Anxiety and panic attacks can occur suddenly and without warning. They’re felt as an onslaught of emotions that can quicken your heartbeat, make you sweat, and make you feel as if you’re overwhelmed with fear. Many people when experiencing an anxiety attack generally feel as if they’re going to die.
Anxiety and panic attacks, while scary, are quite common. Different situations, lifestyles, and life events all contribute to them, but what really happens in your mind when an episode occurs? If you’re suffering, or know someone who is suffering from anxiety or a panic attack, then this guide will help you understand what actually goes on in your mind during an anxiety attack. Let’s take a look.
How An Anxiety Attack Affects The Brain
If you don’t already know, the brain is very complex due to all the operations that it completes each day.
The Amygdala’s Role in Anxiety
One area of the brain that has been linked to the fight or flight response is the amygdala. This region of the brain is made up from a large number of compact neuron clusters and is the area where emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation is generally triggered from. In short, this is where aggression and fear comes from. It’s thought that when there’s abnormal activity in this region of the brain, panic attacks and anxiety tend to occur.
The Midbrain’s Role in Anxiety
Another area of the brain that is said to be a target for an anxiety attack is the midbrain section which is also known as the periaqueductal gray. This area of the brain is said to regulate the defense mechanisms such as freezing or running. In the past, MRI scans have concluded that when a person responds to imminent threats, that this area of the brain lights up with activity. While this is normal, the problems occurs when both these areas of the brain malfunction causing over-exaggeration of threats. When this happens, a person may feel increased and/or frequent panic and anxiety attacks.
When experiencing on-going panic and anxiety attacks it can be difficult to calm this area of the brain, but it is possible.
Some heighten activity in the brain can be reduced through the use of selective medications. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are generally prescribed frequently to help people who may suffer from persistent panic attacks and anxiety attacks.
Psychotherapy can also help in teaching a person the difference between a panic response and an actual threat. Different lifestyle changes are also important. Low nutrient levels, such as low potassium, have also been linked to a heightened emotional state. Eating a balanced diet can help to improve anxiety when it’s brought on by a nutritional deficiency.
Calming techniques and relation exercises such as yoga are also important and can help to reduce activity in this area of the brain. However, if you’re really struggling with your anxiety attacks, it’s best to seek professional help as soon as possible as if left untreated can cause depression in some people.
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When it comes to anxiety and panic attacks, it’s important to understand how the brain reacts in order for you to understand your condition better. By taking the time to know that your anxiety is brought on by high activity in different areas of the brain, you can then work on helping to calm these areas more effectively. So were you aware this is what happens in your mind during an anxiety attack?
Todd is the Director and Principal Psychologist at TG Psychology, in Penrith, NSW. He has over 14 years of experience working with adults and young people in both public health and private practice settings. Todd has treated people from diverse cultural backgrounds, with a variety of emotional health and behavioral issues, including: depression, anxiety, relationship issues, anger, addictions, trauma, and grief. He has also facilitated a number of group programs, treating a wide range of issues: from quitting cannabis, to social skills training, self-esteem development, and deliberate self-harm behaviors.