Being Bullied Aids in Development of Anxiety Issues

Bullying can have serious psychological ramifications, according to a new study involving mice. This new research suggests that bullying, along with other social stressors, can affect gene activity in the brain. The study warns that these changes may result in the development of chronic social anxiety.

“Just as alcohol affects your liver, stress affects your brain,” said lead researcher Yoav Litvin of Rockefeller University in New York. “The anxiety that can result from being teased and otherwise treated poorly is organically based,” Litvin said, “meaning it arises from physical changes in the brain.”

The experiment showed that bullied mice had increased activity in a gene directly responsible for the brain’s sensitivity to social stimuli. At the conclusion of the study, after nearly a full day with no bullying at all, the bullied mice were recoiled from new friendly mice and collectively avoided them altogether, showing that the elevated sensitivity may linger long after the bullying stops. Although the exact effect of bullying cannot be determined in days or weeks, the study suggests that victims of bullying may be so overcome with social anxiety that they have trouble developing new relationships, even with friendly peers.

The good news is that although the brain is affected by negative relationships, it is also significantly affected by positive relationships. Litvin says that because the brain is a social organ, it can be changed and ultimately healed through the formation of supportive and nurturing relationships.

In the study, the researchers used a drug to calm the overly sensitive mice. “But drugs are not the only way to go,” Litvin said. He says that developing a strong relationship with a therapist may be a good place to start, especially if the bullied person is experiencing severe social anxieties.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • joel m

    joel m

    March 25th, 2011 at 9:49 AM

    being bullied not only stresses a person(which in itself can be a huge problem) but also makes him feel inferior and hinders even his good social connections.bullying is no less than a serious crime,really.

  • George


    March 25th, 2011 at 7:01 PM

    Although I’m pretty outgoing and in no way a timid person,I suffered from anxiety issues after joining a new school.Yes,it was because of bullying.I don’t know why it happened to me inspire of me being a bold person but it really made me feel helpless.Thankfully my parents intervened at the right time and I was rid of the issue.I’ve seen high school students get bullied by their peers.Yet it is an issue not commonly spoken about.

  • Ginger


    March 26th, 2011 at 6:05 AM

    These triggers are sparked at a very young age and then what? This is something that they will have to live with for the rest of their lives. Sad

  • hollis c

    hollis c

    March 27th, 2011 at 5:17 AM

    well I don’t think that you are ever going to be able to say that having been bullied brought out anything good

  • Deb Owens

    Deb Owens

    March 27th, 2011 at 6:32 AM

    Very interesting research. Sounds like all good clinicians should ask adult clients about bullying behavior directed towrad them oir by them in their youth.

  • Mike


    March 27th, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    I still suffer from anxiety and a fear of failure which I now directly relate to being bullied as a child. I’m getting therapy to help deal with it, but the scars are hard to fix. Professionally I need to though. Being a teacher, I can’t avoid the issue and have to be strong enough to help kids today so they don’t suffer like I did.

  • Brooke C

    Brooke C

    March 28th, 2011 at 4:36 AM

    While I am glad that there has now begun a national conversation regarding the issues of bullying and how this is affecting our childredn today, I hear a lot of talking but very little doing. Talking is great and getting the issue out is great but what about the kids who are still having to deal with this on a daily basis? What are we doing that is going to make a difference for them today or tomorrow or a few weeks down the road to ensure that they do not get harmed again?

  • elise


    March 29th, 2011 at 3:47 AM

    …and this is exactly why bullying is nit a small issue and is not a part of growing up…it is a gross violation of a person and needs to be weeded out right from it’s roots,schools!

  • Brianna


    March 29th, 2011 at 11:40 AM

    I don’t have much faith in humanity when scientists in lab coats pick on helpless mice. I hate to think what was done to them for it to be considered bullying.

  • Hope


    March 29th, 2011 at 11:58 AM

    This is why schools need to be tough on bullying, and by tough I mean the whole nine yards; suspension, detention, apologizing in front of the whole school, even giving kids legally responsible a criminal record.

  • Leon


    March 29th, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    Aren’t schools under a legal obligation to deal with bullying harshly? If someone is a bully in the workplace, not doing something will result in a massive lawsuit. That should be incentive enough to stop them in schools too.

  • Charlene


    March 29th, 2011 at 1:53 PM

    Nowadays giving your young ‘un a harsh look is almost allegedly child abuse. I’m not saying kids should be beaten, but if they hit another kid, they need a smack as a deterrent. A good one. We’re getting too soft.

  • wendy


    March 31st, 2011 at 6:49 PM

    What children need is a lesson in compassion and an understanding that the weak should be looked out for, not picked upon. Bullying should not be tolerated in any shape or form. I don’t think corporal punishment is the answer though either. Punish them, yes, but be more creative in your methods.

  • Louise


    March 31st, 2011 at 7:27 PM

    @joel m – Assault, slander, vandalism, theft, extortion, racketeering. Does it still sound like kids being kids when you say exactly what it is? Of course it doesn’t. I completely agree that it’s no less than a crime.

  • Caleb


    March 31st, 2011 at 8:09 PM

    The best way to prevent bullying is to tell this to your sons and daughters like my dad did me many years ago. “If I hear about you picking on other kids, I will whip your hide raw.” The cause and cure of bullying is inside the individual and comes down to making a choice-to bully or not to bully. Nothing else.

  • Kelly


    March 31st, 2011 at 11:29 PM

    Unlike crimes of necessity like stealing to feed your poor family, inflicting uncalled-for pain and humiliation on a person has absolutely no excuse, and lasting consequences. I would bet it’s the bullied kids that end up bringing guns to school when they finally snap.

  • heather


    April 2nd, 2011 at 9:54 PM

    @Kelly…and when that finally happens, the victim gets the blame and nobody points at the bullies and says “This is -your- fault!”. Once again the bullies get away with it. It’s so tragic all round on so many levels.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on