Don't Panic: The Many Effects of Anxiety on the Brain - Rehab Guide

Anxiety in the Brain

First of all, let’s define what anxiety is. It is the feeling of worry or unease, from a small thought to something that consumes you at a given moment.

Considering human beings experience a broad spectrum of emotions, it’s completely normal and natural to experience anxiety at various times in our lives. For instance, sitting down for an exam, proposing to your significant other, and going to a job interview can all cause anxiety to happen.

Regular life events can cause anxiety to come and go, and most people deal with it just fine. In that case, you shouldn’t have to worry about it.

But for others, anxiety is a constant grey cloud over them. Their quality of life sharply decreases, and it seems like they can’t escape their anxiety.

When this happens, then there might be something wrong that needs to be addressed before their health declines.

What Causes Anxiety in the Brain?

Your brain is a delicate and complicated organ that controls not only your bodily functions but also your emotions. It’s made of several parts that essentially control centres for particular signals.

One particular part is the amygdala, which is responsible for processing signals and alerting your body to be in fear of something if it’s appropriate. So if you’re wondering what part of the brain controls anxiety, it’s this one.

For a long time, scientists believed in amygdala anxiety, or that the amygdala was solely responsible for anxiety. This was because if you looked at an anxiety brain scan vs normal one, there’s a noticeable difference in the amygdala. Not only did it have fewer connections with the cortex, but it also had more connections with itself.

However, today, scientists have taken a closer look at anxiety brain scans and realised that it’s amygdala and hippocampus anxiety, as well as the prefrontal cortex.

As you may have already guessed, it’s not just anxiety and the brain. It’s also anxiety and your entire body. Take a look below to find out precisely what can happen.

What Happens in the Brain When You’re Stressed or Anxious

As we’ve said before, the amygdala is responsible for how you react in fear of things, meaning it can trigger anxiety. It affects your sympathetic nervous system, which makes you feel “fight or flight.” Except in the case of anxiety, this feeling lingers and doesn’t function efficiently or beneficially.

First, your amygdala signals that there’s something wrong. This triggers your hypothalamus to “turn on” your sympathetic nervous system.

This then causes your body to produce epinephrine (or adrenaline). This hormone is extremely powerful in that it causes a variety of things to happen.

Also, there’s the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), which acts as an amplifier to the amygdala. You also have the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which does the opposite. It’s thought that people with anxiety have damage to this area, which is why they experience this disorder.

Everybody’s experienced the butterflies and knots in their stomachs when they have to give a presentation or take a difficult test. This is just one way anxiety affects.

Also, you might have a faster heart rate, hyperventilation, shortness of breath, trembling, trouble focusing, and trouble sleeping. You might also have some gastrointestinal problems. On a more granular level, the released epinephrine also causes a release of glucose and fats from you, so you have the power to flee from threats.

Anxiety and Addiction

Unfortunately, many people with anxiety also have some drug addiction. This is because they’re hesitant to reach out for help and instead, try to self-medicate.

Drugs and alcohol might help quash feelings of anxiety, but that’s only temporary. Once the substances have worn off, your anxiety will likely come back more intensely. Because of that, you might be driven to use drugs and alcohol even more.

As you can see, it can quickly turn into one thing fueling another. For some, it’s a neverending cycle, especially if they never take the vital step to find sobriety and address their anxiety head-on.

How to Treat Anxiety

Just because you have anxiety doesn’t necessarily mean you have to live with its detrimental symptoms, nor does it mean you have to self-medicate. Below are a few ways you can treat anxiety.

Lifestyle Changes

First of all, you should see your doctor to make sure your anxiety isn’t caused by something that’s not normal. For instance, if you have issues with your thyroid, it might cause a lot of physical symptoms that are identical to anxiety.

Once you’ve ruled out health issues, then you can try making some lifestyle changes, as this can help improve your health and enable you to fight off anxiety better.

While most people can’t live without caffeine, you might want to consider reducing or eliminate it from your diet. Caffeine can cause your heart rate to rise and make you feel restless, which can only make your anxiety symptoms seem worse.

Also, it would help if you exercised more. This allows you to blow off steam and burn any extra energy that may be making you feel restless. Yoga’s a good one to take up, as it strengthens your body while also teaching you how to calm yourself.

Lastly, it would help if you slept more. If your anxiety keeps you up at night, then this one might be a tough one to do. But you should try going to bed earlier, stopping the usage of electronic devices a few hours before bed, and doing something relaxing instead.


Therapy is beneficial for not only pinpointing your source of anxiety but also addressing it. Mental health professionals are trained to help you delve into your life and see what triggers your stress, as well as addiction if you’re currently using.

One of the best therapies is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It’s been shown to be highly effective for several issues, including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.


While antidepressants are made for depression, some of them can help in instances of anxiety. While in therapy, your counsellor might think it’s a good idea for you to take them.

If that’s the case, they’ll refer you to a psychiatrist who can examine you further and prescribe medications if necessary.

Consider Going to Rehab If You Have Addiction Issues

Not only is anxiety a severe mental disorder to manage, but so is addiction. When you have both to deal with, it can quickly become overwhelming, and things might seem hopeless. But with the guidance of medical professionals, not only can you detox safely, but you can also spend some quality time learning how to deal with both your anxiety and addiction issues.

Being in an environment that’s free of stressful events and unhealthy situations can aid immensely in your recovery process. Also, the counsellors in rehab can use things like CBT to help address all your issues and help you become a stronger and healthier person.

Other things you’ll get to participate in include group and alternative therapies. Alternative therapies can involve activities like yoga, meditation, and music therapy. You can even take nutrition classes, so you know the best ways to nourish your body, enabling it to fight anxiety symptoms even better.

Seek Treatment for Anxiety and Addiction

You should now know all the effects of anxiety on both the brain and the body. As you can see, it can be quite detrimental, especially if you tend to use substances. Not only can it cause you to use, but that can, in turn, worsen your anxiety.

To avoid being in such a vicious cycle, you should seek treatment from a professional, experienced, and compassionate therapist. Together, you can figure out a treatment plan that not only helps you manage anxiety, but also any addictions you might have.

As a result, you’ll be able to lead a life that’s healthier and less dominated by stress and anxiety. You’ll find yourself able to do things you previously weren’t able to, which can give you a new lease on life!

Do you or a loved one have anxiety and addiction? Then contact us today. We’ll help point you in the right direction for recovery.







Author 'John


Trained in addictionology in the Johnson Model, and specializing in substance abuse for individual and couple counselling. John's personal experience has given him a wealth of insights, which he integrates into practice. His extensive training has allowed him to gain expertise in individual and group counselling, concurrent disorders, case management, executing treatment plans and relapse prevention. He started this free helpline as a result of a life change and to help others get sober and live a life free from drugs and alcohol. John covers a variety of topics relating to addiction and recovery in his articles.


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