The brain is the ruler of our movements and the keeper of our thoughts. The brain is also joined to the body, and connection goes both ways. For example, if receptors indicate hunger, we find food to eat.
Research shows that those sensations do more than alert the brain to the body's immediate concerns. Studies of the heart give insights into the role the body's most basic processes play in explaining our experiences.
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The brain’s ability to focus on one thing while obscuring, curbing or reducing the signal strength of other (presumably unwanted) stimuli can be dangerous if those turn out to be unexpectedly important.
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The main factor in how we experience fear has to do with the context.
When the "thinking" part of the brain gives feedback to the "emotional" brain, and we know it isn't really a threat, we can quickly shift from fear to enjoyment or excitement, such as in a haunted house during Halloween season. However, if you were walking in a dark alley at night and a stranger started following you, both your emotional and thinking areas of the brain would agree that the situation is dangerous and that it's time to escape.
The fear reaction starts in the brain's amygdala region and spreads through the body to prepare the body for the best defense or flight reaction. Fear also triggers the release of stress hormones and the sympathetic nervous system.
During a dangerous situation, the brain becomes hyperalert, pupils dilate, the bronchi dilate, breathing accelerates, heart rate and blood pressure rise, blood flow and a stream of glucose to the skeletal muscles increase, and organs not vital in survival slow down, such as the gastrointestinal system.
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A perceived threat sends information to the brain's emotional processing and learning center, called the amygdala. The amygdala sorts out the data within tens or hundreds of milliseconds. If it registers the threat, then it fires off a series of physical changes. Heart rate, breathing, and sweating increase in the fight-or-flight response because the body is preparing to flee or to fight if escape is impossible.
Getting over a fear is an active process that requires learning and retraining the brain. Essentially, you are training higher-level brain areas to overcome signals from areas like the amygdala so that you can put threats into a more realistic context.
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