When individuals are experiencing chronic anxiety the early signs are often marked by uncontrollable worry and overly reactionary responses. Extreme worries can vary from personal relationships, finances, health, and other concerns. Additional physiological symptoms can include, dizziness, issues with sleep, fatigue, muscle tension, and irritability. Often individuals will experience significant conflict within their romantic relationships as well as friendships, and usually perceive others in their life with suspicion. Individuals are often less resilient in times of emotional conflict, and will exhibit unconcsious patterns of communication which are overly critical or overly passive.
When one begins to develop those early habits of chronic anxiety and stress, what they are doing is strengthening neural pathways in the central brain. This is how habits are created, by responding emotionally to a stimuli or similar stimuli over and over again. What is particularly challenging about anxiety or stress, is that humans have a natural propensity to retain information around negative material versus positive material. The central part of the brain, where the limbic system is, this is the lesser developed part, and is also the less needed area of the brain in today’s modern and safe world. This means we need to spend more of our time residing in the higher brain (frontal cortex), the more developed part, rather than the primal portion that is holding us back, unless of course there is truly a threat in the bushes.
How can we heal chronic anxiety and neural patterns of fear and worry? We can do this by growing new neural connections between pathways in the higher brain that are conditioned to sustain a longterm state of calm, resilience, peace, and joy. This truly is possible with daily practice, strong mental awareness, and using the right meditative visual techniques. In my eight week program I have actually designed a step by step process to achieve this goal. It truly is possible to retrain this bias that is innate to human beings, but is exponentially greater in some individuals rather than in others.
I’d like to finish up this series discussing the critical centers of the frontal cortex (the higher brain). In the last article I covered the basic function of the frontal lobe, here I would like to go into the occipital, vestibular, and temporal lobes. The occipital lobe is the vision center of the brain and resides in the back of the skull. When someone is going through benzodiazepine recovery often they will experience visual input as either too bright or too dull. Sometimes even vision can be blurry or distorted, symptoms vary from person to person, but this is again the nervous system trying to readjust it’s chemical and hormone imablance.
The vestibular system is the semi-circular canal in the inner ear, and it is responsible for how the individual perceives their positioning in space and their understanding of balance as well. If this portion of the brain is damaged then one can become very dizzy and feel nauseous. Often people will feel like their environment is actually leaning, but it is not that the eye perceives one’s environment in this way. The eye is actually in communication with the brain via the vestibular system to tell the brain that the room or space is not leaning. These experiences will happen in waves, they will come and go, this is simply the nervous system readjusting.
The temporal lobe resides on both the left and the right side of the brain right above the ears and behind the eyes. This area is responsible for comprehending auditory information, including speech, making sense of speech, and any emotion associated. Benzo recovery symptoms can actually manifest in challenges registering language, making pictures of what that person is discussing, and also just experiencing a general lag in comprehension while someone is talking.
When noise is coming into the canal, and there is not enough GABA to trim the noise and make sense of it. And while the brain is firing off lots of glutamate, your mind will naturally attempt to place the noise, by accessing memories in the hippocampus to make sense of it, but it is often wrong during benzo recovery. It is important to recognize that your brain is not broken it is simply working the way it was designed to work, and is attempting to restore proper function over time. This is why it is critical that the body be producing it’s own serotonin on a regular basis, because without serotonin, the brain cannot release GABA and regulate the most critical neural transmitters in the nervous system. If you are interested in finding out how to significantly speed up your recovery period after being on anti-anxiety medication, feel free to reach out to me with any questions regarding my eight week program “Healing the Anxious Nervous System”.
Previously I addressed the amygdala, and now I would like to move into the second center of the limbic system, the hippocampus. This portion is responsible for creating and storing memories. When the amygdala sounds an alarm, alerting the body to danger and sending the signal that you should be afraid of something; the context and the circumstances surrounding this alarm or “fearful” situation is then stored in the hippocampus. Acting almost like a film replaying the next time a similar stimulus occurs within your surroundings. Effectively, the hippocampus ties all memories to emotions (fear).
