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What Does Long Term Anxiety Do To The Adolescents Brain?

By July 12, 2023July 13th, 2023engage treatment, mental health

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 substantial impact on the developing brain of an adolescent. 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 pre-frontal 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.

Further Information and Support

For most of us, life can be very stressful, leading us to feel emotionally charged, which can cause anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and getting stuck in a cycle of being burdened with negative thoughts. Navigating through the challenges and emotional turmoil of life can be overwhelming, but you do not have to go through it alone. Engage Treatment is a Joint Commission Accredited professional psychological practice. We specialize in treating children, teens, and young adults struggling with depression and anxiety through community-focused treatment plans that incorporate a carefully selected combination of therapeutic interventions. Our compassionate, multidisciplinary practitioners are devoted to providing the highest quality of care that helps ignite positive change and enables clients to reach optimal health and well-being. Please do not hesitate to reach out for guidance. We are happy to answer questions and provide you with any additional information. Feel free to call us at 805-497-0605 or email us at [email protected]. You are also welcomed to get in touch by filling out our contact form. We look forward to connecting and having the opportunity to discuss how we might best be able to support you.

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