An Anxious Brain Can Physically Heal! And Here’s Proof

How to Deal with Anxiety

“Yes, psychotherapy has really helped me learn how to deal with anxiety. And my panic attack symptoms have improved. I just wish it was more than a Band-Aid remedy. I mean, isn’t there something that can physically heal my brain?”

Actually, there is – psychotherapy. Think about it. If psychotherapy provides symptom relief, wouldn’t there have to be healing brain changes at play? I mean, how else could it happen?

But maybe you need proof. That’s fair. So, what if I told you a new piece of research confirms psychotherapy does, in fact, generate healing anatomical and physiological changes? Come on, let’s get after it…

Before we roll up our sleeves, I want you to understand why I bring relevant research your way. Sure, it fascinates me; however, it isn’t about a bad case of the “smarty-pants.” No, it’s in an effort to keep you focused on hope. It’s important to know there are remedies available now – and in the not too distant future – for the mood and anxiety disorders of which you may not be aware. And there’s buckets of hope in knowing scientists continue to work toward understanding that which ails us, and are doing their best to come-up with creative interventions. Good?

And now to rollin’-up those sleeves…

A research team at the National Institute of Psychiatry and Addictions and the University of Szeged (Hungary), led by Dr. Szabolcs Kéri, has completed some important work. The study was recently published in Biological Psychiatry, and it focuses upon posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – an anxiety disorder. And I say the conclusion can apply to any anxiety disorder.

Here’s how it all went down. The crew gathered two groups of participants. One consisted of 39 folks who’d been diagnosed with PTSD. There were 31 participants in the other – “control” – group who’d been exposed to trauma, but didn’t develop PTSD. The PTSD diagnosed participants received 12 weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The control group did not.

Panic Attack SymptomsNow, here’s where things get super-interesting. Before and after the CBT work, volume measurements were made of the participants’ hippocampus (on top to the left – in gold) and medial orbitofrontal cortex (bottom) – essential brain structures in learning, memory, and the regulation of emotion. Also measured was the expression of the gene FKBP5, implicated in the risk for developing PTSD, and involved in regulating stress hormones.

Before they began their CBT work, it was determined the PTSD diagnosed participants had lower FKBP5 gene expression and smaller hippocampal and medial orbitofrontal cortex volumes – compared to the control group. When CBT was completed (12 weeks later), they showed higher expression of FKBP5, as well as increased hippocampal volume. By the way, much of this has to do with the dynamics of neurogenesis.

The very cool part is, the changes were directly associated with symptom reduction. And the outcomes actually were a predictor of PTSD symptom improvement.

According to Dr. Kéri, “The results show that structural changes in the brain, such as the shrinkage of the hippocampus, are reversible in trauma victims. Talk therapy may help normalize these alterations and improve symptoms.” He continued, “Furthermore, the regeneration of hippocampus correlated with the expression of a gene that balances the activity of the stress hormone cortisol at the level of cells.”

So how ’bout it? Proof enough for you? Sure seems to me that psychotherapy generates healing anatomical and physiological changes for those enduring an anxiety disorder. And that’s not only hopeful, it’s darned exciting.

Are you bummed over how to deal with anxiety, panic attack symptoms – or even social anxiety support? Perhaps you’re thinking your perceived “troubled” brain anatomy and physiology – well, “That’s just the way it is, and that’s the way it’ll always be.”

Think again, k? Think again…

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Hey! Props to for the resource material.

  • Cathy | Treatment Talk December 10, 2013, 8:35 pm

    That is great news, BIll for anymore suffering from an anxiety disorder. The study and the diagrams are fascinating. It is reassuring to know that cognitive behavioral therapy can make such a difference. This is the kind of information that gives people hope who are suffering and don’t see an end in sight. Thank you for sharing!

    • chipur December 10, 2013, 10:21 pm

      Always my pleasure to share, Cathy. And thank you for visiting Chipur and contributing. Sure is all about hope. I mean, when you’re just so lost in the woods, seeing no way out, there ain’t much left but hope. It feels good to be able to bring readers “real-live” proof of something that’s a true difference-maker. This is scientific fact! And fact trumps worry grounded in the irrational all day long.

  • Leslie Ferris December 10, 2013, 10:31 pm

    Oh wow, that’s really fascinating. Healing from PTSD is near and dear to my heart, so thank you so much for this. Really interesting stuff. I am really interested in this gene that can implicate the development of PTSD. Got any more on that?

