What Everyone Ought To Know About Fear

The Fear Response


You and I are distinctively unique as individuals. We’re each original and have a personal style. Seasoning the covered dish we bring to the potluck dinner of life with our special sauce. But when responding to immediate danger, we’re exactly alike.


Your Sympathetic Nervous System

The sequence of behaviors triggered by fear is common and produces the same physiological responses in all animals. These include the changes that are triggered by the sympathetic nervous system. When faced with danger your body’s sympathetic nervous system shifts into overdrive, causing the heart to beat faster, blood pressure to rise and you begin to hyperventilate. Perspiration increases and the skin’s nerve endings tingle, causing goosebumps. Your senses become hyper-alert, freezing you momentarily as you take in every detail. Adrenaline floods your muscles, preparing you to fight or run away. In addition, your brain shifts focus away from digestion to focus on a potential danger.


Fear, Emotions, And Your Amygdala

The sympathetic nervous system is like a circuit board sending signals to a concentrated mass of cells located deep within your brain called the amygdala; The brain’s alarm system. The amygdala allows you to perceive fear, which is a good thing because it heightens your awareness in the face of danger. It’s only about the size of an almond, but it packs a punch. The amygdala is responsible for your emotions, such as fear, anger, and sadness, as well as control your aggression. In addition, your memories of events are stored in the amygdala, so you will recognize similar events in the future.


Cracking The Fear Code

But there is a difference between feelings and emotions. As you can see, fear as an emotion is the result of a distinct pattern of neurons signaling neurons. Your feelings are a smoke screen of your conscious mind. They’re the labels you assign to your emotion of fear. There is one more element that makes up the mechanism of fear, your specific memory of the experience. After a scary experience, you can remember what happened, but also you recall how you felt about what happened. Remembering a negative  or painful incident can be very helpful. For example, if you burnt your hands while cooking, you remember to wear an oven mitt.


But prolonged amygdala activity can trigger mood disorders such as, panic, anxiety, and compulsive behaviors. For example, while cooking dinner you ask your son to grab the saucepan sitting on the stove. Without checking to see if the pan is hot, he grabs the pan and winds up with second-degree burns on his arms and hands. An accident like this is any mother’s nightmare. Remember, the initial response of the amygdala is brief. Once the immediate danger is over, (when you sprang spring into action to help your son), the neurons stimulating your amygdala should stop firing. However, this experience was so traumatic that your mind constantly re-enacts the scene. Every time you recall the kitchen memory your sympathetic nervous system prepares you for danger. Eventually, you begin either avoiding the kitchen or cooking. Perhaps you begin a routine of compulsively checking the appliances making sure you  turned all the dials in the kitchen “off”.


Fear: Friend and Foe

You need fear. If you think your life would be better without it, stop. Start re-framing your thoughts by focusing on the reasons the fear response is common to all species. Fear is your friend. Without it you’d tackle any big brown bear in the woods, walk down an alley alone at 2:00 in the morning, or blow-dry your hair in the bathtub. Consider your response to fear is like sustaining physical pain. You only have hit your head with a frying pan one time to know it hurts and you don’t want to relive the experience. Your fear response teaches you a situation may cause you pain. It can save your life or allow you to come to the aid of someone in danger.

Remember This:

  • Fear is an emotion generated by an apparent threat, which temporarily changes the way your brain, organs, and behavior normally operates.
  • Anxiety occurs when you constantly relive the traumatic event and perceive it to be uncontrollable or unavoidable.


Have a banner day!



Helping Brains Relieve Anxiety

A new study suggests a strategy to treat anxiety might be to design drugs that help the brains own regulatory circuitry kick in and tune down hyperactive neurons. The study’s authors focus on a part of the brain that processes fear and other emotions the amygdala. In anxious mice, the researchers found, this region of the brain plays host to an overactive enzyme that disrupts a regulatory signaling system responsible for preventing nerve cells from becoming overexcited. See more…


Related Links:

The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence

Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm