Every once in a while ‘it’ hits the fan and suddenly the predictability of your regular daily schedule is rudely interrupted by intense fear and unshakable feelings of threat.
Suddenly everything that once felt safe is now a potential risk.
You try to ignore it, to think of other things, but the fear is so strong it’s hard to function.
You feel numb, irritable and edgy and it seems hopeless because there’s nothing you can do to change what’s happening around you.
But, there are things you can do to help you stay on top of the tidal wave of fear instead of getting bowled over by the swell.
Just knowing how your brain works, and thinking about it, can actually help you control your fear, because it’s up to your brain and how you use it that will mean the difference between managing your fear and losing your mind.
You see there’s a part of your brain, called the limbic system which is made up of many parts and operates to receive, interpret and react to outside stimulus so that you can react quickly and protect yourself in times of threat. This is the part of the brain get’s activated and responds when you hear a noise in the middle of the night, or when your kid is about to take a fall and your reach out to catch them. It’s also the part of the brain that reacts when you read a scary news story.
This part of your brain operates automatically and mostly out of your awareness.
In general, the limbic system works in your favour, keeping you and your loved ones safe from harm. But sometimes, depending on the situation, your limbic system can misinterpret the information coming in.
Like when you’re taking a pleasant walk in a wooded area and you suddenly freeze in your tracks because you’ve spotted a snake just ahead on the path. In a complex and instantaneous process, your limbic system sends messages to different parts of the brain and you suddenly feel a burst of fear that rushes over you, a wave of heat floods your body, you begin to sweat, your heart starts racing and your breath quickens, all in preparation to fight, flee or freeze.
But then, you notice that what you thought might be a threatening snake is just a misplaced branch strewn across the path. With the new information, your brain changes its course and you feel a welcomed sense of relief and calm.
Now, you might have noticed that just by reading the scenario above and imagining the situation, you were struck by a slight sense of fear. That’s because your brain can’t tell the difference between an imagined threat and a real threat. Your brain responds the same to your fantasies as it does to reality. And if you take a moment to reflect, it’s been your brain all along allowing you to read, interpret, understand and make meaning of what you’ve just read.
The best part is that just by thinking about how your brain works you’ve actually activated the higher, more advanced parts of your brain, called the neocortex, that will help you to actively calm your limbic system when you feel overwhelmed by fear.
The neocortex, and all of it’s parts, is what makes you human and enables you to think flexibly, to reflect on abstract ideas and to use words to describe these complex thoughts to others. Plus when ever you engage in activities that require the neocortex, you are integrating all levels of the brain, including the limbic system. That means that instead of feeling overwhelmed by a fear response being pumped out by the limbic system, you can be more realistic, more present and calmer.
It doesn’t mean that you won’t feel scared, but you’ll be able to be more conscientious and less crippled by your fear.
If you’d like to learn more about what you can do to manage your fear in scary times, follow the link below.