The lead role for anxiety will be played by the amygdala.
The amygdala acts as an emotional radar gun for internal and external experiences. The amygdala colors our direct experience and memories depending on the emotional “speed” of an event. It is most often associated with fear because this is an easy emotion to study and a great deal has been written about it. But the amygdala is involved in a wide array of emotions.
The amygdala has direct inputs and outputs to a large number of structures in the brain and as such exerts enormous conscious, subconscious, and unconscious control over our lives. One of the most important outputs from the amygdala leads to the brainstem and hypothalamus, both of which influence our heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure.
We will refer to the amygdala as the Emoter because it produces the raw emotional and physiological content that we experience as conscious anxiety.
The insula is the next structure that we must consider in our quest to explain anxiety. The insula processes our internal states such as our heartbeat, breath, gurgling stomach, or full bladder. I have previously named the insula the Internal Sensor because of this role.
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) facilitates our attentional focus, allowing us to attend to our emotional, cognitive, and sensory experience. The ACC monitors and signals the need to exert conscious control over our emotional, cognitive, or sensory experience. For the aforementioned reasons I have nicknamed the ACC the Attender.
The final member of our cast is the lateral prefrontal cortex (lPFC). The lPFC is responsible for attentional direction, conscious decision-making, and working memory. Working memory is the etch-a-sketch of our mind. It allows us to remember a phone number long enough to dial or to follow a complicated set of directions.
Because of the supervisory role of the lPFC we will refer to it as the Director.
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