What Happens When You Are Fearful
or Stressed

There’s a neurology to why you get stuck in your patterns and don’t take action.

Here is what happens to you when you experience fear:

A memory or thought comes up, stimulated either by an internal experience or external stimuli processed by our senses. The Hippocampus and Amygdala send a signal to the Hypothalamus. The Hypothalamus sends messages to your pituitary gland and adrenal glands, flooding your body with cortisol and adrenaline.

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The body prepares for threat by shunting blood and oxygen away from vital organs, towards extremities. When this happens, you can’t absorb nutrients as well and it’s very difficult to be on top of your game.

  • The Prefrontal Cortex is the part of the brain that governs our “humans at their best” characteristics like motivation, empathy, hope and complex thought. The PFC is slower and requires more energy than the limbic system.
  • The Limbic System hijacks energy from the easiest and quickest source, leaving little for the PFC to use, especially in cases of intense fear or chronic stress.
  • The Hippocampus is a part of the limbic brain involved in forming new memories and connecting emotions and senses.
  • The Amygdala is a part of the limbic brain involved in processing emotions such as fear, anger and pleasure and is also responsible for determining what memory is stored and where they are stored in the brain.

The goal is to notice when these things are happening, take a deep breath, and slowly shift your thoughts towards the outcome you want to have happen. Of course this is all happening extremely fast, but there is still a moment where you can shift the experience and create a more grounded, centered place from which to take the most effective action.

The Warm Fuzzies

Our brain’s reward system is fueled by the neurotransmitter, dopamine.  Extreme dopamine boosters range from exercise to drugs to sex.  Yet a much more common regulator of dopamine is our propensity to take predictable action.  You know, that “warm and fuzzy” feeling you get with the “comfortable and familiar” choice?

See, when we move towards what we know to be true or can predict, we get a shot of dopamine. However, when we do something that doesn’t match the familiar patterns in our brain, we don’t get the shot of dopamine.