Fear is a primal emotion that has evolved over many years to protect us from danger. In other words, it has legitmate purpose in our lives. When confronted with a real danger, fear becomes a valuable ally as it activates the well-known “fight or flight” response, serving as a powerful signal to our bodies that it is time to take action.
However, it also can 1) have a profound impact on our physical and mental well-being as we discussed here, and 2) interfere with brain function, hindering cognitive processes and disrupting our daily lives.
When we encounter a fear-inducing stimulus, like a growling dog or a looming deadline, our brains kick-start an intricate sequence of responses that begins with the amygdala. This small, almond-shaped structure nestled deep within our brains plays a vital role in how we perceive and process fear. It essentially serves as the brain’s emotional alarm system, quickly evaluating the perceived danger and transmitting distress signals to other areas of the brain.
The resulting release of stress hormones prepares the body for action by increasing heart rate, dilating airways, and redirecting blood flow to the muscles. This physiological response is very handy in a dangerous situation; however, not every scenario that induces fear is in actuality dangerous or a threat to one’s survival. And when we struggle to recognize that, we can succumb to unhealthy and maladaptive behaviors to flee what we perceive as uncomfortable or unsafe.
Consequently, when talking about porn addiction and other unwanted sexual behaviors it is important to understand how and why fear interferes with our ability to say no or walk away.
First, fear can impair quality decision-making.
Fear often distorts our decision-making process. The amygdala’s heightened activity under fear’s influence can override the rational thinking of the prefrontal cortex, a brain region responsible for logical reasoning and impulse control. This can lead to impulsive, emotionally driven decisions that may not be in our best interest.
Second, fear may reduce memory function.
Fear can hinder the brain’s ability to encode and retrieve memories. The stress hormones released during fearful experiences can impair the hippocampus, a brain region crucial for memory formation. Consequently, individuals may have difficulty recalling information or coping strategies during times of heightened fear, making it difficult to learn and adapt.
Third, fear may result in tunnel vision and limit situational awareness.
During moments of intense fear, the brain can exhibit tunnel vision, narrowing the focus of attention to the perceived threat. Again, this is by design because one’s very survival may be at risk. However, in situations where fear is irrational or misguided, this tunnel vision can lead to an inability to process information from the periphery, limiting our awareness of the broader issue and potential solutions to problems.
Fourth, fear can impair learning.
Fear can interfere with the brain’s ability to learn and adapt to new information. When the amygdala is constantly active and stress hormones are released, it can hinder the brain’s ability to form and strengthen connections between neurons, which is important for learning.
Fifth, fear can negatively impact creativity.
Fear can hinder creativity by inhibiting the brain’s divergent thinking processes. When individuals experience anxiety or fear, they tend to fall into the trap of rigid and black-and-white thinking, which is a classic trait of addiction.
This limits one’s ability to generate novel ideas or problem solve.
Realize that the human brain is an incredibly complex organ, responsible for everything from our thoughts and emotions to our motor skills and senses. Therefore, it is crucial to understand that although the various parts and regions of the brain are meant to collaborate harmoniously, the presence of fear can disrupt communication, leading to a detrimental impact on neurological function.
A useful metaphor that simplifies this complexity is Dr. Dan Siegel’s “Hand Model of the Brain.” This model simplifies the concept of brain function by comparing it to different parts of the hand and provides a valuable framework for understanding the interaction between our emotions and logic.
Take a few minutes to watch this video. I believe it will help you greatly and offer you some solace as it pertains to your continued unwanted struggles.