From looming deadlines at work to traffic on the commute home, stress is a natural part of modern life. In response to stressful or fearful experiences, the brain releases chemicals that help the body respond quickly. While research shows short bouts of stress can be of some benefit, constant stress can prove dangerous, increasing the risk of mental illness and other diseases. Understanding what makes people more or less resilient to stress and fear may one day lead to new treatments for anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Ongoing studies are helping researchers understand how genetic makeup, the environment, and exposure to stress early in life can influence vulnerability to stress and anxiety. Recent studies highlight the molecular, cellular, and structural differences in the brains of people with anxiety disorders. Such insight could help doctors make quicker diagnoses and might one day lead to new avenues for drug discovery.