Is an overactive Default Mode Network causing your anxiety and depression?

Depression and anxiety are more than just imbalanced neurotransmitters, they are just as much imbalanced neuro-circuits (the wiring in the brain), overactivity in a circuit called the default mode network floods our conscious thinking mind with depressive thoughts and intrusive anxious thoughts
Is your mind constantly thinking about your shortcomings, failings, faults, mistakes and things that make you anxious? If it is an overactive default mode network may be a root cause of the problem. The good news is we can train our brain to switch off overactivity in the default mode network
Default mode network depression and anxiety
 
Very simplistically the DMN gathers emotionally charged, stressful, angry and fearful information from the amygdala it then adds related emotional and factual memories stored in the hippocampus, this information is then transferred via a processing and relaying structure (the PCC) to our thinking conscious cortex (the mPFC). The new understanding is that depression anxiety are not just deficiencies of serotonin, GABA or dopamine, although neurotransmitters have a profound effect on the brain imbalances in neuro circuits are every bit as important; a significant functional disturbance in the depressed and anxious brain is the mPFC being bombarded with negative information.
 
When the DMN works in a balanced way, it enables us to learn from negative experiences and helps guide us to a better future; for example you may might have just had a bad experience and sometime later when you’re not busy your brain will switch on the default mode network remembers and thinks about the bad experience and in doing so we may learn something useful from that could keep us safe from danger in the future, or help us evaluate the social and life situation.
 
When the DMN is overactive however our conscious mind is continuously fed unpleasant or worrying emotional thoughts and feelings; producing a depressed or anxious state of mind. It is not known exactly how much genetics versus psychological conditioning and experiences plays a role but if your amygdala has been programmed with powerful traumatic experiences and you hippocampus is storing an ample supply of negative emotional memories the information being fed to the conscious thinking mind will be even more depressing or anxious.
 
The DMN is involved in:-
  • Remembering past negative events and experiences, connecting these memories together and then ruminating on them,
  • Reflecting and dwelling on one’s emotional state, so constantly thinking about your depression and anxiety,
  • Envisioning negative events or outcomes that may happen in the future, so feeling depressed or anxious about the future,
  • Thinking about one’s social and group status, in other words how people relate to you or think about you, so being depressed or anxious about one’s social status, how people treat you, and social anxiety,
  • Self-referencing, self-evaluation, evaluating traits and descriptions about oneself, so dwelling on how people see you, other people’s opinions of you.
 
If you have depression or anxiety you will recognise how your brain overdoes many of the things above, negative thinking about the past negative anxious thinking about the future, negative thinking about oneself, one’s past, one social status, how people feel about you and on and forth.
 
The DMN is also involved in:-
  • Thinking about the thoughts and feelings of others,
  • Being able to empathise with others feelings,
  • Moral understanding, justice, injustice, good and bad social concepts.
If these features are heightened you may develop depression with a painful level of excessive empathy and feeling the pain of others, being oversensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others.
Default mode network meditation depression anxiety

Later I’ll discuss we can train our brain to dampen down overactivity in the DMN by repeatedly practising meditation brain training exercises that activate an alternative circuit in the brain called the task positive network 1st however I’m going to discuss the anatomy of the DMN in more detail.
 

The anatomy of DMN

Brains are complicated, you don’t necessarily have to know this and you could skip this section and go straight to the section telling you how to dampen down overactivity in your DMN.
 
The DMN is a circuit that connects together the amygdala, hippocampus, PCC (posterior cingulate cortex) and the mPFC (medial prefrontal cortex).
 
The DMN starts with the amygdala rightly or wrongly perceives that we are in danger, that something is wrong in our world, when the amygdala is triggered it sends out a signal of fear or impending doom. This information is relayed to the hippocampus our primary memory How the default mode network works bank, our hippocampus then searches for memories and passed experiences related to what the amygdala has detected. For example the amygdala could be triggered by seeing or hearing a person that is even just similar to a person with whom we had unpleasant experiences in the past, let’s say a bully from school it relays this information to the hippocampus which then search its memory banks and draws up a lot of complex emotional memories associated with the bully from school and how bad we felt at that time and memories that the bullying experience made us feel like a weak victim and this might open up other memories related to other experiences that produced feelings of low self-esteem; the hippocampus adds supportive details and memories to what the amygdala has detected.
 
