fear chemistry

Fear Chemistry: How it Cooks Within

Our fears have manifested themselves under different names – panic, anxiety, stress, worries and a lot more. They are merely different words for the same feeling – something that hits and churns your gut, and flutters around inside your tummy, until you either overcome it or run away from it.

What happens within the brain?

The moment, my son sees strays on the road, he begins to show his fear. This is because his brain, on account of a previous experience, has registered these strays as a threat in its memory. The sight of strays triggers that memory, which in turn activates the panic button in the brain. The brain then sends the rest of the body into panic mode.

Fear begins with the situation that you are facing. Your senses begin to go on an overdrive based on previous memories and send related information to your brain.

The brain algorithm in a person who is not afraid of strays would resemble this;

Strays = keep walking

But the same algorithm for someone like my son would be;

Strays = they are going to bite me = keep away from them = turn back, or run, or scream, or climb a tree, or take a stick and attack them

You get the point. Either the brain imports too many options to focus on giving a solid instruction, or in the worst-case scenario, the brain goes blank.

Working out the Brain Chemistry During Fear

Chemistry is the story of reactions. We have a normal zone, a bubbling zone when things happen in excess, and a null zone when things happen in deficiency. But every zone leaves its effects. When fear happens, a similar kind of chemical reaction takes place within the brain.

There is a place in the brain called the amygdala. This amygdala controls the senses, muscles and hormones. And this is the setting for our scene on fear chemistry.

The minute our external senses send the information to the brain that we are in a danger situation, it is like pressing a panic button in the amygdala. What happens afterwards is the bubbling reaction we were talking about. The bubbles are caused glutamate receptors. At normal levels, these receptors helps develop learning and memory in the brain, but in excess the glutamate receptors transforms into the “fear receptor.”

This bubbling sets off a chain reaction all over the body. That is why we experience increased heart-rates, churning sensations in the stomach, cold shivers in the hands and legs, etc.

But, isn’t the Brain Supposed to be Protecting Us?

All the organs of our body are constantly working towards protecting us – fighting off diseases and chugging off the waste. And if these organs are controlled by the brain, then our brain becomes our Chief of Security, reminding us of stuff like smoking is not good, junk food is bad, etc. Hold onto this thought for a minute and relish the feeling of having your own special, grand, grade of bodyguards. And they are best ones anyone will ever need.

So how exactly does the brain protect us if it is “confused” or has gone “blank”?

Even as fear sends the heart-rate into danger zone, it increases the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Result, you can move faster than a speeding bullet. Actually, not. But you get the point. You would have seen the incredible speeds at which the supposedly slower animals run away from their much faster predators. My father-in-law, when he is forced into walking, completes his two or three rounds at a speed that neither matches his age, nor his condition. This is because the fear of falling is so high that the brain gives him a sudden burst of energy to save himself by finishing the deed at an absurd speed.

What is the Consequence of Fear?

Fear is a test of human intelligence. But, fear is situational and is temporary. It is worry that we should be worried about. Because, worry is a constant. Fear comes and goes, but worry stays. So, it is not fear that we should be afraid of, it is worry that we should be worried about.

Having repeated the same statement in different ways, I will now explain why.

When we worry, we keep repeating the “imagination” of a fear inside our heads. It is also like constantly pressing our finger on the panic button. If the brain shuts down during one press of the panic button, imagine the long-term consequences of a constant touch in the same spot.

Our brain will shut down completely.

That is why the worry of losing a loved one sends us into an obsession with the said person. And the worry of failure or loneliness pushes us into depression.

When our brain shuts down completely, it renders us incapable of taking rational, intelligent decisions.

So how do we overcome worry? Find out in my next post.

But before that; it’s time for some introspection;

What are the things that you are afraid of?

What are the thoughts that run through your mind when you face your fears?

Have you ever gone into panic mode?

What have you done at that time?

What are your worries?

How many times a day do you worry?


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