One of the problems that we all need to face is an issue with anxiety. We may face it at work, at home and in many other areas of life. A little bit of anxiety may actually be good for us because it helps to keep us on our toes and can even safeguard us in numerous ways. The problem is, most of us tend to face anxiety on an ongoing basis and when it becomes chronic, it can be very damaging to both our mental and our physical health.
We often look to science to help any issues that we may be experiencing and it seems as if they may have stumbled on something that can help us with ongoing anxiety. It was neuroscientists who discovered these group of brain cells that they refer to as “anxiety cells.” It seems as if feelings of anxiety are specifically associated with those anxiety cells and may be at the root of the feelings of anxiety that we all experience.
Discovering anxiety cells was a big step in the right direction but even more important is the possibility that neuroscientists may actually know how to control these neurons. In doing so, it can reduce how much anxiety we are feeling.
A technique known as calcium imaging was tested on mice. Very small microscopes were inserted into the brains of the mice to record the activity of the cells in the hippocampus. When the mice were stressed out, the hippocampus experienced a high level of activity. The anxiety cells became extremely active when they were exposed to issues such as being vulnerable to predators. It is thought that similar issues may be at the root of the anxiety that we are facing.
Although they have not yet proven it, it is likely that anxiety cells also exist in humans. The benefit of identifying anxiety cells is a step in the right direction.
Researchers took it to the next logical step and tried to control the anxiety cells. The way that they did so was through a process known as optogenetics. Beams of light were utilized in order to switch off the anxiety cells in the hippocampus. When it occurred, the mice were bolder and less fearful. Rather than huddling along the walls of their enclosure, they went out into the open spaces. When the same cells were stimulated, and opposite reaction was noted. It was during that time that the mice tended to retreat to the safer areas.
Of course, it would be to our detriment if we were to remove all anxiety from our lives. It is anxiety that causes the chemical reaction that is known as fight or flight. It puts us in a frame of mind where we are either going to run away from something that is dangerous or stand up to it and defend ourselves. It is anxiety that also helps us to be on our toes during a time when we need to perform our best. That being said, it can also be a very unpleasant emotion, especially when it is ongoing.
The problem with anxiety is not the fact that we experience it; because it is built into us, it’s the fact that it is unpleasant. In fact, anxiety is associated with some of the more common mental illnesses around the world and it is estimated that over 18% of those who live in the United States experience extreme anxiety in any given year.
When the potential threats of experiencing this level of anxiety are considered, it really shows you exactly why it is a problem that is better avoided.
Fortunately, the fact that the anxiety cells were discovered in the hippocampus shows that there may actually be help for those who suffer from these types of problems. Regardless of whether it is light therapy or some other form of therapy that helps to get these cells to stop causing chronic anxiety, it is something that will benefit millions of people around the world.
“Now that we’ve found these cells in the hippocampus, it opens up new areas for exploring treatment ideas that we didn’t know existed before,” said Jessica Jimenez, lead author and MD/ Ph.D. student at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
I don’t know about you, but I look forward to experiencing less stress and anxiety in my life. It is only a matter of time until the real key is discovered as to how these issues can be averted.
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