March 28, 2020
6 min read

Deciphering Anxiety Through Brain Comprehension

1. Limbic brain (The Drama Department): The limbic brain is your emotional brain, systematically connecting your senses (i.e., olfactory cortex) with memories, emotions, and narratives, and getting results through your reactions (fight, flight, flee, and bond; Sapolsky, 2003). The limbic brain loves drama!

2. Thalamus (The Producer): The thalamus receives and passess sensory and motor information to the cerebral cortex (the cerebral cortex is divided into four lobes: frontal, parietal, temporal, occipital which is needed to process sensory information, 2003). The Producer oversees the passing of information to keep you alert. If the thalamus is damaged, you can go into a coma (2003). “You need me,” says thalamus, “to keep you moving (running from danger) or to stay alert (i.e., stay conscious, pay attention to detail) so you can stay in the game!”

3. Amygdala (The Director): The amygdala is responsible for emotional reactivity via fear or anxiety. These reactions include fight, flee, or freeze. The amygdala is an almond shaped part of the brain involved in emotional-decision making (Murray, Izquierdo, Malkova, 2009)

4. Cingulate gyrus (The Assistant): The cingulate gyrus has a very important role in the limbic system because it assists with emotion regulation, speech and voicialization, emotional bonding and attachment, and body posture (Vogt, 2005). The amygdala may be about fighting and fleeing, but the cingulate gyrus is about bonding (2005). “I voice my concerns,” says cingulate because “I work with thalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus to process emotions, make emotional connections, and/or formulate a plan... My objective is to support amygdala's agenda or my agenda. Your affect, body posture, tone of voice, and speech will either support amygdalas emotional intention (fight or flee response) or my emotional intention (bond response).”

5. Olfactory cortex (The Conductor): The olfactory cortex organizes sensory input and helps process emotions, using your memories (Neuroscience News, 2017). The sense of smell is associated with positive or negative memories (2017). “I can orchestrate beautiful or negative memories by how something or someone smells,” says olfactory.

6. Left-brain interpreter (The Writing Department): The left hemisphere is the part of your brain that creates meaning from life events (Gazzaniga, 1988). “I am a great storyteller,” says the left-brain interpreter. “Every life event you experience comes with an interpretation (a narrative)... it doesn't matter if it's subjective because it's your story,” adds left-brain. The left-brain interpreter connects the story with an emotion then files it in the long term memory (hippocampus, 1988).

7. Hypothalamus (The Chemical Messenger): The hypothalamus regulates your emotional responses (1988). “Don’t kill the messenger,” says hypothalamus. “I produce chemicals like choritsal so you can run for your life.

8. Hippocampus (Learning and Memory Department or the Library): The hippocampus indexes and stores your memories ( “I learn and store information in the data bank,” says hippocampus.

9. Fornix (Personal Messenger for the Librarian): Fronix has a bundle of nerve fibers that acts as the primary outgoing pathway from the hippocampus ( It is associated with episodic memory (long term memory that involves specific events, situations, and experiences,

Placing the pieces together: A story of a boy

Imagine you are a 10-year-old child and you did not receive an invitation to a birthday party; leading you to sadness and anger. You felt the emotion and heard the narrative in your head. Your left-brain interpreter created a story about the event: "You are not cool...only cool kids get invited to birthday parties." This event, narrative, and emotional experience were stored in your hippocampus, which acts as a library of memories.

Fast forward to a present event where you are up for a promotion. You discover that one of your coworkers received a promotion and two others received bonuses, but you may only receive a bonus, with unknown reasons for not being promoted. Within milliseconds, your limbic brain scans for a threat with the help of its friends the following scenario unfolds:

"I found a winner," announces the olfactory cortex (reminder: events are informed through our senses, i.e., eyes). “I have a great library,” remarks the limbic system (drama department), “it's called the hippocampus.” Fornix proudly asserts to olfactory, “I retrieved a memory.” Thus, the memory is retrieved from the hippocampus through outgoing pathways of you being 10 years old and not getting invited to a birthday party.

"Ouch... that hurts my feelings," says the left-brain interpreter, "and today your boss may not give you a bonus, and your coworker is definitely getting a promotion." The limbic system confirms the threat. "I am going to sound the alarm," says the thalamus, and wake up amygdala. "I support you, amygdala," says cingulate gyrus and hypothalamus. "Together, we will get you to flee or fight." The amygdala chimes in, "You are going to experience anxiety, which in turn will be expressed via anger because I will project the story the left-brain interpreter told me about your rejection as a 10-year-old child." "This way," amygdala snarled, "you can choose to fight with your boss or just quit your job." The End

However, it's important to note that the amygdala's response isn't always the most helpful or accurate. In this case, your amygdala is reacting to the perceived threat based on a past experience, rather than the present situation. It's possible that the reasons for not being promoted have nothing to do with your abilities or worth as an employee. It's also possible that you may still receive a promotion in the future.

Understanding how the brain processes and responds to emotions can help us become more aware of our reactions and choose more appropriate responses. It's important to recognize when our amygdala is sounding a false alarm and to take a step back to evaluate the situation objectively.

In summary, the limbic brain judges a threat and alarms the amygdala, triggering the sympathetic nervous system to release chemicals in your body. Your sympathetic nervous system sends signals through the autonomic nerves to increase your heart rate and breathing.


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Morton, S. (February, 2020). The Connection Between Childhood Trauma and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.PsychCentral.


Murray E. A, Izquierdo A, Malkova L., (2009). Amygdala function in positive reinforcement. The Human Amygdala. Guilford Press.

Neuroscience News. (August, 2017). How the emotions of others Influence our olfactory sense. Neuroscience News.

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