Changing our perception of fear puts us more in control

Fear. It’s all about perception.

How changing our perception of fear puts us in control.

Anxiety disorders can cause a great deal of distress and be incredibly life limiting. In the UK, over 8 million people are experiencing an anxiety disorder at any one time (Mental Health UK).  Yet, Halloween is nearly upon us and much of the world are preparing to actually celebrate feeling scared. But why can we sometimes enjoy the feeling of being scared? It’s about the perception of fear.

What is fear?

Fear is a primitive, deeply wired reaction in the brain designed to ensure survival. The fear reaction starts in the brain and spreads through the body to prepare it for the best fight or flight reaction. The fear response starts in a region of the brain called the amygdala. This part of the brain is a highly sensitive area dedicated to detecting the emotional importance of stimuli (how much something stands out). For example, the amygdala activates when there is a threat, such as the sight of a predator. It also triggers the release of stress hormones and the sympathetic nervous system. This leads to changes in the body that prepare it to be more efficient to danger. The brain becomes hyper alert, pupils dilate and breathing accelerates, heart rate and blood pressure rise and non-vital parts of our system slow down.

Perception of fear

Another important part of the brain called the hippocampus is closely connected with the amygdala. The hippocampus and prefrontal cortex help the brain interpret the perceived threat and to process appropriate information, helping it to know if the threat is real. This sends a message to the amygdala, letting it know that it is safe. Basically, the ‘rational’ brain reassures the ‘emotional’ brain that all is OK. For instance, seeing a tiger in the wild can trigger a strong fear reaction, but the response to the same tiger at a zoo is more of curiosity. Likewise, walking down a dark alley late at night and hearing quickening footsteps behind can create a fear response in the body, yet we choose to ride a ghost train, knowing something will jump out.

Controlling fear

When the brain recognises that something isn’t a real threat and is able to relabel it, it’s in a place where it feels in control and the perception of control is crucial to how individuals experience and respond to fear. Once  the initial rush of “fight or flight” is over, it’s replaced by feelings of reassurance and confidence in our ability to deal with the threat.

When fear becomes inappropriate

Whilst fear is a necessary emotion to ensure survival, abnormal levels of fear and anxiety can lead to significant distress and dysfunction, limiting the ability for success and happiness of life. This can happen when our thinking around events or objects becomes irrational. Many people experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Disorders of anxiety and fear include phobias, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety, PTSD and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Helping anxiety disorders

Luckily, there are many things that can help with anxiety disorders, including Solution Focused Hypnotherapy (SFH). SFH can help to change the thinking around fear and therefore change the perception of  inappropriate or abnormal fear.

For more information about how SFH can help you to have more in control over your fears. Click here.

Ruth Berry – Mind Health

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