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Anxiety and the Brain

It is Men's Mental Health Month; therefore, it is essential to use these opportunities to help bring awareness surrounding men's mental health challenges. There is still a stigma surrounding seeking assistance with mental health issues; therefore, it is essential to shed insight and information surrounding typical matters as they relate to emotions and thinking. It is important to address mental health concerns with men because they too often suffer in silence due to an unwillingness to bring themselves to ask for help with this topic (Ogrodniczuk et al., 2016)—the consequences of not reaching out lead men to self-harm, violence, and potential suicide. A common mental health issue that is affecting men is anxiety. 

A picture of the brain on anxiety

What is Anxiety

According to the American Psychology Association (2024), anxiety is an emotion that is associated with feelings of worry, negative thoughts about bad outcomes, and bodily sensations of increased blood pressure or an elevated heart rate. Anxiety is often associated with fear about the future and continuous dread about a possible threat. There are different types of anxiety. The different types of anxiety disorders can include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobia-related disorders. It should be stated that anxiety is a normal part of life; however, anxiety disorders involve more than temporary fear. When suffering from an anxiety disorder, the emotion does not go away. It tends to get worse over time (Anxiety Disorders, n.d.).


A man struggling with anxiety

Anxiety and the Brain

Chronic anxiety can have an impact on the brain. There are three areas of the brain that we will specifically focus on. The first area is the prefrontal cortex; this area is responsible for decision-making and rational thinking (Admin, 2024). Chronic anxiety can impact this area by making it difficult for proper goal-directed thinking and decision-making. Chronic anxiety can cause hyperactivity and increased activity in the amygdala (Hu, 2022). The amygdala is the fear detection center of the brain; therefore, when it is constantly being turned on, it becomes sensitive and easy to activate in situations where it may not be needed. The hippocampus is responsible for long-term memory storage. Persistent anxiety can have a double effect where the amygdala will grow in size, and the hippocampus will shrink (Mah, 2016). Stress can lead to the hippocampus functioning incorrectly; this could manifest as trouble recalling things or difficulties learning.


How to Manage Anxiety

A man running towards the finish line

Here are tips we recommend at For Us Therapeutics to help you navigate your anxiety. The first recommendation is to seek therapy. Therapy is the premiere method for helping people overcome the continuous effects of anxiety by way of counseling to build up the person's psyche. If you are not ready for therapy, we recommend deep diaphragmatic breathing. Another exercise includes mindfulness to help regulate the amygdala and strengthen the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. It would help if you kept a journal to help you write down your thoughts and emotions daily or as needed to help navigate situations that feel intense. Regular exercise and proper hydration will help with some of the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety.







Reference


Admin. (2024, January 30). How severe anxiety affects the brain. Mental Health Treatment | MA. https://greaterbostonbehavioralhealth.com/rehab-blog/how-severe-anxiety-affects-the-brain/



Anxiety disorders. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). https://nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders


Hu, P., Lu, Y., Pan, B. X., & Zhang, W. H. (2022). New Insights into the Pivotal Role of the Amygdala in Inflammation-Related Depression and Anxiety Disorder. International journal of molecular sciences, 23(19), 11076. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms231911076


Mah, L., Szabuniewicz, C., & Fiocco, A. J. (2016). Can anxiety damage the brain?. Current opinion in psychiatry, 29(1), 56–63. https://doi.org/10.1097/YCO.0000000000000223



Ogrodniczuk, J., Oliffe, J., Kuhl, D., & Gross, P. A. (2016). Men's mental health: Spaces and places that work for men. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien, 62(6), 463–464.


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