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The Biology of Fear

Fear is a biological response. The fearful stimuli tells our amygdala to release adrenaline (our “fight or flight” hormone). The sole purpose of this is to give us energy to fight or flee. In other words, its purpose is to get us to act, once we act, the fear is pointless. And, usually goes away, since acting has us feeling empowered, not so out of control. Our focus becomes on our tasks at hand, and the worry get relegated to the background.

Fear and Feeling Helpless

However, we are not walking in the woods and see a dangerous animal, like our ancestors did.  In today’s day and age, our anxieties are usually about things we feel helpless to affect: war, climate change, getting sick, violence, a loved one dying, or not being good enough.  The helplessness feeds the anxiety.  And in return we are immobilized by it.  Our body and brain don’t know what to do with the energy it conjured to act, and we feel imprisoned by panic.

When this happens we need to focus on our personal agency: how we can respond.  We need to do something and feel empowered by it.  Something that helps us feel a sense of control.  Even though we might not be able to control what happens to us, we can control how we respond to it.  Even the smallest action can help the fear decrease. (That’s why people often pace when they are in panic mode. This actually helps them a bit.)

We are never completely helpless, though anxiety has us feeling this way about everything.  So try to do something, any little action can make a difference.  Sitting in the panic is usually the worse thing you can do.

How do you respond when you are scared and anxious?

By Jodi Lobozzo Aman

I blog here: Heal Now and Forever Be In Peace
and here: Anxiety-Schmanxiety Blog,
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27 thoughts on “The Biology of Fear”

  1. Depending on the situation. If my panic and anxiety are due to a “danger” that is happening to someone in front of me, or to a situation where there is something we can do, I usually react and act very calmly but fast. It’s when the danger is gone, that i feel tired, that i become shaky and/or tearful.
    When it’s general anxiety, I usually “disconnect” from my body. I don’t know how it happens, but it does. I feel absent and like it’s happening to someone else.
    The most “uncontrollable” are panic attacks,because most of times unexpected, so i don’t have the time to focus before it happens.

    1. Hi Nikky! Put “seemingly” before the “most’ in the last sentence! Read it again and then think of a plan you can come up with for when you are blindsided by a panic attack. Write it down read it over and over. When the attack comes, the plan is fresh in your mind and readily available.

      1. You’re right, absolutely right. After all, it happens so often, and although it feels awful, it’s nothing dangerous we can’t get over.Thank you Jodi

  2. Of course, the specific action I take in times of stress depends on the situation, but the imperative is to move. I’ll go for a walk or a swim if I can. Sometimes just moving my lips, i.e. having a good chatfest with a close friend can help shift my perspective.

  3. I’ve Had My Most Recent Anxiety Problems, Since Winter Of 2011! (Yes, I Said That I Had My Most Recent Anxiety Problems, Since Last Winter Of 2011!) I Also Got Very Sick In Fall Of 2010 Into 2011 (Yes, I Was Basically Sick For All Of Fall 2010 Right Into 2011!) Bodily Disease Does Not Feel Good At All. (No, Having Bodily Disease, Does Not Feel Very Good At All!) 🙁 Needless To Say, I Haven’t Been Downtown Lawrence Kansas Since. (No I Haven’t Really Been Downtown Lawrence Kansas, Since About Then, Not Really…..)

  4. So funny, I was just having a conversation about acting my way out of panic attacks a few days ago. It was prompted by a discussion I had with a friend of mine who is a scientist. You can’t think your way out of fear but you can act it. Great post!

  5. Jodi, I know that a panic attack is a result of anxiety. It says that it can last from few minutes until maybe few hours. What is it called when it’s ongoing for over 5 days, of course with moments where symptoms are less aggressive, but still there. It can’t be called attack, but what is it? how to treat it else than tranquilizers?

  6. Sure heightened anxiety can happen over days, or weeks. You can call it anything you’d like that describes it for you. (will talk about names next week). You treat it like you treat any other anxiety, worries, fear, etc: trusting yourself.

    1. Thank you Jodi. I love your reply, because it doesn’t involve medication, and it looks so simple. I may not see much now the link between the physical symptoms and trusting myself, but I’m sure you are right <3

  7. For five years, Jack Yianitsas experienced the debilitating symptoms of fear, anxiety, and depression. Often these symptoms are diagnosed by physicians as panic attack disorder or anxiety disorder. In a constant state of anxiety and panic, he searched desperately for a way out of his forest of despair. Following what seemed to be an almost insurmountable degree of frustration and disappointment, he found the way to his permanent recovery from his severe anxiety symptoms.



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