Fear is a natural emotion. We need fear to function. If we wouldn’t have fear we would constantly put ourselves in dangerous situations which would have profound consequences. Fear has an essential function in our lives. Yet, when we are experiencing fear too often and for too long, it becomes a hindrance. In these times of Corona, we are all susceptible to letting fear get the upper hand.
We as a species have a will to survive. We have a survival mechanism in our brain. The emotional part of our brain plays the biggest part in our fear response. The prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain that helps regulate and manage our fears.
THE AMYGDALA IN OUR EMOTIONAL BRAIN
Our senses constantly provide us with sensory experiences. We experience the world through our senses and the observations of our brain and our energy field. The information that comes in is processed in our emotional brain. Here, the amygdala comes into play. The amygdala is an almond shaped structure in both hemispheres of the brain and is sometimes called the ‘danger scanner’. It is constantly considering if we are safe or not. The problem is that the amygdala cannot distinguish real danger and from perceived danger. Fear leads to an automatic fight-flight-freeze response. The bigger the perceived danger (real or not), the more intense our reaction.
THE PREFRONTAL CORTEX AS OUR EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
The prefrontal cortex is part of the neocortex and is located at the front of our brain. It is sometimes called the ‘executive director’ because this part of our brain plays a big role in many human functions such as analyzing, reflecting and making decisions. It also makes us aware of things like emotions, making judgements, regulating and making conscious choices. With our prefrontal cortex we can also focus and direct our attention. This part of our brain is crucial – together with our emotional brain – to function properly.
FEAR DURING CORONA
We are dealing with a serious Corona pandemic. There’s a lot we don’t know and we just can’t predict what will happen and what the consequences will be. This is frightening for everyone of us. We all experience this fear in a different way and our feelings can change from moment to moment. Maybe you feel sudden surges of panic, or maybe you’re in a constant state of anxiety. The fact that we can’t predict what will happen and we have no control over the situations enhances the feelings of fear. And in a time where we most need each other, we have to self-isolate which makes things even worse.
Fear is something you experience on an emotional level. It activates the amygdala. The more active the amygdala, the more it responds. When you’re amygdala is very active, it negatively impacts the connection with the prefrontal cortex. This makes it harder to focus, to think clearly, to keep an overview and to communicate with others. You’re in fight-flight-freeze mode and it affects your emotional and mental wellbeing, as well as your physical health, breathing, digestion and immune system.
To influence your own feelings of anxiety it is important to recognize and acknowledge them. Be alert to what’s happening inside of you. How anxious are you feeling? What’s happening physically, emotionally and mentally? Is your breath shallow? Do you experience heart palpitations? Are your muscles tense? Do you have negative thoughts? Are you worried about your health, the people you love, your finances or the state of the world? These worries are all legitimate, but we have to be aware of the fact that our survival brain is preparing us for the worst case scenario. And the truth is that we don’t know what will happen. What we do know is that this is affecting everyone of us and we will figure things out together. It is important to recognize and acknowledge your anxiety, your feelings and your thoughts, without being overwhelmed by them. These three things can help you with this:
When fear is active in your system, it affects your breath. When you regulate your breath, you can calm the fear and the anxiety you are feeling. Focus on your exhalation. This is where it is easiest to relax. Try to make your exhalations a little longer than your inhalations. It helps when you put your hands on your belly and breath towards your hands. Your belly is supposed to expand with the inbreath and contract with the outbreath.
2. Name your thoughts and feelings
Instead of pushing them away, try naming your thoughts and feelings. You can do this by yourself, by talking to others or by drawing or writing about them. It is a way to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings and to relieve your system so it doesn’t get overwhelmed. Mindfulness meditation is a very effective way of letting your thoughts and feelings be there without letting them overwhelm you.
3. Focus on what’s important and positive
Your brain has a tendency to focus on negative thoughts. This is part of our survival mechanism. Subconsciously our thoughts create unreal stories that makes us lose touch with reality. When you focus on other important things, you’re less likely to slide into negativity. Focus on what’s important and positive. What’s important in your family and your job? How can you help yourself and others?
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