July 30

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How Fear Affects Your Brain


Fear is our most powerful emotion and occurs when we sense danger.  Fear evokes the quickest and most intense response of any emotion.  The problem with fear is that the consequences are one-sided.  If we are afraid when we don’t need to be, nothing happens.  However, if we’re not afraid when we should be, the consequences can be catastrophic.

The downside of fear is that it causes stress.  The jolt of adrenaline and other hormones for fight or flight temporarily stresses our system.  Our body shuts down higher-level thinking, our digestive system, our immune system, and our reproductive system. All of these are non-vital when fighting for our life.  However, if fear is constant or frequent, it can slowly destroy our body.

Fear can be difficult to change because it is a self-reinforcing behavior.  As an extreme example, look at a person who is afraid to go outside.  They believe that going outside is dangerous.  Each day that they stay inside avoiding the world, they reinforce their belief that the world is a dangerous place.  Their fear is further justified by watching the news reporting crimes and catastrophes.

While most of us don’t live with this extreme fear, all of us have some fear.  A little bit of fear can be helpful to motivate us to action.  For example, the fear of losing our job causes us to get up and go to work every day.  However, the constant fear of losing our job even though we are working long hours, may cause us to have family or health problems.

Fear is not danger.  Fear is the perception of danger.  Fear is how our mind and belief system interprets the expected outcome of a situation.  The thought of the negative outcome is what we are truly afraid of.  Yet, do we really know if these outcomes are true, or even probable?  Do we know that what we think will happen is truly bad?  Losing a job may lead to a better one.  Breaking off a bad relationship (even if we are not the one who leaves) may be healthier for us in the long run.

Bruce Fleck

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