Brain Facts

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The various anxiety disorders involve many different areas of the brain. These areas reflect both the uniqueness of each of these disorders and the features that they have in common.

The amygdala, for example, plays a central role in anxiety disorders. This structure in the limbic system warns us when a danger is present in our environment and triggers the fear reaction and then the fight or flight reaction to get us out of it.

It is therefore no surprise that the central part of the amygdala seems to play an important role in anxiety disorders that involve specific fears, such as phobias. Researchers have also observed that a group of very anxious children had larger amygdalas, on average, than a group of normal children.

The hippocampus is another essential limbic structure that specializes in encoding information. Because all old memories depend on the hippocampus, it would be suprising if this structure were not involved in anxiety disorders that are generated by memories of painful experiences, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

And in fact, studies do show that people who have suffered the stress of iincesst or military combat have a smaller hippocampus. This atrophy of the hippocampus might explain why such people experience explicit memory disturbances, flashbacks, and fragmentary memories of the traumatic events in question.

In addition to these differences in the size of various brain structures, abormally high or low activity in a particular region of the brain, as revealed by brain imaging, may be another kind of anomaly that results in anxiety disorders.

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