How Does the Brain Process Fear?

We’ve all heard the saying “Fight or Flight” before.  When something triggers fear in us, the body’s reaction begins in the brain and spreads through the body to prepare the best defense (flight) reaction.  Anytime we are faced with the sign of an invader/attacker, an emotional response is triggered within us.  This activates the areas involved in motor functions.  Stress hormones are released throughout the nervous system and your heart starts racing.  You react by wanting to escape the threat.

A person (male or female) with chronic pain will have chemical changes.  The fear of the unknown related to signs and symptoms that are not understood by the person becomes a deeper fear with consequences that generally are followed by increased muscle tension and exacerbation of the same consequences.  Muscle tension can exacerbate underlying conditions related to TMJ dysfunction.  One example of this would be teeth clenching, leading to jaw pain and headaches.

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Depending on the level of “scariness”, the brain will react appropriately.  In more threatening circumstances, the brain response is critical for survival. 

This article focuses on probing the brain circuits that underlie fear, utilizing neuroscience tools to map their connections to determine how specific components relate to fear.  Reactions can be controlled, anxiety levels can be lowered, and the way people react to fear in general can be changed.  Perhaps someone who has an overactive imagination can experience reduced mental and physical stress levels, thus improving their overall health and well-being.

Many of the studies begin with the amygdala (the fear-processing hub).  Researchers are now broadening their understanding of its role, finding that the amygdala communicates with the part of the brain that controls movement.  As they trace its connections to other parts of the brain, they are uncovering additional complexity.

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