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Researchers Have Found “Anxiety Cells” in the Brain. Here’s Why That Matters

Not-so-fun fact: anxiety disorders affect 1 in 5 adults in America. Chances are you or someone you love suffers from one. This can include general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, or some delightful combination of all three.

<Raises hand>

A team of researchers from the University of California-San Francisco and Columbia University have discovered specialized neurons in mice that appear to control anxiety levels. The scientists studied mice doing activities that elicit anxiety and found that certain cells at the bottom of the hippocampus became more active during those scenarios.

They went on to stimulate those same brain cells in normal, non-threatening circumstances and found that the mice became anxious from the stimulation alone.

Neuroscientists believe this discovery is a huge step in finding a treatment for anxiety disorders.

“Hooray!” exclaimed all of the socially anxious people of the world…to themselves…because they were too worried to go out and interact with other human beings.

All joking aside, I can tell you from experience that living with anxiety is a real bitch. Nearly every day, some form of anxiety disrupts my well-being:

  • My boss wants to “talk”? Oh shit. I’m probably getting fired even though I’m great at my job and I do everything she has ever asked of me. 
  • My daughter fell into a pond on my husband’s watch? And now I get to stay up all night stewing about the worst-case-scenario and how she’s going to drown someday because I have no control over what happens when he takes them to a park while I’m at work.
  • I just met a group of new acquaintances for dinner? Then I said all sorts of dumb, embarrassing shit and why do I even try to make friends? Why do I even try?

Ok, I know reading the aforementioned scenarios is draining and exhausting. But just imagine living them every day.

Those of us with anxiety are more likely to suffer from addiction, eating disorders, and even heart disease. Anxiety destroys our health and takes a toll on our relationships because, goshdarnit, it’s a smidgen difficult to sustain a friendship with someone who is freaking the fuck out all the time, now isn’t it?

Anxious people don’t want to live tortured lives. But since the problem is literally in our own heads, we need help from the outside to overcome it. We need science.

It is unclear yet what kinds of therapies will come out of this groundbreaking study, but discovering the “anxiety cell” is a hopeful and welcome starting point.