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The Brain's Amygdala Connection To Anxiety


Michelle38

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So I just read a little bit about the brain and how it functions. Someone please correct me if I am wrong as I am not a scientist but what I read was there is a part of the brain called the amygdala that acts as the attention center. It is always running on idle surveying our world on the ready to send out a message or warning. The prefrontal cortex then takes that information and decides if the warning is warranted or not. For instance if you come across a lion in your path in the wild the prefrontal cortex would hopefully tell you to run like mad but if you come across it in a zoo then it would say no danger here just enjoy the show. The thing is they think for people with anxiety that part of the brain or something to do with the connection can cause it to be hyperactive or hypervigilant. I found that fascinating because it always seemed to me that my behavior was rooted in being hypervigilant about my behavior. It was like I had to watch my every move to keep from messing up. I guess they believe that people who are prone to anxiety maybe do not have a great connection with the prefrontal cortex telling them that there isn’t any danger. Therefore everything becomes an emergency or threat. That was what it always felt like to me, that I responded to the world as if everything was an emergency and I had to resolve it right this instance or else.

Now here is the strange thing to me that I am trying to understand. There was a time when my life was so stressful that I came very, very close to a nervous breakdown. I started to show classic signs of a nervous breakdown with constant agitation and bursting into tears for no reason. And then one day I just snapped but in a good way. I was suddenly profoundly peaceful about everything in my life. I still had issues but none of it bothered me. I stayed that way joyfully for almost 10 years when I got triggered back into an even worse severe depression than before and the anxiety and fear came back as well. This after a prolonged period of being in a stressful situation. So it is almost like that moment I snapped turned off the warning system and then being subjected to a stressful fearful situation turned it back on. I just find it interesting that something very scientific is very well happening in my brain though I could not tell you how it wound up shutting down on its own. Some sort of survival overload safety mechanism more than likely but I always kind of wondered what happened and this may be part of the answer. Has anyone done any research on the brain in regard to fear, anxiety and emotions? I am going to look around some more but want to get any feedback on this subject. I am not sure it has anything to do with depression persay but it's implications in relation to anxiety are quite interesting to me though another article I read before made reference to a theory that depression can at times be triggered after a period of high anxiety. The coming off the anxiety triggers the depression so there may be a link but in general I think the amygdala prefrontal cortex connection may be mostly related to anxiety issues.

I would really love to get back to that place/state of peace but I really didn’t do any of it on command so not sure how one would even begin to replicate the brain shift I guess you would say. It’s all very strange to me though maybe it is something fairly common. I am just very curious about it all now.

Edited by Michelle38
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Hi Michelle,

I can't contribute anything on the science end of this though it is quite interesting.

My brain seems to have a shut-off switch when things get too stressful though for me it's not always a good thing since, like right now, it has shut-off my ability to think about and do things I really need to do. I try to go there and it just won't let me. Not sure if it's because of my physical illness/pain or anxiety or a combination of both.

I totally think that depression can be triggered by a period of high anxiety or stress. I've seen it in friends who go through a "SuperMom" phase for quite a while and then crash and burn. One of them was diagnosed with bi-polar but my non-psychiatrist brain thinks it was only "SuperMom" syndrome----trying to be all things to all people until you can't anymore.

I know hypervigilance can cause someone to get stuck in fight or flight and wreak havoc on the body's systems and mess with the adrenals and flood us with cortisol and all kinds of things.

I'm interested to see what others might contribute to this topic as well.

Best Wishes.

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Hi Michelle,

I can't contribute anything on the science end of this though it is quite interesting.

My brain seems to have a shut-off switch when things get too stressful though for me it's not always a good thing since, like right now, it has shut-off my ability to think about and do things I really need to do. I try to go there and it just won't let me. Not sure if it's because of my physical illness/pain or anxiety or a combination of both.

I totally think that depression can be triggered by a period of high anxiety or stress. I've seen it in friends who go through a "SuperMom" phase for quite a while and then crash and burn. One of them was diagnosed with bi-polar but my non-psychiatrist brain thinks it was only "SuperMom" syndrome----trying to be all things to all people until you can't anymore.

I know hypervigilance can cause someone to get stuck in fight or flight and wreak havoc on the body's systems and mess with the adrenals and flood us with cortisol and all kinds of things.

I'm interested to see what others might contribute to this topic as well.

Best Wishes.

I know depression causes me to shut off especially after a meltdown but I don't recall if that happened with me and my anxiety. I know there was something shut off most of my life, a dead spot I felt but not sure if that wasn't just my emotional pain point. But depression does send me into shutdown mode. It may have something to do with a different area of the brain possibly something related to emotions but I haven't looked that up yet. I do know I stayed in hypervigilant emergency mode even after i found the peace I was just not perplexed about it. I accepted it that is until the stressful event. But I am working now to stop rushing and let go of things being an emergency. I still struggle to keep it contained but it doesn't seem quite as pervasive as before.

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Michele, I hope you find the tools or skills you need for that. My body effectively got me to stop rushing, probably from me holding everything together by a thread for decades and not realizing that I was doing it. I find it a lot easier to deal with depression than anxiety. The stuff that I have to do is stuff that causes me anxiety so maybe I've got a frayed circuit type thing going on. I know I'll have to pick it back up and do it regardless of how I feel or don't feel soon, but for now I'm letting my brain take it's break since my body can't rush.