    • chipur December 11, 2013, 9:17 am

      Check-out the link in the article on FKBP5. From that Wikipedia entry…
      Genetic studies have identified a role for FKBP5 in posttraumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. For example, single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in FKBP5 have been found to interact with childhood trauma to predict severity of adult posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These findings suggest that individuals with these SNPs who are abused as children are more susceptible to PTSD as adults. FKBP5 has also been found to be less expressed in individuals with current PTSD. The FKBP5 gene has been found to have multiple polyadenylation sites and is statistically associated with a higher rate of depressive disorders.

      From another article…
      These hypothesis-driven results suggest that an interaction between
      FKBP5 genotype and trauma is involved in the onset of depression.
      Subjects homozygous for the minor alleles of the investigated FKBP5 SNPs
      seem to be particularly sensitive to effects of trauma exposure in
      terms of triggering depression onset.

      Couldn’t find much re detection and manipulation of the gene. I’m thinking ongoing research is warranted (and happening?).

      Thanks for visiting and commenting, Leslie. Always a pleasure…


      • Leslie Ferris December 12, 2013, 2:01 pm

        Thanks Bill I will check that out. Very interesting indeed.

      • chipur December 12, 2013, 6:56 pm

        “Your servant!”

  • Patricia Miller December 11, 2013, 8:33 am

    Once again you do a dynamite job of illustratinging the neuroplasticity of the brain and the heading potential, providiing desperately needed optimism with this access to current research. I always enjoy each article so much and learn heaps. Thank you for being more than just being “Mr. Smarty Pants”, not that your are lacking in the smarty pants area ;-)

    • chipur December 11, 2013, 9:19 am

      You like that “smarty-pants” quip, huh?! Hey, Patricia, so glad you continue to stop by and comment. The more, the merrier here. Thinking about you, as you continue on your journey. Best!

  • Dr. Herby Bell December 11, 2013, 7:22 pm

    Bill, just reading your POSTS grows my hippocampus…I LOVE this kind of, “dig this!” thing that you do as you bridge serious brain science with great ways for us to understand it. While reading, I’m goin’, hmm…and add good brain fuel in the way of wholesome/real food and reasonable exercise and man, what a great way to build a new brain/mind. As usual, you got me thinking again and always grateful.

    • chipur December 11, 2013, 9:45 pm

      And I’m always grateful for your visits and comments, Herby. Man, I can visualize that hippocampus of yours poking right out of your skull – not to mention your medial orbitofrontal cortex.Hey, the good brain fuel thing. Chipur readers, check-out Herby’s site, okay?

  • Lisa Frederiksen December 14, 2013, 1:08 pm

    Oh my gosh, Bill – as you can imagine I loved this! The new brain research is providing so many, marvelous answers on how a person can heal their brains, and thereby improve their lives. And, it’s helping shed the much-needed light on the fact that these are brain disorders – not choice, not willful – they are due to changes in how the brain works, which is also the power one has – heal the brain and change how it works for the positive! Thank you so much, Bill, for breaking down these complex concepts into something we can understand!!

    • chipur December 14, 2013, 2:12 pm

      Well, I figured you’d love this piece. We “brainiacs” kind of dig this stuff, don’t we? I like it – “heal their brains.” That puts it perfectly, Lisa. As one who endures an anxiety disorder, I find that context very comforting, actually. It has taken tons of unfair cause-responsibility off my shoulders over the years. However, I’m absolutely responsible for management and growth. I’m glad you continue to stop-by, Lisa, and participate. It makes Chipur a better place…

  • Bryan Johnson June 10, 2014, 9:44 am

    My life was a hell caused by my panic attacks and anxiety. I tried everything: psychologists, psychiatrists, all kinds of pills and drugs. The only thing that helped me and cured me were these techniques I found online. I hope they are useful to you.

    • Chipur June 10, 2014, 4:38 pm

      Chipur Readers!!!

      This comment came through as potential spam, so I had to approve or disapprove it. My first inclination was to delete it; however, I decided to let it fly because it really isn’t up to me to decide what you should or shouldn’t read. I’ve been on this site before and it doesn’t do much for me, but it may for you. Just always be cautious of any material that touts “cure.”