Where am I going in life? Why did I just say that? Oh my gosh I’m going to fail this class because I did bad on one test. These are all thoughts caused by stress and anxiety. In today’s society there is so much pressure to be the best and to do the best, that people will often get caught up in the competition and begin to experience anxiety. This is beginning at ages younger than it should. Nowadays kids are expected to have mastered their ABC’s before they have even entered kindergarten. What happened to being just being a kid for a few years before the pressure of school kicks in?
So what is going on in the brain?
Day in and day out, our brains are constantly forming new memories of the interactions we have encountered. This is a good thing because if you were to experience something not necessarily good like walking into a bee’s nest, your brain will have formed a memory as to where the nest is and you will be likely to avoid it the next time around and you will be more cautious to watch where you are walking. In the anxious mind, there is an increase in memory formation, due to hyperactivity in the brain. This is a bad thing because all of these memories are being associated with the negative thoughts that go with anxiety and will be perceived as bad/ negative memories in the future.
This memory formation is occur in the dentate gyrus, in the brain, which is located in the hippocampus. The dentate gyrus is associated with the formation of episodic memories (memories that are based on times, places, and emotions) which is why it is connected to anxiety. There is a pathway in the brain called the MAPK pathway, which is associated with anxiety. This pathway ends in gene transcription, and the more anxious you are the more gene transcription will occur. This means that anxiety causes an overreaction of the pathway. Within the pathway there is a tag called H3S10nK14ac. A drug called Lorazepam (which is used to help decrease anxiety) blocks this tag.
GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, is decreased in anxiety. In order to prevent anxiety, GABA needs to be increased. How can you possibly do this? Thats simple. Exercise has been shown to increase levels of GABA and help with symptoms of both anxiety and depression. It doesn’t take a full, high intensity workout, to do this either. Simply going to the gym or playing sports a couple of times a week will, over time, lead to better mental health. It’s crazy to think that something as simple as exercise can increase GABA levels and improve mental health. Simply by changing your outlook on working out, making it so you better yourself mentally, not just physically, can make it a lot more of an appealing thing to do.
In today’s society, we exercise to be super skinny and in-shape, which can make it intimidating going to the gym for someone who doesn’t normally work out. It would be ideal to change the stigma about gyms and make them a more welcoming place to go, this way people that are scared to go will be welcomed to a warm atmosphere.
Our current society is the reason why anxiety is on the rise and mental health is declining. If you are experiencing anxiety and it is affecting day to day life, talk to a friend or a professional. Sometimes, simply just talking about it will help, other times seeking professional help is the best way to go. Don’t be afraid to ask for that help, you mental health matters and should be taken care of. The same goes for a friend, if you have a friend that experiences anxiety, just be there for them. It may be hard at times, but a little can go a long way.
Contact the hotline listed below if you are ever experience debilitating anxiety. They will help answer any questions you may have, and will help find professional help if needed. This line is available Monday-Friday 9am-5pm.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)