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February 23, 2014

What we believe helps or hinders our ability to get past fear.

I recently came across an article that discussed how scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory discovered a pathway that links to the memory of fear in the amygdala to the brain stem which controls behavior.

I was disappointed when I read the post because the role of the amygdala as a memory bank for strong emotional support like fear is old news, and it has also been long theorized that the amygdala’s proximity to the brain stem, makes it easier for us to resort to immediate action under life threatening situations, real or perceived.

The article also discussed the discovery of neurons that are central to learning fear, but then again this is also not surprising. I now suspect that a follow up article will discuss a drug the scientists are working on the help sufferers of chronic fear and panic eradicate their fears.

Regardless, given the the brain has been scientifically proven to the neuroplastic, it stands to reason that for any thoughts which contribute to the learning of fear, there exist opposite thoughts which contribute to the unlearning of fear.

Two popular ways to go about influencing this paradigm change in thinking would be the use of one fear as a motivator to get past the other and extinction through exposure.

It Takes Fear to get Past Fear

This is by far my favorite thought influence I use with clients. For example let’s say I want to get a parent to set firmer and healthier boundaries for her child, and that parent is reluctant to do so because she does not want to experience any conflicts with her child in the immediate future. I then paint a picture for the parent regarding what her relationship with her child will look like during that child’s adult years if the child’s behaviors continue to go unchecked.

This works about 99% of the time, as because that parent comes to hold her child’s future as more valuable than her child’s present anger with  her, she uses her fear of setting her child up for failure in the future to push past her child’s anger towards her in the immediate future.

Exposure to Discomfort = Comfort

With exposure, it becomes a matter of chronically being exposed to an undesirable situation which forces the brain to reevaluate and downgrade it’s original threat assessment of the situation. A good example would be using exposure to help a person get past her fear of spiders. Perhaps initially the person is introduced to spiders at a museum, and the person gets to view the spiders through a glass enclosure. Then the next step would be to have the person view the spiders outside of the glass enclosure, building up to when the person is able to hold the spider in her hand.

In my upcoming ebook on how to end panic attacks, I discuss in detail how to use these thought paradigms to bring panic attacks to a stop. I also discuss other specific cognitive behavioral strategies, I have successfully used with my clients to bring panic attacks to a stop. The ebook is near completion with a release date of March 31st.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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