Explore the Science of Anxiety

Medically reviewed by 
Chelsea Tersavich, PA-C
Published on 
November 17, 2023
Updated on 

Ever wondered what’s actually happening in our brains when we experience anxiety symptoms?

While it’s important to note that the experience of anxiety is highly individualized, and the neurobiological processes involved can be influenced by a mixture of genetic, environmental, and learned factors, there are a few activations that are commonly noticed:

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)

The ANS controls involuntary bodily functions, including heart rate, digestion, and respiratory rate.

Anxiety activates the sympathetic branch of the ANS, which leads to the "fight-or-flight" response. Conversely, the parasympathetic branch of the ANS helps us relax and recover after the threat has passed.

The Amygdala

This small almond-shaped structure in our brain's limbic system is responsible for processing our emotions and detecting threats.

When we encounter a threat, the amygdala triggers a "fight-or-flight" response. It may also cause you to “freeze.” The amygdala activates the sympathetic nervous system, leading to a variety of changes internally. Some of these include an increase in heart and breathing rate, alertness, impaired decision-making, hypervigilance, and anxiety.

The Hypothalamus

The amygdala communicates with the hypothalamus, which serves as a control center for the autonomic nervous system.

The hypothalamus activates the release of stress hormones which prepare the body for action.

The Prefrontal Cortex

The prefrontal cortex, responsible for actions like reasoning and decision-making, also plays a role in anxiety regulation.

In response to threats, the prefrontal cortex can become overwhelmed, impairing our ability to think rationally or make clear decisions.

The Hippocampus

The hippocampus is involved in memory and emotional processing.

During anxiety, the hippocampus may enhance the recall of past negative experiences or traumatic events, contributing to the emotional intensity of anxiety.


We created the Overcoming Anxiety learning pathway to help you manage, overcome, and work with your anxiety while building a strong foundation of growth as you identify obstacles and turn them into opportunities.


This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at +1 (800) 273-8255, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.

Important FDA Safety Information

Ketamine is not FDA-approved for the treatment of depression or anxiety. Learn more about off-label uses here.

Side effects of ketamine treatment may include: altered sense of time, anxiety, blurred vision, diminished ability to see/hear/feel, dry mouth, elevated blood pressure or heart rate, elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure, excitability, loss of appetite, mental confusion, nausea/vomiting, nystagmus (rapid eye movements), restlessness, slurred speech, synesthesia (a mingling of the senses).

Do not proceed with ketamine treatment if any of the following apply to you:

  • Allergic to ketamine
  • Symptoms of psychosis or mania
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • CHF or other serious heart problem
  • Severe breathing problem
  • History of elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure
  • History of hyperthyroidism
  • Other serious medical illness
  • Pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant

Ketamine has been reported to produce issues including, but not limited to, those listed below. However, lasting adverse side-effects are rare when medical protocols are carefully followed.

While ketamine has not been shown to be physically addictive, it has been shown to cause moderate psychological dependency in some recreational users.

  • In rare cases, frequent, heavy users have reported increased frequency of urination, urinary incontinence, pain urinating, passing blood in the urine, or reduced bladder size
  • Ketamine may worsen problems in people with schizophrenia, severe personality disorders, or other serious mental disorders.
  • Users with a personal or family history of psychosis should be cautious using any psychoactive substance, including ketamine, and discuss potential risks with your MindBloom® clinician before proceeding with treatment.
  • The dissociative effects of ketamine may increase patient vulnerability and the risk of accidents.

To promote positive outcomes and ensure safety, follow these ketamine treatment guidelines:

  • Do not operate a vehicle (e.g., car, motorcycle, bicycle) or heavy machinery following treatment until you’ve had a full night of sleep
  • Refrain from taking benzodiazepines or stimulants for 24 hours prior to treatment
  • Continue to take antihypertensive medication as prescribed
  • Avoid hangovers or alcohol intake
  • Refrain from consuming solid foods within 3 hours prior to treatment and liquids within 1 hour prior to treatment
  • Ketamine treatment should never be conducted without a monitor present to ensure your safety

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