Stressed out. On edge. Jittery. Anxious. Whatever you call it, these are among the feelings that motivate many clients to seek out massage therapy.

Yet, for some people, anxiety is chronic.

Now, researchers have decoded a molecular mechanism that sheds light on how trauma can become engraved in the brain and lead to feelings of anxiety.

Feelings of anxiety prevent people from getting into situations that are too dangerous; those who have had a terrible experience initially tend to avoid the place of tragedy out of fear. If no other oppressive situation arises, normally the symptoms of fear gradually subside.

“The memory of the terrible events is not just erased.” states first author, P.D. Dr. Andras Bilkei Gorzo, from the Institute for Molecular Psychiatry at the University of Bonn, in Germany. “Those impacted learn rather via an active learning process that they no longer need to be afraid because the danger has passed.”

But following extreme psychical stress resulting from wars, hostage-takings, accidents or catastrophes, chronic anxiety disorders can develop which even after months don’t subside, according to a university press release.

“We were able to demonstrate by way of a series of experiments that [the level of] dynorphin plays an important role in weakening anxiety,” says Prof. Dr. Andreas Zimmer, director of the Institute for Molecular Psychiatry at the University of Bonn.

The substance group in question is opiods, which also includes, for instance, endorphins. The latter are released by the body of athletes and have an analgesic and euphoric effect. The reverse, however, is true of dynorphins: They are known for putting a damper on emotional moods.

This research, “Dynorphins Regulate Fear Memory: From Mice to Men,” is published in The Journal of Neuroscience.


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