How to Diminish Your Fear Response

Diminishing fear responses relieves stress on your body. Lessening the fear response Empowers Self Healing.

New research has shown again and again that your responses or reactions to fear are normal human biological responses. A bit about the science, fear pathways pass through the almond-shaped neural structure called the amygdala. Fear produces cues through the basal nucleus and the central nucleus of the amygdala activate multiple brain regions. The human chemical system is alerted. Each region then produces a sign and symptom of fear. For example, activation of the lateral hypothalamus can lead to changes in blood pressure and heart rate and sweating. Activation of the parabrachial nucleus can lead to panting and respiratory distress, and more. All this to help you survive.

The stressors which create the fear response are the main cause of increased stress symptoms, not the actual stress itself.

 

 

 

It is not just “Fight or Flight”
fear zig

Our fear response is not just fight or flight. The  fight, flight or freeze or fawn or other survival instincts alert our bodies to cope with immediate danger.  Human survival historically required freezing, disappearing, cooperation or the better-known fight or flight responses which all are the response to fear. Survival instincts, including fear, have protected humans.  

Fear makes sense in some situations, like if someone has a knife to your throat. It only becomes a problem when you react fearfully even when you are not in actual danger. Don’t try to diminish the alert of fear if you need it to survive. But most of the time that is not the case and your body is overreacting. But however, real or imagined, you can still lessen your body’s stress reactions.

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.  Marcus Aurelius

Reduce body tension from your fear response. 

The following are steps you can take to lessen the physical impact of fear on your body, your fear response.

  1. Realize your fear is a biological cycle that will have an exit. That realization is an important step to diminishing your fear response.
  2. Interestingly, humans are born relaxed, yet over time muscle tensions from the fear cycle develop into habits. The body practices stress reactions to real physical fear, or, for most people, not living in war zones, to imagined fears, until the pattern is cemented.  Fear diminishes with the understanding that your fear is a habit, a practice, something that you’ve learned. The great thing is you can create new relaxed habits.
  3. Diminish fear’s power by committing to and taking responsibility for changing your attitude towards both generalized fear and a specific fear.  ocean waves
  4. Notice your specific body’s reactions when fearful or when you begin your fear cycle.  This will lead to the ability for you to take responsibility for those actions.  Changing how your body reacts breaks your ingrained practices.  Using a practice like biofeedback to understand in detail your body’s reactions will give you a tool to know when to relax your body. Interrupting tense body habits (practices) helps to break your established cycle, for example holding your breath when scared.  Instead, try breathing calmly and deeply and this will allow the bad practices to exit your ingrained cycle.   
  5. Becoming aware of your triggers and how your fear starts is so important.  Knowing how your fear cycle starts is vital to exiting your cycle. Breaking your fear cycle by transfusing new choice for your body reactions creates new conscious controls.  You will literally no longer be ruled by fear from your unconscious.
  6. You must realize how much of your present fear response or reaction is an unconscious response to your past. Admitting that your present feelings of fear really stem from past experiences, not from your current situation, naturally diminishes the fear you feel. This realization is important to exiting your fear cycle.  When experiencing the symptoms of a fear cycle, consciously set aside what is in the past, for example setting aside eighty percent of your reaction as past-based and dealing with only twenty percent of it in the present, simplifies the cycle.  fear francis bacon
  7. Straining to overcome the fear response only adds to it.  Trying hard causes body tension. Doing less is better.  The very act of slowing down, letting go, breaks patterns. Learning body movements such as Tai Chi or Feldenkrais or yoga which are designed to interrupt the stress/tense state allows your body to relearn a more relaxed baseline. Remember flexible efficient movement is the opposite of your body’s fear response or rage reaction.  
  8. It is easier to change patterns when you reach out and help others.  That can be by simply sharing your struggles. Establishing a support system with someone else who has similar difficulties helps diminish your fear. Interestingly, you will learn by simply listening and encouraging.  
  9. Finally, act in the way you want to experience the future. Acting as if your new practices have already changed your body’s fear response will associate any new experiences with your actual situation.  You will no longer have unconscious behaviors based in the past. Therefore, you are now reinforcing and associating calm where there had been fear in the past.

Understand that this could be a long process for you.

