Anxiety Relief and the Amygdala

How does anxiety develop in our brain, and how can we learn to manage or relieve anxiety?

Video: Fearing – by The Amygdaloids
(Two short commentaries about anxiety are included in the song.)

Excerpt from lyrics (based on Emily Dickinson) by band member Joseph LeDoux, NYU neuroscientist, a pioneer in the study of the brain mechanisms of emotion and memory:

While I was fearing it came
But with less of the fear because
Fearing it so long
Had almost made it dear
There is a fitting dismay
An appropriate despair
Tis harder knowing that fear is due than
Knowing it is here

From PDF available on the band site. The Amygdaloids “are a New York City band made up of scientists who shed their scientific garb at night and take to the stage with songs about love and life peppered with insights drawn from research about mind and brain and mental disorders.”

Fearing is Track 3 on The Amygdaloids’ Theory of My Mind CD.

Books by Joseph LeDoux on understanding and relieving anxiety:

The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life

Anxious: Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety

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What the amygdala does

The Amygdala and Anxiety

A research news article reports, “The amygdala is known to be involved in social anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and obsessions and compulsions, and is now being linked with separation anxiety and general anxiety.”

(From “Changes in Children’s Amygdala Seen After Anxiety Treatment,” Psychiatric News, May 6, 2005.)

The Amygdala Resource Center explains, “The Amygdala (amygdalae; plural) are a pair of small organs within the medial temporal lobes of the brain.

“The amygdala are part of the limbic system and their primary role is in the processing and memory of emotional reactions such as the anxiety reaction or ‘flight or fight’ response.

“In humans, the amygdala perform important roles in the formation and storage of memories associated with emotions including anxiety.

“Scientific research has found that in fear conditioning, which is what happens during the development of an anxiety disorder, the senses ‘feed back’ anxiety provoking signals to the Amygdala causing it to store memories of that anxious event.

“This then causes the amygdala to react differently when the event arises again. Over time, or during times of high anxiety (bereavement, divorce, work stress etc.) this ‘learning process’ can cause an anxiety disorder to form, sometimes without warning and very quickly.”

So can we unlearn those fear reactions?

Charles LindenThe Amygdala Resource Center (source of this video) is published by a company related to the work of Charles Linden on the “elimination of anxiety disorders.”

The site says, “Linden’s theories surrounding behaviour modification to affect the inappropriate reaction in the amygdala have been used with great success in conditions such as Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Phobias and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”

Purchase his program at The Linden Method.

Also see articles by Charles Linden.

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Barry McDonagh-220Another resource is Panic Away – Barry McDonagh, creator of the program, notes: “People are not being given real solutions to end anxiety.

“I suffered from panic attacks and general anxiety for years, and I had plenty of coping exercises. Not one of them worked!

“Whatever it took, I would find a real solution to end the anxiety for good.

“That determination led me on an incredible 2 year journey of self discovery and eventually to a technique that would not only change my life but that would go on to change the life of thousands of other people as well.”

Read more and see video in article The Panic Away program.

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Anxiety research

A National Geographic News article about research on the amygdala (Brain Region for Overcoming Fear, Anxiety Found) notes that “Special cells in the brain allow animals to overcome fear and anxiety by recalling memories of similar situations when they were unafraid, according to new research.”

Neuroscientist Denis Paré of Rutgers University said, “The available data indicates that one does not unlearn fear but instead learns not to fear the threatening stimulus in particular contexts.”

Related article: Shyness is inherited, by Medical News Today. “A shy child may learn to be more outgoing, but a study suggests that shy temperament may be inherited and a brain marker for it does not change as the person ages…

“People who had been judged as toddlers to be inhibited showed in the scans that the amygdala structure in their brains responded much more actively to unexpected sights than did those subjects who had been judged as children to be more outgoing.”

Also see The Evolution of Anxiety, by Rich Presta – “Whenever you get input from your senses, it gets sent to two different parts of your brain for analysis.

“One is the frontal cortex… The other is called the amygdala (uh-MIG-duh- luh), which is actually two nerve centers that look like almonds and are located on either side of the thalamus.”

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