Nervous Much? Me Too

At some point through each and every single one of our lives, we experience times of stress and fear. This stress causes each one of our bodies to respond in different ways, sometimes extreme ways. When these extreme bodily actions start performing while under unthreatening circumstances however, they become problematic and disrupt our ability to function. These conditions can result from many things, both environmental and genetic, and is known generally as Anxiety.

Anxiety is first developed by memory formation. These memories can contain stressful or traumatic events, or even be built of off schemas that we have created or associated with fear. individuals that cope with these memories and remain healthy have successfully adapted to stress that the memories have caused. those that trigger a fight or flight response when even thinking of the stressor, have stronger than normal connections with the memory, and thus have both a greater response and greater susceptibility towards anxiety.

 

Within these survival functions, lies a malfunction of the human brain in the anxiety response system. typically, a lower amount of GABA neurotransmitter is found, which is frequently used in the regulation of the fight or flight response. The lower amount of GABA would explain a lower inhibition of the anxiety response, and thus an overstimulation of the pathway is caused. In other words, you are becoming more anxious about things that you normally would not be anxious about and/or are more susceptible to elevated stress levels.

GABA (primary inhibitory neurotransmitter) typically works the opposite way of Glutamate (primary excitatory neurotransmitter). Glutamate is the activator of NMDA/AMPA receptors that are involved in memory formation. This is how GABA modulates the anxiety pathway. It does not entirely prevent memory formation from happening in stressful situations (otherwise how else would we learn from mistakes?), rather it simply keeps the memory from forming beyond normal strength. when there is not enough GABA to compensate for satisfactory inhibition, memories that form during stress are stronger than normal to the point where it stands out above all other things and disrupts daily life function. for instance, instead of eating a dinner, one may think that they need to save the money on meals and put it towards the mortgage, or you clean your hands every time you enter a room because you are afraid of contracting an illness.

So how do we keep our anxiety at bay?

well, antidepressants have been known to work, although not many people like taking medications. Significant breakthroughs have been found in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with talking about and sharing your stress with a common individual (friend, family, therapist) and even sometimes just maintaining a healthy schedule helps. Journaling or writing stressful events down tends to help with coping as well. Some recent research also suggests exercise and meditation as a common way of coping with anxiety, and I myself can admit that I somehow am relieved of stress when leaving the gym. perhaps future research could look into this phenomena and depict why physical exertion helps reduce stress from a biological standpoint. There are multiple ways in which anxiety can be treated, but it is not something that is curable nor should it be. After all, being anxious is essential for survival.

 

RESOURCES:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181686/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24478733
  3. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1074742707001669