But it is more easily handled in these suggested stages or individual goals. Continue to work on each of these goals until they are your standard practice or way of living or your standard operating procedure.  

References

Adolphs R, Tranel D, Damasio H, Damasio A. 1994. Impaired recognition of emotion in facial expressions following bilateral damage to the human amygdala. Nature 372:669 – 672.

Davis M, Ressler K, Rothbaum BO, Richardson R. 2006. Effects of D-cycloserine on extinction: translation from preclinical to clinical work. Biol Psychiatry, 60(4):369-375.

Ekman P, Friesen WV. Pictures of Facial Affect. Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo Alto, CA, 1976.

Guastella AJ, Richardson R, Lovibond PF, Rapee RM, Gaston JE, Mitchell P, Dadds MR. 2008. A randomized controlled trial of D-cycloserine enhancement of exposure therapy for social anxiety disorder. Biol Psychiatry, 63(6):544-549.

Jeffers, Susan 1987. Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway. Random House Publishing Group

Jovanovic T, Keyes M, Fiallos A, Myers KM, Davis M, Duncan, EJ. 2005. Fear potentiation and fear inhibition in a human fear-potentiated startle paradigm. Biol Psychiatry, 57(12):1559-1564.

Jovanovic T, Norrholm SD, Blanding NW, Davis M, Duncan E, Bradley B, Ressler KJ. 2010. Impaired fear inhibition is a biomarker of PTSD but not depression. Depression and Anxiety, 27(3):244-251.

Jovanovic T, Norrholm SD, Myers KM, Davis M, Duncan EJ. 2011. Conditioned inhibition in healthy veterans in Croatia. Manuscript in preparation.

Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27.

Kim JJ, Jung MW 2006. Neural circuits and mechanisms involved in Pavlovian fear conditioning: A critical review. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 30:188-202.

Kushner MG, Kim SW, Donahue C, Thuras P, Adson D, Kotlyar M, McCabe J, Peterson J, Foa EB. 2007. D-cycloserine augmented exposure therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Biol Psychiatry, 62(8):835-838.

LeDoux JE. 1994. Adapted from: Emotion, Memory, and the Brain. Scientific American, 270(6):50-57.  http://www.cns.nyu.edu/home/ledoux/.

LeDoux JE. Memory and Emotion.  http://www.cns.nyu.edu/corefaculty/LeDoux.php.

Myers KM, Davis M. 2007. Adapted from: Mechanisms of fear extinction. Mol Psychiatry, 12(2):120-150.

Nestler, Eric. Adaptation of illustration.

Norrholm SD, Jovanovic T, Olin IW, Sands LA, Karapanou I, Bradley B, Ressler KJ. 2011. Fear extinction in traumatized civilians with posttraumatic stress disorder: relation to symptom severity. Biol Psychiatry, 69(6):556-563.

Otto MW, Tolin DF, Simon NM, Pearlson GD, Basden S, Meunier SA, Hofmann SG, Eisenmenger K, Krystal JH, Pollack MH. 2010. Efficacy of d-cycloserine for enhancing response to cognitive-behavior therapy for panic disorder. Biol Psychiatry, 67(4):365-370.

Phelps EA ,LeDoux JE. 2005. Adapted from: Contributions of the amygdala to emotion processing: from animal models to human behavior. Neuron, 48(2):175-187.

Ressler KJ, Rothbaum BO, Tannenbaum L, Anderson P, Graap K, Zimand E, Hodges L, Davis M. 2004. Cognitive enhancers as adjuncts to psychotherapy: use of D-cycloserine in phobic individuals to facilitate extinction of fear. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 61(11):1136-1144.

Wilhelm S, Buhlmann U, Tolin DF, Meunier SA, Pearlson GD, Reese HE, Cannistraro P, Jenike MA, Rauch SL. 2008. Augmentation of behavior therapy with D-cycloserine for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Am J Psychiatry, 165(3):335-341.

For more information

Young Children’s Descriptions of Frightening Television News Content What you watch makes a difference

The Biology of fear and anxiety This is how some describe fear biology

Snakes in the MRI Machine: A Study of Courage Fun article on the science

 Courage: Working our Way Towards Bravery

Healing the Fear that Hides: Biologically Based Fear Responses

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