When we are going about our everyday lives, our brains help us to move and flow through our activities with a fair amount of ease. We call this top to bottom thinking; as the top parts of our brains, the pre-frontal cortex especially, help us to attend. When our fear response kicks in, we call this bottom to top thinking; as the fear response part of our brain, in the amygdala, is closer to the base of our brain. When the brain detects danger, the fear response kicks in, and the rational part of our brain gets hijacked in a sense in order to attend to the threat.
The fear response sequence follows as such:
- Freeze (danger is being assessed; happens in milliseconds)
- Flee (fear will always choose to flee if it assesses the possibility)
- Fight (when our fight response kicks in, it is still in an attempt to flee).
While this works considerably well for true danger, it is important to note that it works for perceived dangers as well. Our perceived dangers are often emotional, based on past experiences, or worst-case scenario thinking. Our brains get hijacked into bottom to top thinking, but in the absence of true danger, we get locked into an anxious state; which for some people can lead to panic. Knowing this can help us to begin to assess the reality of the worry. By focusing on fact, our rational brain allows greater space to be objective, which in turn settles down the fear response, and we return to a more grounded state.
Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@bubo