We know that anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. Anxiety can in fact be beneficial in some situations, and is a natural part of our behavioral repertoire. There are times however, when anxiety can become too much. It’s also possible for us to have difficulty controlling or coping with our anxiety. When this is the case, anxiety may become an issue in our lives. Anxiety can affect our ability to function professionally, personally, and even physically. When anxiety begins to negatively affect our ability to enjoy and experience life, we describe the condition as “anxiety disorder.” Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders experienced by Americans, affecting more than 1 in 4 people. Dr. Piper Walsh treats anxiety in adults and teens. In her offices in San Clemente California, Dr. Walsh uses multiple modalities for treatment of anxiety, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In this article we will discuss the nature of anxiety, current treatment methods used to address anxiety disorders, and look at potentially useful research on anxiety therapy San Clemente anxiety sufferers may benefit from.

Anxiety disorder is a broad-brush term used to describe a “family” of disorders, which currently includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social phobia (also known as social anxiety disorder). Since our understanding of the human body and human behavior is always improving, these descriptors are not permanent, and may be altered as we learn more from research about how the brain, body, and emotions work. Anxiety therapy in San Clemente is treated using methods known to be effective through research.

Today we know from research that everything we learn or experience in our daily life becomes a part of the vast neuronal associations in our brain, which contain over one billion nerve cells. The brain is constantly creating new neural pathways, carrying information from one neuron to the next. Neurons clump together and are connected with one another as necessary to understanding. One idea or thing is linked to the next. When we learn new things, our brain arranges new neural pathways of association. The more we learn or practice a behavior skill or ability, the more complex the associated neural pathways grow. This works the same way when we practice playing a song on the piano or when we are learning ways to avoid the bully at school. Cognitive behavioral therapy works because when we learn new ways to think and develop new coping strategies, our brain is able to create new and improved pathways to address issues which may have caused anxiety in the past. New neurons are developing and creating new pathways linking each and every experience, so as we create new positive experiences, these new neural pathways are created. Recent research has emerged suggesting that the birth of new neurons in the adult brain’s memory hub, or hippocampus, may play a key role in our reaction to stress and anxiety, and may unlock the keys to how to help those affected by anxiety disorder.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is a primary resource for information on anxiety because the NIMH funds and publishes findings on new and ongoing research on anxiety and factors contributing to anxiety disorders. Many scientists today are studying the causes, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of anxiety. Researchers are looking at how genetics, environmental factors, physical and psychological stress, and even diet may play a part in the development and lifespan of anxiety. The NIMH Science Update for July 18, 2014 includes an article on the work of Heather Cameron, Ph.D., Chief of the NIMH intramural Unit on Neuroplasticity. Dr. Cameron’s findings of ongoing studies on the function of adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus were presented at a symposium held this past March, and may provide a new link to understanding how neuron development may be linked to anxiety disorder.

Unexpected Outcome Sheds New Light on Anxiety and Stress

Dr. Cameron’s team of researchers were able develop a genetically engineered strain of mice whose neurons self-destruct if they try to divide. As a result, these adult mice would not be able to generate new neurons in the hippocampus, the brains’ memory “hub.” The test should have been able to show something about how the generation of new neurons affect memory and the performance of memory-based tasks. Rather anticlimactically, the primary finding of the experiment was that the mice with no new neurons performed as well as the control group mice on memory tasks. So the hypothesis that new neurons would be required or essential to memory-based performance was not proven. The researchers did, however, note a key unanticipated behavioral change in the “engineered” mice’s behavior. During a water maze memory task, the mice without new neurons would circle the edge of the pool. This was a behavior modification that the researchers attributed to stress. As a result of this secondary finding, the research team began to look at whether the lack of new neurons (or “neurogenesis”) alters the stress response in mice. They found a potential key in a subsequent test in which the mice were held in restraint for 30 minutes. The researchers observed that the mice lacking neurogenesis showed abnormally prolonged increases in their stress hormone levels, and – something possibly key to understanding anxiety in humans – the hormone levels in the neurogenesis-free mice took longer to return to baseline. The prolonged increase in stress wasn’t anticipated by the team who assumed that if there was no memory or learning, (in theory requiring new neuron production) there should be no difference in stress levels between the two mouse groups.

“This surprised us because there’s no learning or memory involved in this experiment,” Cameron said. Additionally, when first stressed by a period of restraint, the team observed that the mice lacking neurogenesis also took longer than the control mice did to venture out into an open space to search for food – a behavior determined to indicate depression.
Extrapolating on this research and considering the possible implications relative to the human brain, one take on these observations would be the possibility that a lack of new neuron development in the hippocampus may potentially affect our ability to cope with stress. A prolonged period of raised stress hormone levels could impact the ability to “bounce back” from an otherwise natural stress reaction. It could potentially impact our ability to make decisions and could contribute to depression.

Real-time Regulation of Anxiety Hormones

Another study may one day change how anxiety therapy San Clemente doctors provide care. It revealed how brain pathways are continuously regulating anxiety. In NIMH Science Update for April 18, 2011 Deisseroth, Kay M. MD. Ph.D. and colleagues report on findings from their research at Stanford University, which were published in the journal, Nature. Deisseroth’s team has pioneered optogenetics, a method of experimentally activating brain activity with light. The researchers borrowed a gene that codes for a light-sensitive protein from algae so that a blue light could activate the amygdala pathway. When they wanted to deactivate the pathway in response to light, they used a gene from a light-responsive bacterium that inhibits a pathway in response to a spectrum of amber light and infected the amygdala pathway with that gene.

When the researchers optogenetically activated the amygdala’s neuronal cell bodies in the gene-altered mice, their anxiety-related behaviors increased. The mice stayed in a corner of a maze and did not explore. The researchers hypothesized that they would get the same effect if they narrowed the focus of the activation to just a specific neuronal area, but instead when they activated the area with only the blue light the optogenetically engineered mice began to explore the open areas of the maze that they had previously avoided. The reduction of anxiety-related behaviors was something unexpected. When the researchers blocked activated the area with only the amber laser, the animals showed even more anxiety-like behavior than they usually do. The team was quite surprised by the findings. These experiments shed light on how the brain regulates anxiety levels in real time by increasing and decreasing activity in the amygdala pathways.

These findings on how the hippocampus and the amygdala affect anxiety provide windows into how the brain regulates anxiety. They also shed light on how anxiety can potentially be increased or decreased with appropriate therapies. Anxiety therapy in San Clemente is addressed on an individual basis and often incorporating CBT as a primary method of “rewiring” the brain and alleviating anxiety.

For more information on anxiety therapy San Clemente and therapeutic options, visit Dr. Walsh’s page, www.southoccounseling.com and under “Counseling,” select “Anxiety & Stress,”