Though it may feel second nature to be afraid of strangers, to be afraid of the dark in fact, it is not. We have learned those fears from family, from experience. But many of the most common fears are not natural.
And, it’s not just about your environment or what you’ve been exposed to. It’s about how your brain has learned to fire when something you perceive as “scary” strikes.
Are you scared to take the next steps in your career, relationship, or personal life?
Understanding how fear works can help you to overcome it, and achieve all your goals.
Fear and the Brain
Every thought you have starts in your brain. What you think triggers a chain reaction of communication in different areas of your brain. It gives rise to emotions and responses that may or may not help in that particular situation.
The amygdala is a part of the brain responsible for emotional reactions after being exposed to stimuli. It receives information and then responds in a way that it sees fit.
The specific part of the amygdala that inputs information about fear is called the basolateral amygdala. The part that expresses reaction to fear is named the central amygdala.
What is important to know is that each of these parts has an important role when it comes to mediating fear. It’s so essential that scientists continuously study them.
Responding to Stimuli
Fear doesn’t happen by chance. You have to be exposed to something, called a stimulus, to feel scared or react in a certain way—usually, by fight, flight, or freezing.
A stimulus can be anything—whether it’s a picture of a grizzly bear and being told it’s dangerous; a car accident and saying people got hurt; or food you dislike.
These kinds of things are called conditioned stimuli. Much like Pavlov’s dogs, the amygdala can also learn through unconditioned stimuli which happens when you don’t anticipate something.
For example, popping a balloon with a needle makes a loud sound. You’re conditioned to see a needle close to a balloon and expect it to pop. What you don’t expect the first time is the loud sound associated with the popping balloon. Your brain now associates needles and balloons with a loud sound.
Control Your Thoughts
Fear happens in your brain. What you think can make you feel scared—even if you aren’t confronted with a life-threatening situation (the only time when fear makes sense).
When you change your thinking, you regain control of your brain. Learn how to do this and Win the Game of Fear with our free training.
Study Shows Learning Fear Is Possible
Many studies have been done to determine how animals and people learn fear. Knowing more about fear allows mental health professionals to create better treatments that address the root cause of the problem.
Learning Auditory Fear
In a recent study, scientists wanted to see how the basal amygdala—specifically two parts of it, the lateral nucleus (LA) and basal nucleus (BA)—functioned during the fear-learning process. More specifically, they wanted to see how fear is learned when combined with sounds.
The experiment was done on mice whose brains are quite similar to that of humans. It required that the researchers study both pyramidal neurons, which cause excitement, and GABA neurons that cause inhibition.
The mice were split into a test group and a control group. They were then injected with a fluorescent substance so that researchers could see activation within the basal amygdala.
Mice forming part of the test group were also injected with a substance called clozapine-n-oxide (CNO). This substance inhibits the functioning of pyramidal neurons, so it should lessen the possibility of learning fear.
Exposure to Stimuli
After the CNO injection, the mice were placed in a fear-conditioning chamber and exposed to stimuli. The conditioned stimulus was an auditory cue—in other words, a sound. This was paired with an unconditioned stimulus, namely a foot shock, at the same time.
The stimuli pair was only used on the first day when scientists tried to teach fear to the mice. On subsequent days, researchers wanted to see how mice would react when placed in the conditioning chamber without any other stimuli compared to being placed in a new chamber and hearing the auditory cue.
They were not given any CNO on these days. If the experiment worked, then the CNO should have prevented fear learning in the brain.
What Researchers Found
The scientists could now determine what happened with fear and the brain. To do this, they looked at whether mice froze (a natural response to fear) when placed in either chamber.
Scientists found that the CNO prevented the mice from associating the auditory cue with the foot shock, so they didn’t freeze. The pyramidal neurons in the LA had been impaired during the experiment.
The pyramidal neurons in the BA were still active, so they did associate the fear-conditioning chamber with a foot shock.
Interestingly, the researchers noted that the BA’s GABA neurons did prevent fear learning to some extent, so these neurons do have some role to play in fear conditioning.
Forget About Fear
Fear is only reasonable when you’re facing a real threat like a stare-off with a hungry lion and no fence between you two. If you get scared by the thought of that alone, then your fear isn’t realistic, and your brain is playing tricks on you.
Stop these mind tricks for good with the techniques taught in our free training, Winning the Game of Fear. It’s time to stop being afraid and start living life.
Taught to Fear
If mice can associate fear with specific stimuli, then humans can, too. It’s entirely possible that different things have taught you to be fearful of associated consequences.
Think about it for a moment: What are you scared of, and how did it come to be this way?
Maybe you are weary of seafood because you had food poisoning from it once. It seems silly now because it was one of many times that you ate seafood—doesn’t really seem like a valid reason to be scared of it, right?
No matter what you are afraid of, the good news is that if you can learn fear, then you can also unlearn it.
Learning and Unlearning
Knowing what you’re afraid of is only the first step of the process. Next, you have to unlearn your fears which is a process that happens in the brain.
The best way to do this is through Innercise™ which is a novel approach to reprogramming your brain. It allows you to go from fearful to fearless by thinking alone.
Today, we are going to share two Innercise™ techniques with you that make a powerful combination to fight fear.
Take 6: Calm the Circuits
As you think of something you fear, your amygdala kicks into action and causes you to have an emotional response. You need to stop this process in its tracks which can be done by regulating your breathing.
Breathing correctly switches off your sympathetic system and activates the parasympathetic system that allows you to think rationally.
Do the following as you observe your fear:
Inhale through your nose for five seconds.
Exhale through your mouth for five seconds as if you were blowing through a straw.
Repeat this breathing rhythm 6 to 10 times, and you will calm the emotional circuitry within your brain.
Are you feeling calmer yet?
Once you are ready, move to the next Innercise™.
The next Innercise™ is called AiA which stands for awareness, intention, and action. You should only do this once you have finished the previous Innercise™.
Continue with the breathing rhythm to keep you in a calm state.
Become increasingly aware of what is happening in your body. What are you thinking? How are you feeling?
Focus your awareness on your breathing. Is it deep or shallow? Is your breathing making you feel calm or fearful?
Bring your attention to being calming and breathing in a rhythmic way. Doing so deactivates your emotional response to fear.
As you become more aware of your body’s response to fear and how it feels to be calm, you need to decide how you want to proceed.
Is your intention to remain fearful, or would you rather be calm and move forward productively?
Set your intention in a positive way that reduces your fear of the situation.
Awareness and intention will only get you so far—you need to take action to eliminate your fear for good.
Decide on a small step you could take to reduce the fear. It only needs to be a tiny step, and you can build on it from there.
For example, coming back to that fear of seafood, your first step could be to eat a single calamari ring. If nothing happens, then you might order a scallops starter next time.
With each small victory, you’re training your brain to be calm in the face of perceived fear instead of giving in to its need for an emotional response.
It’s time to stop fear instead of having fear stop you.
Teach the areas of your brain how you want them to react through Innercise™. Learn all the best techniques from John Assaraf who has used these methods for years.
NeuroGym Team: NeuroGym’s Team of experts consists of neuroscientists, researchers, and staff who are enthusiasts in their fields. The team is committed to making a difference in the lives of others by sharing the latest scientific findings to help you change your life by understanding and using the mindset, skill set and action set to change your brain.
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