Monday, August 11, 2014

Fear: is it your Achilles Heel?

Fear is "an unpleasant and often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.“ Fear is completely natural and helps people to recognize and respond to dangerous situations and threats. Without fear it would impossible to balance risk with outcomes and therefore it would be difficult to assess safety in situations, what we are talking about then is irrational fear.

What is fear?

There are a few types of fear, the first being responsive fear, or fear based on a real situation. If someone or something hurts you, you have a reason to fear it in the future. The second is predictive fear. This is rooted in dangerous situations, things that are known to be dangerous that cause a person to avoid a threat in the first place, for example, checking for traffic before crossing the road. This is essentially taught fears, where you may not have experienced the threat in life, but have been taught safety as a survival skill.
After that comes exaggerated or emotional fear which involves an individual "recalling past fears or occurrences and injecting them into a current situation. This type of fear is particularly relevant to conflict. Emotional fear affects the way people handle conflicted situations. This fear relates to avoidance, which is somewhere between responsive and taught fear, there is usually an actual event in the past, but it may have no bearing on what presents as fear in the present. For example, one may have experienced fear as a child in abusive situations and in the present may fear meeting new people, In other cases this fear can have a reality base, for example again, in an abusive situation the child may have feared being left alone with a person, as an adult they may find it hard to be alone and yet being alone also represents safety, When unable to put the past event and the current fear together as a responsive fear a person may recognize events surrounding the fear but is unable to isolate the actual cause. Identification can save years of counselling and healing that doesn't return the result of removing the fear.
Little Albert learned to fear white rats in the 1920s, rats learned to fear a simple noise more than 80 years later. Scientist Mark Barad of UCLA performed an experiment in which he and his team combined a noise with an electric shock. They would play the tone and then immediately apply a shock to the metal floor of the rats' cage. It was classical conditioning, and it didn't take long for the rats to brace themselves for the shock as soon as they heard the sound. At that point, their Amygdala’s paired the sound with the shock, and the sound created a fear response. The researchers then began the process of fear-extinction training, in which they made the sound but did not apply the shock. After hearing the sound very often without the shock, the rats stopped fearing the noise. Fear without threat is a learned response
In the aura fear is usually represented At the rear, the spine area is nearly always involved, back, upper arms, hamstring, back of knees, calves, ankles and heels. This often represents trust issues which in in itself presents unique problems around resolving or self-healing using fear extinction. Some people do this naturally at some point in life, they just get tired of being scared and start doing the things they want to do anyway, after a relatively short time the fear dissipates, as a strategy this can be viewed as desensitization and really does work. If you recognize this in yourself and you determine to do things differently, your life will change for the better in that area if not all areas.

What happens when we experience sudden fear?

The Hippocampus: cements Response to threat in long term memory. Saliva decreases as digestive system slows, the thyroid raises resting metabolic rate and lung bronchioles dilate taking in more oxygen. Your Spleen contracts and pumps out white blood cells while blood pressure & Heart rate spike. The Stomach and gastrointestinal vessels contract  and the Amygdala sends out an all system alarm the Hypothalamus triggers the Pituitary and nervous System causing your bodies major organs to prepare for action, Pituitary calls thyroid and adrenal system to action and skin vessels constrict causing chills and sweat. Adrenal medulla floods blood Stream with adrenaline and Noradrenaline while the Liver breaks down glycogen.. Phew. There's a lot going on, this in a real fear situation is seen as the body preparing to save itself, in a panic attack you have no action to focus on, no action to release and use the systems that are set up, all you have to do, is focus on how awful you feel, it can feel like having a heart attack as the body turns in on itself in confusion.

 All of these responses without action are what a person FEARS when they are faced with situations, they have a conditioned response which comes into play when there is any similarity in the current experience. but unlike the mice, for some reason, even when there are years of being free of the original event, even when there are years of having no threat, the individual continues to act as if the threat is real. Why is that? Perhaps it is because unlike the mice, man can think further ahead, and can anticipate something well into the future or perhaps it is because man is capable of a broader range of emotions, like guilt and shame. Another possibility is a simple lack of development in the area of responsibility and consequence which is exacerbated by avoidance of challenging situations, if the development of the fear is very young there can be confusion between anxiety and the very simple 'i don't want to' of a child.

Either way the only way past a body response to a past event involves creating a new conditioned response that counters the original fear response. While studies situate the Amygdala as the location of fear memories formed by conditioning, scientists theorize that fear-extinction memories form in the Amygdala but then are transferred to the medial Prefrontal cortex (MPFC) for storage. The new memory created by fear extinction resides in the MPFC and attempts to override the fear memory triggered in the Amygdala. This is important as this is also the recognized area of current activity and consequence or predictive thinking.

Fear extinction
According to the National institute of health, in excess of 19 million people in the United States alone suffer from irrational fear responses. These disorders include general anxiety disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

When faced with a situation that we fear we can train ourselves to have a relaxation response instead of a stress response, this needs to be a deliberate and repeated practice that will ultimately override the original tendency to panic. Methods to practice include meditation, conscious distraction, facing the fear by deed or action and a controlled relaxation response.  Anything's got to be better than just going with the fear right? Part of learning to manage fear is learning to accept the sensation or anxiety that can be what many other people experience as nervousness, this is essentially, controlled fear.

Risk and outcomes are weighted against each other and an individual simply decides it's worth it, in this is the root of any victim style mental processing, The thought that no one else experiences your weakness, your fears or your guilt, when the truth is they do, they just manage it when they need to, face it when it is important and there is something valuable to gain, or charge through it to get to the other side, driven by the hope that life will be better there.

The anxiety level is directly related to perception, the bigger you make the problem the less power you have. Look honestly at the worst case scenario to introduce proportion, communicate your fears to gain clarity and a fresh perspective and don't get angry at those who inform you that your fear is irrational. I have often seen clients who say to family and friends that they don't understand and there is merit in this, but there is also merit in that the person suffering an anxiety disorder doesn't understand the variables that rate from nervousness to fear that others work through, There is great value in acknowledging that you don't necessarily have a greater fear than the next guy, what is different is what you do with that fear, the worst cases of anxiety always, absolutely always, involve years of avoidance. Conversely If someone communicates a fear to you try not to dismiss it out of hand, vulnerability is not weakness and if they communicate a fear, they are also asking for help in some way, You will know if they are not and just looking for a way to be enabled how you help someone is up to you, enabling though leads to greater problems in the future.

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