Yes, anxiety can damage the brain. Anxiety is defined as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” It is the body’s natural response to stress and will manifest differently in everyone. Experiencing worry, fear, and stress is considered a normal part of life when it is occasional and temporary. However, when those acute emotional reactions become persistent, they can significantly interfere with daily living activities. Further, repeated stress and chronic anxiety can have a huge impact on the brain, increasing one’s risk of several physical and psychological problems.
The brain is known as the most complex organ in the human body, and brain research has shown that severe anxiety can alter brain physiology. Studies have found that “pathological anxiety and chronic stress lead to structural degeneration and impaired functioning of the hippocampus and the PFC, which may account for the increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and dementia.” Anxiety affects certain hormones in the brain, including cortisol, known as the primary stress hormone, and corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), which is the neuroendocrine system mediating the stress response. Researchers at Yale University found that chronic stress and anxiety reduces the volume of grey matter in the areas of the brain responsible for self-control.
Anxiety can cause the amygdala (area of the brain that perceives feelings of stress, anxiety, irritability, and processes fear) to enlarge, intensifying the body’s response to threatening or scary situations. Conversely, anxiety can cause the hippocampus (area of the brain connected to learning and memory) to shrink. The hippocampus connects to the amygdala, and together they control emotional memory recalling and regulation. Damage to the hippocampus can harm long-term memory and interfere with one’s ability to form new memories. Anxiety can also weaken the connection between the amygdala and pre-frontal cortex (area of the brain that reigns rational thought, impulse control, executive planning, and more), making it difficult for the prefrontal cortex to send a logical response to danger to the amygdala. This increases one’s sensitivity to danger and hinders one’s ability to develop rational responses.
For Information and Support
Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times.
Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.
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