We have seen from many other articles that I have published on this site that significant childhood trauma over a protracted period of time can adversely affect the brain’s physical development both in terms of its structure and function. One common result of this is that, as adults, we are more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder (such as social anxiety, panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder) than are those individuals who experienced a relatively stable upbringing (all else being equal).
Indeed, two very serious disorders associated with childhood trauma – borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex post traumatic disorder (cPTSD) – both have anxiety as one of their most prominent symptoms.
Many individuals who suffer from anxiety take prescribed medication for it. This is because anxiety is linked to the imbalance of various neurotransmitters in the brain and medications can sometimes helpfully correct such imbalances (though, like any treatment for anxiety, they do not work equally well for everyone – indeed, in my own case, very few medications I have ever taken for anxiety have had any beneficial effect whatsoever).
What Are Neurotransmitters And What Is Meant By ‘Out Of Balance’?
The brain contains about 10 billion neurons (brain cells). Each of these can potentially communicate with 10,000 other neurons. This communication is carried out by the brain’s neurotransmitters and this communication gives rise to how we think, behave and feel.
When neurotransmitters become out of balance, it simply means that there is an excess or insufficiency of them being produced in the brain. The effect of such an imbalance can cause us problems relating to how we think, behave and feel.
In this article, I want to look at the main neurotransmitters in the brain that are found to be out of balance in those suffering from an anxiety disorder; they are :
- GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid)
What Symptoms Are Caused By Imbalances Of The Above Neurotransmitters In The Brain?
I briefly describe these below :
- LOW LEVELS OF SEROTONIN CAN CAUSE :
- excessive worry and rumination
- impaired ability to control emotions
- impaired ability to control impulses
- irrational responses to problems
- an inability to take a positive perspective
- hypersensitivity to perceived threat (both real and imagined)
2. LOW LEVELS OF DOPAMINE CAN CAUSE :
- inability to feel pleasure (anhedonia)
- loss of motivation
- delusions / psychosis
- obsession with detail / perfectionism
3. HIGH LEVELS OF NOREPINEPHRINE CAN CAUSE :
- impaired ability to think coherently / scattered thoughts
- intense anxiety and restlessness
- impending sense of doom
- sense of extreme tension (both bodily and psychologically)
- feeling ‘wired’ and ‘jittery’
- panic attacks
4. GABA :
- when GABA works ineffectively it can cause panic attacks and can cause a
5. GLUTAMATE imbalance which can, in turn, exacerbate an imbalance in other neurtransmitters
As stated above, medication prescribed to help correct the imbalance of neurotransmitters does not work equally well for everyone. Non-drug methods of treating anxiety which can be effective include :
- COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY (CBT)
- MINDFULNESS MEDITATION
- BREATHING EXERCISES
- HYPNOTHERAPY / COGNITIVE HYPNOTHERAPY
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).