Best Wishes.

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I just thought of something. It is very possible my anxiety is what kept me alive when every fiber of my being wanted to suicide. I know that I have always had a very strong survival instinct and now it seems that is due to the hypervigilance but the article indicated that the amygdala/prefrontal cortex connection had nothing to do with emotions so when my emotions went suicidal my hypervigilance kicked in and said no can do, We are staying alive. Maybe having anxiety and depression bodes well for those of us who become suicidal because I don't think all depressed people become suicidal. Well maybe if I wasn't so emotionally unstable I could have made a career with my curious mind. I do find this stuff fascinating.

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Michele, I hope you find the tools or skills you need for that. My body effectively got me to stop rushing, probably from me holding everything together by a thread for decades and not realizing that I was doing it. I find it a lot easier to deal with depression than anxiety. The stuff that I have to do is stuff that causes me anxiety so maybe I've got a frayed circuit type thing going on. I know I'll have to pick it back up and do it regardless of how I feel or don't feel soon, but for now I'm letting my brain take it's break since my body can't rush.

Best Wishes.

Well I do think what has helped me is getting older. When I was young I moved at 200 mph. Super fast in action and thought and then maybe because of some depression and heart related stuff my brain slowed way down in my 30s. I now really just don't have the energy to go as fast even though my emotions do try to push me sometimes. I drive fast is about all that I do fast these days. Well my emotions run fast as well but slowing down physically may be what is helping me break the emergency habit as well the lack of motivation from depression probably contributed as well. Anyways, it is good you are giving your brain a break. I hope you as well are able to conquer your anxiety and depression one day. As interesting as all this science stuff is having mental health issues does take a toll on you after a while. I really am just exhausted from all the emotional turmoil and have been for quite a few years.

Edited by Michelle38
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Thanks, hopefully this bout with major depression is just situational again---I think what I'm dealing with right now would cause depression and anxiety in a "normal" person. I think I'll always have some anxiousness dealing with people who have control over something in my life---like the mortgage company or my ex who I hadn't had to deal with for years---but it's just the last vestiges of the agoraphobia I had when I was young. In the meantime I'll use the tools and skills I have in my toolbox as best I can. :D

I don't think I've ever thought about the anxiety/depression combo platter that way before, but it does make a lot of sense that the hypervigilance would act in protective mode. It could explain so much towards why some of us may have the thoughts but then the self-preservation kicks in. I think that would make a good scientific study.

Best Wishes.

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Hi Michelle,

Yes, another way of putting it is that your amygdala is your primitive or lizard brain and your prefontal cortex is your thinking brain. The amygdala is about raw sensory information and emotion. Rage, fear, happiness, smells sight etc. Switching off can sometimes be to do with dissociation which is another primitive flight and fight amygdala type response. Your cortex is your evolved thinking brain that uses reason and intelligence to moderate and evaluate.

The way I understand it is that use changes volume in these areas. A little like using a muscle or not using it. . So someone thinking about fear and being hypervilent will increase the size and dominance of the amygdala and shrink the neocortex. The same goes for trauma. In PTSD they can see great shrinkage of the cortex and expansion of the amygdala(A). Long periods of intense stress can bulk up the A too.

There is interesting research (done with controls etc) that shows mindfulness can increase cortex size and shrink the A.

No idea why you would be fine suddenly for 10 years though as that would be a separate issues.

Edited by Fizzle
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Hi Michelle,

Yes, another way of putting it is that your amygdala is your primitive or lizard brain and your prefontal cortex is your thinking brain. The amygdala is about raw sensory information and emotion. Rage, fear, happiness, smells sight etc. Switching off can sometimes be to do with dissociation which is another primitive flight and fight amygdala type response. Your cortex is your evolved thinking brain that uses reason and intelligence to moderate and evaluate.

The way I understand it is that use changes volume in these areas. A little like using a muscle or not using it. . So someone thinking about fear and being hypervilent will increase the size and dominance of the amygdala and shrink the neocortex. The same goes for trauma. In PTSD they can see great shrinkage of the cortex and expansion of the amygdala(A). Long periods of intense stress can bulk up the A too.

There is interesting research (done with controls etc) that shows mindfulness can increase cortex size and shrink the A.

No idea why you would be fine suddenly for 10 years though as that would be a separate issues.

Thanks Fizzle. It is very odd how the brain works. But yes, it was strange. it was literally like some switch flipped in my brain. I suspect some sort of overload response but I have no education in any of this so I only go by what I experienced. Maybe I can find something online about it. At least I am closer to understanding as it always did make me curious. I was quite happy it happened quite frankly, who wouldn't be after living in constant emotional duress, but I am still curious that it did happen and then of course perplexed that it came back. I have to say though that I probably still had the emergency response to life, still acted in an anxious way, I know I was still rushing around to some degree, I just didn't feel anxious or afraid. My emotions were calm and peaceful so maybe the area that snapped wasn't that area but a different area that regulates emotions and mood.

Edited by Michelle38
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It will always take a long time to shrink the amygdala down so I personally cant see how what you describe would be due to any physiological factors linked to this stuff. It wouldnt fit with anything that I have read anyway.

Good luck looking.

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