Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fearless: Neuroscientists Work to Eradicate Phobias and Anxiety, One Bad Memory at a Time

Spider in the web (approx. 10 mm - 0.35 inch b...Image via Wikipediaby Siri Carpenter, from Mental Floss, on UTNE Reader: http://www.utne.com

One winter evening, Etelle Higonnet and a friend were driving back from a Vermont ski trip when they stopped for fuel. They gassed up and bought a bag of M&M’s, then hit the road again.

The journey was going smoothly until the car hit a patch of ice and skidded across several lanes of traffic, flipping over multiple times. Miraculously, the women walked away from the accident with only a few bruises.

The next night, they met up at a movie theater. When Higonnet walked past the snack counter, she caught a glimpse of some M&M’s. Suddenly, she began to shake and cry and fell to the floor in a full-blown panic attack.

Like all emotional experiences, trauma is encoded in the brain. The extra adrenaline that accompanies terrifying events inks those memories in boldface, making anxieties and phobias difficult to shake.

As University of Virginia psychologist Bethany Teachman puts it, “We often say that we can get two-thirds of [anxiety patients] two-thirds of the way better.”

Through much of the 20th century, scientists thought the brain’s physical structure couldn’t change significantly after childhood.

But recently, researchers have discovered that the adult brain can reprogram itself at any age - whether it’s learning multiplication tables, mastering chess, or relearning how to walk after a stroke. Scientists call the brain’s ability to be reshaped neuroplasticity.

To read further, go to: http://www.utne.com/Mind-Body/Treating-Serious-Anxiety-Disorders-With-New-Memories-Neuroplasticity.aspx#ixzz1dj7AAAwn
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