The limbic system is a key area for the regulation of emotions and anxiety. The limbic structures process incoming stimuli and regulate our emotional responses. There are various structures involved(the all important amygdala, the hippocampus, thalamus, hypothalamus, among others). The amygdala is an almond shaped little structure in the brain, a key for anxiety. It fires much more readily in those with anxiety, and is larger than in people without much anxiety. Even at age 5, in kids with separation anxiety, the amygdala is much larger and fires often. Anxiety often begins in early childhood as separation anxiety(think of the little tyke holding onto mom’s leg for dear life on the first day of kindergarten). Then, as years go on the anxiety often morphs into generalized anxiety, OCD, panic disorder, and social anxiety. Anxiety, and the size of our amygdala, is very genetic and inherited; one can trace anxiety in multiple generations within a family. Just as in headache, anxiety(and depression) are not “psychological” or “in your head”, but physical, inherited constructs. The other structures that are key in anxiety include the thalamus, the left prefrontal cortex, and the anterior cingulate gyrus. For a terrific read on Anxiety, and the brain structures involved: The Anxious Brain by Wehrenberg and Prinz.
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