Is it Brain Chemistry Anxiety?

Brain Chemistry

I woke up one night almost a year ago with my heart pounding so fast I thought I was having a heart attack. I didn’t have any of the other symptoms of a heart attack and hadn’t had any symptoms before that night. After about 15 minutes it stopped, but I wasn’t able to go back to sleep even though I was drained. I had experienced my first panic attack. This became a pattern, but it wasn’t happening only at night anymore. Throughout the day my heart would start to beat rapidly and I would become very uncomfortable. It would happen at any time in any place and I felt like my days revolved around waiting for another attack to happen. Now, I am familiar with anxiety, as I have suffered with it throughout my life. However, I had never had anything like that happen to me before.

Emergency room visit

So, I took a blend of liquid herbs when it happened again, which helped greatly, but sometimes I didn’t have them with me and so I would suffer. Then one day I made the mistake of taking my blood pressure (don’t ask me why I felt I needed to know what my blood pressure was in the middle of a panic attack) while having an especially bad attack, it was 185/80. My blood pressure normally never went above 120 and my pulse was usually between 50 to 60 beats per minute. So, that made me panic more and I ended up going to the ER (this was a big deal for me as I haven’t been to the ER for myself since I had my daughter 24 years ago).

Hormones affect brain chemistry

After numerous tests I was told that I was having “menopausal anxiety”. I wasn’t given or prescribed anything and thankfully I haven’t had another episode of my heart racing since then.

I knew that hormones were important and that they can affect mood (PMS anyone?) but I didn’t realize that an imbalance could cause anxiety that severe. Hormone levels that are too high or too low can disrupt the electrical impulses to the brain. The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are necessary of course, as they control the “fight or flight response” we need when there is a threat. The problem happens when we are in a stressful situation but there is no actual physical threat and our bodies release these hormones anyway. The adrenaline and cortisol rush leaves us shaky and anxious. This leads to more anxiety and it becomes a vicious circle.

Trauma changes brain chemistry

Something else that can cause brain chemistry anxiety is trauma. Life trauma such as watching a loved one die, sudden death, sexual assault, being involved in an accident, mass shootings, natural disasters and more can lead to anxiety.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder doesn’t just happen to people in the military. Students are more anxious about attending school because of mass shootings, you develop a fear of riding in a car because of an accident, a sudden death makes you start worrying about your health constantly.

Second hand trauma

These events don’t have to necessarily happen to you personally to have an impact either. Simply hearing about them can sometimes lead to anxiety or depression. The internet now allows us to be bombarded with stories and pictures that we wouldn’t have seen or heard about before. While this can be a good thing in some situations, it can be detrimental to our mental health. Many times my mother will come to me and say “did you hear about (insert some horrible event or illness that I’ve never heard about before) I saw it on Facebook” (she’s on Facebook a lot). If you’re prone to worry these stories will make you worry.

Anxiety triggered by television

We don’t realize how much the media news and news shows, in particular, can affect us. My daughter used to watch Nancy Grace and America’s Most Wanted every day. Both of those shows usually feature terrible crimes committed by terrible people. Many times the shows featured stories about children being kidnapped. Given the fact that my daughter probably inherited my anxiety genes, it’s no surprise that she was afraid someone was going to take her children. She lives on the first floor, and she was sure someone was going to break in through the windows. It was starting to really affect her so I advised her to stop watching those shows.

Sometimes it’s the brain’s fault

Besides outside influences on brain chemistry there is also the brain’s own chemical makeup. Some experts believe that chemical imbalances in the brain itself cause a person to feel anxiety and make them more prone to panic attacks. Low levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and gaba aminobutyric acid (gaba) can cause anxiety and panic attacks.

These neurotransmitters can become low because of a bad diet, faulty metabolism, too much stress, drug use and hormonal changes (as in my case above). There is much debate going on now about whether or not a person can be born with a chemical imbalance in the brain. I don’t have the answer to that but I do believe that some people are just “wired” a certain way.

We can’t help it

I come from a family of 7. Some of us are introverted, and some of us are extroverted. I suffered from social anxiety as a child and teenager. Being in social situations is still not one of my favorite situations to be in. My sister, who is 2 years younger than me, thrives in social settings. We were raised in the same house with the same parents. Why the difference? There are theories about this but no real answers. If you’re a parent, you will notice the differences between your children right away. Even though you didn’t do anything differently.

So, is it possible that our brains are wired in a way that makes us more prone to anxiety? If me and my large family are anything to go by, yes I believe some of us have brains that are “wired” in a way that does make us more prone to anxiety.

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“If you’re going through hell, keep going” Winston Churchill

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