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If having a bias towards seeing threats wasn’t enough, the brains of people with social anxiety also show a difference in how that high road path from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala operates. You’ll remember that in the average brain on social anxiety, the amygdala reacts first but then the prefrontal cortex kicks in a few seconds later to restore calm if there’s no rational reason to become anxious.

Many of us are probably familiar with this experience?we get nervous the moment we stand up to speak, but then that voice of reassurance in our head kicks in and says, “there’s nothing to worry about,” so we calm down. But a 2015 study found that for people with clinical social anxiety, this calm may never come due to a change in this regulatory circuit. Normally, the prefrontal cortex “downregulates” the amygdala, sending it a signal to stop.

But the study found that the brains of people with social anxiety often do the opposite. Their prefrontal cortex sends a signal to “upregulate” their amygdala?effectively telling it to increase activity (and your anxiety). So, if you’ve ever wondered why it seems like the longer you stay in a situation, the worse your anxiety becomes, it might be because your brain is sending signals to amplify your anxiety instead of reduce it.

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