The Amygdala Anxiety Connection - Is the Amygdala the Key to Curing Anxiety and Panic Attacks?
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Recent research has pointed to the amygdala as the brain structure that is responsible for controlling fear, anxiety and panic. Studies have shown that over-stimulation of the amygdala can lead to the development of anxiety and panic disorders. But can the damage be reversed?
What is the Amygdala?
The amygdala is an almond shaped structure found in both the left and right temporal lobes of the brain. The amygdala forms part of the limbic system, and is involved in the processing and storage of emotional memories, including memories associated with fear and anxiety. It has become known as the “fear factory” of the brain.
The Role of the Amygdala in Anxiety and Fear Conditioning
When we experience a fearful reaction to a certain situation, the memory of that reaction is stored in our amygdala. If we face that same situation again, the memory of our past fear surfaces and we show the same anxious reaction.
Usually, after each anxiety-provoking event, the amygdala resets itself to a normal level. But if we continue to experience anxiety or stress over a long period of time, our amygdala is modified and becomes fixed at a high anxiety level. This means that our anxious reactions become ingrained in our sub-conscious mind as a kind of habit.
This process occurring within the amygdala is known as fear conditioning, and can lead to disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and phobias such as agoraphobia. It is the increased activity of the amygdala that causes the symptoms of anxiety and panic.
The Amygdala and Panic Attacks
If our amygdala becomes set to an extreme level of anxiety we can experience panic attacks; a feeling of uncontrollable fear, disturbing thoughts and perceived physical threat.
One reason why people develop panic disorders is that, once they have experienced a panic attack and all the distressing symptoms that accompany the attack, they then start to fear another attack occurring. The memory of the physical sensations they experienced is ingrained in the amygdala, so the fear of the next panic attack becomes an anxiety in itself. This triggers a vicious cycle of fear where the more the attacks occur, the more fearful the sufferer becomes of the next attack, which induces more frequent and regular panic attacks.
Can the Amygdala Be Reprogrammed to Eliminate Anxiety and Panic Attacks?
The fear conditioning that causes the amygdala to reset itself to higher levels of anxiety is a kind of learned behavior. In a series of experiments with both humans and animals, scientists John Broadus Watson (1878-1958) and B. F. Skinner (1904 -1990) showed that fear and anxiety could be learned through repeatedly inducing fear responses which stimulate the amygdala.
More recently Charles Linden, an expert on anxiety, has used the discoveries made by Watson and Skinner to show that behavior modifications affecting the amygdala can also reverse anxious behaviors.
In the video above, Charles Linden describes how stimulation of the amygdala through anxiety and stress sets it to a high anxiety level, and how the amygdala can also be reprogrammed to return to a lower level of anxiety.Linden has devised a method of behavioral modification that directly acts on the amygdala to reverse the damaging effects of fear conditioning. His program effectively modifies the inappropriate fear responses stored as memories in the amygdala, resetting them to more appropriate levels. This method has been successful in permanently eliminating conditions like generalized anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Charles Linden’s research has shown that behavioral modification of the amygdala is both the cause and the solution to anxiety and panic disorders.
UPDATE December 4, 2012: Our research has found that people interested in the amygdala anxiety connection have been getting great results using The Linden Method. Example results in image below. Click Here to learn more about the Linden Method home treatment program for anxiety.
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