All this information is passed up to PCC which processes and compiles raw information from the amygdala and factual and emotional data from hippocampus into a usable information before passing it to the mPFC.
 
The mPFC is part of our self-aware thinking cortex, in other words it’s a part of the brain in which we have consciousness so now we are consciously thinking about the negative and dangerous information coming from our amygdala and hippocampus. The mPFC is particularly involved in making sense of emotional and social information.
 
A healthy DMN enables us to have a useful think about bad things that happened to understand them and come up with some better ways of doing things in the future; it should only be active and dwell on these things for an appropriate amount of time however and then be switched off when we engage in doing something else. A person without depression or anxiety can have distressing or worrying thoughts for a short period of time then they may take a sigh, say anyhow that’s enough of that and engage in something else. In the depressed and anxious brain however activity in the DMN is persistent, it doesn’t get switched off so our conscious mind can be continuously flooded with depressing and anxious information. 
 
Numerous studies have shown that the DMN is overactive in the depressed and anxious brain compared to people without depression and anxiety, at least one study showed that in the depressed brain DMN is operating with markedly different information compared to the non-depressed brain[i].
 
Imagine for example if your amygdala and hippocampus have been programmed with a lot of threatening triggers and stressful negative experiences they are going to seed a lot of negative information into your conscious brain. Our amygdala and hippocampus can readily be programmed to be hypervigilant towards threat, stressful and pessimistic memories, they are designed this way to keep us safe they, furthermore they retain their programming long after the original threat situation has passed.
 
Significant trauma or prolonged periods of stress in the early formative years of life have been shown to increase the size of the amygdala, and this increases the likelihood of developing anxiety later on in life[ii]. I believe it’s also highly likely that genetics plays a large part and some people are simply born with a larger and more hypervigilant amygdala than others, and then layered on top of that will be the conditioning from early childhood and subsequent adult stresses and traumas.
 

Now for the useful part, we can train our brain to calm down and overactive DMN

So far we seem that when the DMN is overactive it can bombard our conscious thinking cortex with distressing and anxious thoughts, the good news is studies have shown that with meditation brain training we can combat overactivity in the DMN[iii], but not all meditations are the same and we should employ the right technique.
 
To read How to Combat Overactivity in Your DMN click here
 
If you would like me to look into your individual case and develop a tailor-made programme of natural remedies, dietary advice and brain training exercises intended to improve the health of your brain and mental health I’m available for private consultations and group meditations at my London clinic or via Skype for people that live too far away. Click on the bookings tab to make an appointment.
I’m passionate about treating mental health and I’d be very happy to work with you.
 
Just a few months of meditation brain training can:-
  • change the physical wiring and size of specific structures and circuits in the brain such as the amygdala and default mode network that are involved in producing depression, anxiety, OCD and bipolar disorder,
  • change the way our brain processes stress and stop excess HPA stress responses damaging the brain,
  • reduce inflammation in the brain that damages structures in involved in mental health problems,
  • regrows lost volume (size) in the hippocampus and cortex involved in mental health problems.
See:-
Is an Overactive Default Mode Network Causing your Anxiety and Depression?
Meditation the Default Mode Network Anxiety and Depression
Meditation Regrowing the Hippocampus and Cortex in Depression
What's the Best Meditation for Depression Anxiety and Bipolar?
Meditation Classes for Bipolar Depression Anxiety
 
I specialise in treating and coaching people with mental health problems how to obtain better mental health with natural remedies and self-help techniques. If you would like me to look into your individual case and develop a tailor-made programme of natural remedies, dietary advice and brain training exercises I’m available for private consultations at my London clinic and online for people that live too far away.
I also run regular meditation classes in London and online.

Click on the bookings tab to make an appointment.
I’m passionate about treating mental health and I’d be very happy to work with you.
 
[i] Biol Psychiatry . 2011 August 15; 70(4): 327–333. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.02.003 Default-mode and task-positive network activity in Major Depressive Disorder: Implications for adaptive and maladaptive rumination J. Paul Hamilton
[ii] PUBLIC RELEASE: 20-NOV-2013 Size, connectivity of brain region linked to anxiety level in young children, Stanford study shows STANFORD UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER
[iii] Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2015 Sep; 15(3): 712–720. doi:  10.3758/s13415-015-0358-3 PMCID: PMC4529365 NIHMSID: NIHMS684151 PMID: 25904238
Meditation leads to reduced default mode network activity beyond an active task Kathleen A. Garrison et al
 
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