Emotions driven by fear; Brain functions affect our habits


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Paige Webster, Reporter

     Fear is a primitive emotion that humans have that consists of biochemical and emotional reactions as stated by the professional licensed counselors of the Betterhelp foundation. Biochemical reactions are the physical responses to fear and stress.

    According to Dr. Donna Berry of Keele University, one commonly reported symptom of stress are “butterflies”, which could be due to the blood being diverted from the digestive tract to fuel other parts of the body affected by said stress. Emotional reactions are personalized responses to fears that differ from person to person.

     The brain has a built-in alarm system known as fight or flight response that allows animals to react accordingly to potential threats without analyzing the situation too hard. The Healthline medical team found that the brain does this by taking a ‘snapshot’ of the situation and sorting the information into two categories of threat or non-threat. If the brain recognizes a threat the Amygdala takes over and shuts off the rational thinking part of the brain to prevent the animal from thinking too hard.

     Despite acquired fears holding no actual harm to one’s physical state, the brain still kicks into fight or flight mode. However, Nancy Moyer, M.D of Healthline states that because it is not a life-threatening situation this response to an acquired fear will result in elevated emotions of “anger, aggression, overreaction”, anxiousness or feeling overwhelmed. When facing rejection, arguments, or if a situation is different from what one is used to, the brain may deem these as a threat and act accordingly to that perceived threat before the rest of the brain can analyze the situation properly.

     There are two types of fears: Innate and Acquired. Innate fears are fears people are instinctually born with that are commonly shared among the human population such as situations that may result in death. Acquired fears are fears a person learns and develops an irrational fear to, such as phobias.

       Sophomore Jessica Bolling stated that she has “Claustrophobia (fear of small spaces), Arachnophobia (fear of spiders), Atychiphobia (fear of failure) [and] Hemophobia (fear of blood).” Bolling agreed that most of the time she experiences unnerving dread when faced with her fears.

     Neuroscience researcher Stefanie Faye spoke of how the more an individual uses a specific network of their brain the stronger it gets, which would explain why some people have more active fear systems compared to others. The more someone spends time being in environments where people are often stressed, anxious and angry the stronger their fear networks grow, becoming more susceptible to varied factors and situations that trigger their fight or flight stressors.

     There are two treatment techniques to help with acquired fears. Flooding is used to force a person to confront one’s fear directly to overload their senses and eventually when the anxiety naturally subsides the person will be able to see that no harm has come to them. 

     One Junior, Kylie Egnew, shared that despite her fear of spiders, at one point she attempted to befriend one. “There was one spider that chilled in my parents’ bathroom for the longest time and I gave it a name, Bat, and I tried giving it m&ms but I think they prefer flies.” Despite her best efforts, Egnew was always scared because “…every time I tried to give it an m&m, it’d run at me.”

     The other type of treatment is known as Systematic Desensitization. It is used to gradually build one’s tolerance towards a fear and over time dampen their anxious reactions. The main objective for these treatments is to break the association that the irrational fear one experiences will result in something bad happening to the sufferer.