What areas of the brain influence anxiety?

The areas of the brain that influence symptoms of anxiety include the amygdala and the hippocampus, both part of the limbic system. The amygdala plays an important role in controlling fears and the hippocampus has a role in controlling memories.
Following are the regions of the brain that influence anxiety:
  • Amygdala. The amygdala stores memories of frightening events and other emotional experiences. In people with anxiety disorders, the amygdala may be so sensitive that it overreacts in situations that aren't threatening. Research on animals suggests that different parts of the amygdala are activated for different anxiety disorders.
  • Hippocampus. Another brain structure in the limbic system, the hippocampus, has a central role in processing emotions and long-term memories. Research has found that the hippocampus is smaller than normal in some women who were abused as children, an experience that increases the risk for post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders. Research shows that the hippocampus is also smaller in some depressed people. Stress, which plays a role in both anxiety and depression, may be a key factor here, since there is some evidence that stress may suppress the production of new neurons (nerve cells) in the hippocampus.
  • Locus ceruleus. The locus ceruleus is an area of the brainstem that helps determine which brain stimuli are worth paying attention to. In experiments with animals, when the locus ceruleus was electronically stimulated, the animals displayed anxiety-like symptoms. Some researchers speculate the same response may occur in humans.
  • Prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is involved in making decisions, solving problems, and exercising judgment. It also appears to have a hand in storing memories of extinguishing fears -- as might occur during treatment for an anxiety disorder -- and turning down the fear response, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. One area of the prefrontal cortex, for example, helps control the stress response by suppressing the amygdala. Another area -- the ventromedial prefrontal cortex -- helps support long-lasting extinction of fearful memories. Research suggests the ability to do this may be affected by the size of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.