I won’t cover all the centers of the limbic system, only the most commonly referred to control centers regarding the topic of anxiety and the use of benzos. Finally, the cingulate bundle and the hypothalamus, the former is responsible for communication between the various components of the limbic system. And the latter is responsible for regulating body temperature. Often when someone is experiencing benzo recovery symptoms early on, they might feel extreme fluctuations in body temperature. This is the brain’s way of restructuring and attempting to relearn it’s normal functions like before.
The following portions of the brain are part of the higher brain, or the cortex. This is the more recently developed part of the brain, beginning with the frontal lobe. This portion of your brain is responsible for higher executive functions such as planning, making decision, and inhibiting emotional reactions. Often times when there is little to no GABA in the frontal lobe and too much glutamate, it can become very challenging for people to accomplish a task like baking bread. This requires taking out all the ingredients, mixing them appropriately, and executing the basic functions of baking the bread. Over time however, these basic functions do return as your brain relearns how to balance and produce the appropriate neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain. On the next series I will continue addressing the functions of the higher brain and how they respond to neural toxic medications.
In order for the nervous system to reverse the damage that comes from consuming benzodiazepine medication over a lengthy period of time, it must down regulate glutamate and up regulate GABA in the brain in order to heal. The body has to effectively grow back GABA neurotransmitters and receptors and trim back the production of glutamate. Additionally, it must simultaneously produce neural chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, and somehow the brain must learn how to synthesize all of these chemicals. Additionally, the body is also having to produce and synthesize other enzymes and hormones as well. You can think of this process as building a large structure over a long period of time, but the contractors are learning as they go. Various parts of the building are crumbling and must be rebuilt, while other parts of the structure are being reconstructed in new ways.
I would like to address the central parts of the limbic system in depth by name and function. Beginning with the amygdala which rests in the central part of the brain and serves as the fear center. It is responsible for sounding the alarm when potential danger arises. However, if you are experiencing symptoms of excessive fear and anxiety while recovering from benzodiazepines, your brain is manufacturing far too much glutamate in this part of the brain. As a result, your fears seem insurmountable and are often created around anything that could be happening in your life, from leaving the house, to lights and sound.
The issue is that your brain is not producing enough GABA to counteract the production of glutamate, which would calm down your system. Your nerves are constantly firing inside this fear centre of the brain, resulting in the experience of constant fear whether or not there is actually something scary going on in your environment or not. So it not that you are actually afraid of something in your environment, the issue is that your brain is constantly firing off nerves inside the amygdala. This means that your brain is actually healing though, it is trying to figure out the appropriate levels of neurotransmitters to produce. It is important to know that you can significantly increase the amount of GABA produced within your nervous system by taking alternative measures (I designed a program specifically for growing GABA and serotonin in the brain). Next week I want to go into the other centers of the limbic system as well as the higher brain, then synthesize all the information to help shed more light on the impact of benzos on the nervous system.
Our nervous system is made up of millions of nerves, and these neurons actually retain a small amount of space between one another and communicate through two of the most important neurotransmitters. These are GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) and Glutamate. The former acts as a neural inhibitor in the body and the latter acts as an excitatory chemical, where the two balance each other out. It is important to recognize that both transmitter chemicals are always acting together, their levels are in synchronicity and the body’s ability to regulate the balance of each is citical. The two work together in order to help orchestrate every movement and sensation in your body. They are responsible for receiving information, tailoring the information so that it makes sense to the brain and the body, and then moving it along. Essentially providing a core structure for the nervous system.
As was previously noted the GABA neurotransmitter is an inhibitor. When GABA is released it serves the purpose of slowing something down or to limit sensory input. For example you might need to steady your hand, or perhaps being in a loud restaurant and you might need to trim the input of noise in the background in order to focus on what is in your direct sphere. This inhibitor is also responsible for allowing fluidity of movement, and of course it’s role is a lot more in depth but the core idea for the sake of this article series is that GABA is responsible for balancing sensory information, movement, etc… and is present everywhere in the nervous system. In the next article I will get into the role of Glutamate and what happens to the nervous system when you take a benzo medication and strip the brain’s memory of how to grow these neurotransmitters and receptors, let alone keep them balanced.