term use. These drugs promote retention of serotonin by blocking the brain’s reabsorption of the chemical, which allows the brain to feel happier, calmer, and less anxious. There are a myriad of factors to consider when selecting the right SSRI antidepressant for you. It is important to factor the potential side effects unique to each one, and thus the best way to make a decision is to consult your local GP.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
CBT is a combination of techniques utilised by cognitive therapy and behaviour therapy to promote healthy thoughts and behavioural response to override those which are self-destructive.
The programme uses self-help strategies and plans for the individual to identify and therefore overcome their complications to hopefully bring about lasting change. It achieves this by aiming to divert the individual from negative thinking and maintain positive and realistic thought processes by working through thoughts feelings, and behaviours that induce negative self-talk and ultimately gaining control over these self-destructive factors.
According to the Better Health organisation, CBT is unique to the individual’s problems, and may vary slightly, however, the programme is typically structured by the following:
- Intervention with the unhealthy cognitive process that proliferates negative thinking which may look like feelings of unworthiness, self-disgust, social angst.
- Teaches the individual to rewrite these unhealthy habits of thinking with a healthy self-talk occasionally to referred as ‘cognitive restructuring’.
- Techniques include prompting the individual to evidence their reasoning behind these negative thoughts, and acknowledging the positive
- Techniques implemented to alter negative behavioural response in certain situations i.e. extreme shyness
- Rewriting unhealthy behaviour with healthy ones with an emphasis on potential enjoyment that can be experienced with the newly discovered behaviour
Both CBT and drug therapy have been known to be used in conjunction to treat anxiety. Drug therapy is cited to be used to only treat the symptoms, making it more manageable to implement the techniques from CBT into the individual’s life. Overall, studies have shown that CBT has longer lasting effects than drug therapy. As CBT attempts to address the root of the problem, and encourage the brain to work towards ‘correcting’ the destructive thought patterns, and implement healthy, lasting change.
For More Information…
Brain Chemistry and Anxiety
Drug Therapy for Anxiety
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy