Exposure Therapy Turns Off Anxiety Neurons

A new study in mice, published in the journal Neuron, reports that exposure therapy remodels an inhibitory junction in the Amygdala, a brain region important for fear in mice and humans. The findings improve understanding of how exposure therapy suppresses fear responses and may aid in developing more effective treatments.

Researchers at Tufts University report that a fear-inducing situation activates a small group of neurons in the amygdala. Exposure therapy silences these fear neurons, causing them to be less active. As a result of this reduced activity, fear responses are alleviated.The Amygdala is the main control center for anxiety and panic. So, how do you help the Amygdala? The simple answer, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. The Amygdala is the “Fight or Flight” center of the brain. Its job is to protect you from danger. When you perceive something as dangerous, flying, public speaking, elevators, spiders, or anything that has caused anxiety or even a panic attack, the Amygdala instantly fires off stress hormones including cortisol, adrenaline and nor-adrenaline. These very powerful hormones prepare you for battle, even though there is no imminent threat. How does one calm down? There are 3 major pathways that can help you. 1) cognitive reframing the experience by positive thinking methods or reassurance can reduce the anxiety by about 45%, 2) exposure therapy or desensitization (gradual exposure) with calming or self-soothing tools, meaning taking small steps over time to the anxiety producing stimulus until you “accommodate” to the situation without an anxiety reaction and 3) anti-anxiety medications such as Paxil, Prozac, or Zoloft. There are very effective anti-anxiety medications such as Klonopin and Xanax, however, they are highly addictive and should only be taken for short periods of time.
So, what about the article in the journal Neuron by Tufts University? “Investigators found that exposure therapy not only silences fear neurons but also induces remodeling of a specific type of inhibitory junction, called the perisomatic synapse. Perisomatic inhibitory synapses are connections between neurons that enable one group of neurons to silence another group of neurons. Exposure therapy increases the number of perisomatic inhibitory synapses around fear neurons in the amygdala. This increase provides an explanation for how exposure therapy silences fear neurons. It may be time for you to control those synapses.” 
CBT works, give it a try for your anxiety and panic. 
This link is for the article. Exposure Therapy

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Dr. Mike Klaybor

Dr. Mike Klaybor

Dr. Mike Klaybor brings thirty years of experience in practicing counseling psychology with individuals and couples. His approach is cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. Specific specialties include; anxiety and stress management, chronic pain & chronic illness management, depression, substance abuse evaluations, employee assistance and executive coaching for workplace performance and leadership.