Anxiety: what happens in our brain?
Learning, maintaining, and getting rid of anxiety is a learning process. We slowly learn this and we can therefore slowly un-learn it, too. When anxiety develops, a certain link is made in the brain between that which causes anxiety and unpleasant feelings. There are several areas in the brain which are part of the development and maintenance of anxiety. The amygdala, the medial prefrontal cortex, and the hippocampus all play a role in anxiety. The amygdala has the main role. This namely works as a type of gate. The amygdala namely picks what enters and what does not. The amygdala rates all stimuli and estimates if the stimuli could pose a danger or not. If the amygdala considers a stimulus to be dangerous, it will cause a fight-or-flight reaction to be started. In short: the amygdala is important for survival. Also, the amygdala plays a large role in the development of an anxiety disorder. When learning anxiety, the amygdala will namely make it so that a certain stimulus, which does not really cause anxiety, still receives an anxious reaction. If we want to un-learn anxiety, we need to systematically experience the situation which causes anxiety, and experience that nothing bad happens. That our anxiety indeed is not real. In our brain, a type of slowing down them occurs in our anxiety neurons, which will make it so that no anxiety reaction is produced anymore. If anxiety then develops again, the hippocampus will make it so that we remember all old, painful memories, which make it so that we quickly can experience anxiety again.