Brain Sense

How your brain makes sense of your senses.

How Anxiety and Depression Begin in a Child's Brain

A new study from a research team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison casts light on how negative events in childhood, including the kinds of chronic stress experienced in ordinary life, may alter brain circuitry and lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression. Read More

Interesting

Very interesting survey. Could a manifestation of anxiety induced by childhood difficulties, be that of early onset OCD?

How about the whole body in such research

Candice Pert's "your body is your unconscious mind" is just one example of needing to include the whole body in such research.

We will get there eventually. To look at the brain only will never give us a complete picture.

I have read about the effects

I have read about the effects of childhood abuse on the brain's fear circutry, but have been unable to find specific examples of how the hypersensitive fear response manifests.

When I was a child, I was abused and neglected by my mother. I was also plagued by irrational fears, and afraid to tell anyone because I thought they would think I was crazy. I had a very vivid imagination and any time I was alone, I would imagine horrifying scenarios (usually supernatural or demonic things). Even though I knew it was just my imagination, I couldn't control my fear. Just thinking about such things terrified me so much that I would curl up in a fetal position with my eyes closed until someone found me (and then I would act like nothing was wrong). Sometimes I would be paralyzed for an hour or longer. No amount of rational thought affected my fear response. It was so bad, I was afraid I was insane and that I would never be able to function normally as an adult. I was seized with terror every time I had to take a shower, take out the trash, go to bed, or was sent to do chores in a room by myself. Basically anything that required me to be alone filled me with fear and dread.

I overcame the irrational fear very gradually over many years. But I still struggle with anxiety. I have always wondered what caused this bizarre fear response when I was younger. Even before I read about the affects of abuse on brain development, I thought it might have a neurological cause, so reading about the altered fear response in abused children seemed to make sense. But I'm still not sure if it explains the peculiar nature of my fears (stimulated by my own imagination rather than threats in the immediate environment, usually directed at supernatural entities, etc.).

Can it be changed?

This is very interesting research, and important to know how early abuse, and even stressful but common life events (such as a divorce) may impact the developing brain of a child. It would be interesting to know, for those who receive treatment for their anxiety or depression, are there notable changes in the brain compared with those who don't receive any? Though it helps to know the effects of abuse, it would also be uplifting to know it can be reversed.

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Faith Brynie, Ph.D, is a scientific and medical writer. She is the author of Brain Sense (Amacom, 2009).

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