Learn how fear and anxiety can negatively impact both mental and physical health.
Fear is an emotion that arises in a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is your brain’s emotional regulation organ. When the brain experiences a perceived external threat, the amygdala will send neural signals that activate your automatic nervous system to prepare for survival –also known as the fight or flight response. However, when individuals experience a constant state of fear from stimuli they perceive as threats from their environment, this can have an immense impact on their physical and mental well-being.
The Functions of Fear and Anxiety
To understand the adverse impacts of fear and anxiety, it is essential to understand how fear functions as a part of our survival. As mentioned, fear is a triggered response to a perceived threat by stimuli in the environment around us. It prepares the body to respond to a said threat physically. Our body prepares to survive as the automatic nervous system. The adrenal glands are activated, releasing stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. Once these hormones are released throughout the body, the body undergoes various changes that will put us in a “fight mode.”
During this mode of survival, the hormones slow the functions of systems in the body that we will not need for that time, such as the digestive system. On the other hand, combining these three hormones will enhance the body’s systems, such as our cardiovascular system and eyesight, which will help us fight for survival. Once the perceived threat has diminished, the body will slowly return to its state of normal functioning and a sense of calm.
The Effects of Chronic Fear and Anxiety
Chronic fear arises when the brain becomes hyper-aroused and triggers an alternative threat processing response to stimuli in one’s environment continuously, which can lead to severe consequences to your health.
Impacts on Memory
Hyper-arousal of the brain, causing fear, can negatively impact the hippocampus, regulate, and store memories. When the hippocampus becomes damaged, the brain is unable to properly store long-term memories, which can, in turn, can cause extreme instances of anxiety towards specific triggers, which is then reinforced by the brain’s inability to confirm whether these threats are real or perceived.
When one lives in constant fear, it can often cause them to experience major depressive episodes, the inability to properly regulate emotions, signs, and symptoms of PTSD, the development of phobias, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, and rituals, as well as dissociation from the self.
Living in a constant state of fear can also negatively affect the brain’s ability to properly regulate its emotions, leading to impulsive reactions, intense moods, and the inability to think logically through specific scenarios in your everyday life.
The adverse effects of chronic fear can lead to severe health conditions, including weakening of the immune system, eating disorders, dysfunction of your endocrine system, damage to your cardiovascular system, irritable bowel syndrome, and even effects on a woman’s fertility. Individuals are also at risk of experiencing migraines and breathing problems that can lead to asthma development.
What Causes Chronic Fear and Anxiety?
While the causes of chronic fear and anxiety are yet to be fully understood by psychologists and researchers, the most prevalent cause is when an individual experiences traumatic event(s) such as the death of a family member or witnessing a traumatic event such as a car accident. More recent research has also indicated that trauma can be genetically inherited from our ancestors who experienced significant trauma in their lives, such as the Holocaust, slavery, and residential schools in indigenous communities.
What You Can Do Today
If you or someone you love is suffering from chronic fear and anxiety, please do not hesitate to reach out to an experienced health professional who can provide you with the right resources to restore your physical and mental well-being. Often when people experience mental health crises, it is easy for them to feel isolated from society and the ones they love; however, this is not the case. Reaching out for help is always your best option so you can be surrounded by positive influences that will help you on your road to recovery.