The science of fear

Worrying about problems or events that you cannot control has an adverse affect on your health. When you expose your brain to an unhealthy or negative environment it sends a signal through your autonomous nervous system to your parasympathetic nervous system to help you respond  Fear is one such negative environmental factor, heightened more by the culture of fear we now live in.

It may or may not come as a surprise for you to know that fear itself is a learned behaviour. As a baby you were more curious about the world around you than afraid of it. The only things that babies are afraid of are the fear of falling or loud noises. Everything else has been learned and influenced from your environment and the culture you are exposed to.

How does your fear come about? As we have discussed in previous posts, your brain is a powerful tool.

Over the past two years, you have been exposed to new fears of sickness, isolation and even wondering what the future will become. To keep yourself safe your actions resulted in sanitising, washing and panic buying to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Your brain recognised a danger and prepared you to respond accordingly. It also allowed you to warn those around you to prepare themselves for the new events that were emerging.

When you come across something that tightens you, your brain sends a signal into your body to release a chemical called cortisol, a stress hormone, in the form of adrenaline. The adrenaline allows you to tense and be alert in order to protect yourself from the fear.

At the same time, your body is turning off non-essential functions like your immune and digestive system to allow more energy to flow into your emergency systems such as your major muscles to keep your blood and heart pumping to respond to the threat. This is what we call your stress response.

During the stress response you will find it difficult to focus on simple tasks while your body responds to the fear event. This is called your fight or flight response. You are prepared to either stay and face the fear or retreat to a safe place and remove yourself from harms way.

However, not all fear is bad. It is a good thing to have as it keeps you safe. Your brain acts as an alarm system to trigger potential dangers in order to protect you. From walking down a dark alley at night to speaking to a room full of people, your fear can help you make decisions in these fearful situations.

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