The ADDled Brain and Anxiety

I never thought of myself as an anxious person. Maybe I wasn’t when I was younger. Truth be told, though, I suspect I’ve had anxiety issues most of my life and was never treated for it.

It’s common for people with ADHD also to have issues with anxiety and depression. I mean, who wouldn’t be depressed when our brain differences aren’t recognized or accepted in a world that is becoming increasingly hyperactive and overwhelming?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 4 percent of American adults (or about 8 million people) have ADHD, half of whom also have an anxiety disorder.

I had a 50-50 shot at NOT having anxiety — my luck, I guess. And speaking of luck …

A 2017 study of 423 adults selected on the basis of gambling habits or impulsivity (impulse-control being one of the issues associated with ADHD — see my post about puzzle obsession) found that 20 percent had symptoms of ADHD. However, only 7.3 percent had received a formal diagnosis and, ostensibly, treatment for it.

“ADHD symptoms were associated with significantly lower quality of life, lower self-esteem, higher emotional dysregulation, higher impulsivity-compulsivity questionnaire scores, more problematic internet use, greater occurrence of psychiatric disorders, and impaired stop-signal reaction times,” the study’s authors wrote.

So it’s not surprising anxiety plays a role in my life. Now that I’m older, I’m learning how to handle it better. I mean, my anxiety isn’t severe — I hadn’t even considered I had it, for goodness sakes. But now I realize, it does get in the way — particularly with sleep, decision-making and impulsivity (read: puzzles).

My curiosity was piqued a few weeks ago when I heard a story on NPR about a study that found specific brain cells in mice that seem to control anxiety levels. Although Mazen Kheirbek, assistant professor at University of California, San Francisco and lead author of the study, says the research is preliminary, it could lead to better treatment for anxiety.

Avoidance is a typical and healthy response to threat, the authors write in the introduction to the study published in the journal Neuron. But people with anxiety can overestimate threat leading to excessive avoidance behavior.

Can you say procrastination?

The hippocampus region of the brain is thought to be involved in mood and anxiety disorders. But little is known about how or why some people’s brains cause them to worry excessively.
scared mouse

Using highly technical methods I won’t go into, researchers discovered a specific neural pathway in the hippocampus of mice that appears to generate avoidance behavior in stressful situations.

Of course, and Kheirbek was clear about this when speaking with NPR, research conducted on lab animals doesn’t always translate to humans.

Still, it gives me hope.

5 thoughts on “The ADDled Brain and Anxiety

  1. Yeah interesting. As ever, whilst most people will experience these things it’s the degrees to which they interrupt your daily life. The avoidance thing for example when it overtakes and makes normal living almost impossible.

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