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The Biology of Fear

In News

Fear is the human reaction to danger. Fear can be experienced as an intense sensation,  as a general feeling of unease or of simply not feeling safe. Fear and uncertainty can trigger a cascade of biological events that have several negative effects on overall health. These effects are most notable in functions of the body that are not necessary for immediate survival such as immunity, digestion and memory.

Fear and Physiology 

Fear is experienced in the mind as a mental event, but its effects are seen in the physical body. 

Fear is a form of stress and it elicits a unique response in the body. It’s defined as a state of hyperarousal and fear is meant to be short-term. In some cases, like we’re all collectively feeling right now, fear can become chronic in nature. Prolonged feelings of fear are responsible for the adverse changes in physiology that contribute to negative health consequences- especially in the realms of neurological and immune health. 

We perceive fear through the brain, specifically, the amygdala and the hippocampus. Both of these structures are involved in decision making and emotional regulation. 

The amygdala becomes over activated with constant exposure to fear triggers. Examples of modern day fear triggers are stats on the news and social media posts. When our daily lives become intertwined with fear, even normal day to day activities can trigger either an unconscious or conscious fear response. 

The overactivation of the amygdala in response to fear results in a tendency to unintentionally pay attention to negative events, put a larger weight on negative experiences and discount positive ones. In the case of amygdala activation, the whole brain receives a signal to power down as a survival mechanism. When the brain is signalled to essentially expend less energy our ability to make rational choices decreases, decision making is compromised and it’s difficult to engage in critical thinking.

How Does Fear Impact Overall Health? 

When fear is present, the body’s stress response is activated putting us into survival mode. In cases of chronic survival mode, we subconsciously stop thinking about the future and make choices based on the present moment- even if they don’t make sense. 

Because the immune system is needed for  long-term health, not immediate survival,  it gets suppressed when fear or stress are present. This occurs in order to allocate energy into finding solutions to current problems. From an ancestral perspective, the body puts all its resources into quite literally, running away from fear or danger (think a tiger).  When immune function is compromised in the short term, there are no lasting adverse consequences.

Fear is an evolutionary mechanism that is meant to follow a short trajectory; fear cue (ex-tiger), response (ex-run from tiger), return to baseline. When this trajectory changes, and is prolonged; fear cue, response, no return to baseline- the immune system is under constant suppression. This leads to an increased susceptibility to bacterial and viral infections as well as a higher probability of developing chronic disease. 

Is it Possible to Mitigate Fear?

Absolutely.  

Support the Brain

Not yet a common narrative, but when we experience chronic fear, supporting the structures of the brain that are compromised is vital. Through supporting these structures, such as the hippocampus and amygdala we set ourselves up to make better choices. Early intervention helps slow down or prevent these structures from being damaged. 

Targeted nutrients like Acetyl L-Carnitine can mitigate the effects of fear on the brain- which has the potential to help us act from a place of support and safety vs one of fear. Exercise and healthy fats are also neuroprotective, however fear often compromises are ability to make positive lifestyle choices. 

Lypo-Spheric® Acetyl L-Carnitine is able to cross the blood brain barrier with research showing it is able to work directly on both the hippocampus and the amygdala, preserving and enhancing their functions. 

Modulate the Immune System and Stress Response 

Helping boost the immune system with classic nutrients such as vitamin C and getting a good night’s sleep can go along way is restoring biology back to baseline.

Digging a little deeper, managing our perception of fear and stress is equally important. Our favorite solution to manage both? Functional Mushrooms. 

For thousands of years, mushrooms have been used medically as they exhibit a wide range of functions beneficial to the body. As a general rule, functional mushrooms have immunomodulating properties. This means they work with the immune system, nourish it and restore its function. 

In addition to immunomodulation, mushrooms also possess adaptogenic properties. Due to this, mushrooms can help to regulate the stress response and influence the secretion of stress hormones in a positive manner. In the long-term functional mushrooms can help promote feelings of calmness and control. Our Mushroom Synergy contains 7 medical mushrooms in an easy to take capsule. CLick here to learn more and see if they are right for you! 

Lifestyle Habits 

When it comes to managing the fear response, and returning + staying at our baseline, we can look to small but effective daily habits: 

-Identify and minimize fear cues that don’t signal immediate harm

-Talk frequently with friends and family 

-Make a conscious habit of setting future goals and a plan to achieve them

-Engage in hobbies that make you feel great ie- walking, reading, listening to podcasts, painting, knitting- anything! 

The world is crazy at the moment, and while there are several things out of our control- we can use science to help us mitigate the effects, make the most of the situation and come out the other end stronger, and ready for what the future brings! 

Author: Lisa Kowalyk, CNP, B.Kin 

 



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