08 May Fear Wires Your Brain – Rewire With Mindfulness
– Shanthi Lakshmi Duraimani
One of the most powerful destructive emotions that arise from human mind is fear. Fear can be the result of your internal negative thoughts or your sensory signals. When fear explodes, the brain undergoes neural hijackings. At those moments, fearful signals bypass the long route (any sensory signal will first enter the thalamus, followed by the neocortex, which is the thinking brain and then to the emotional brain called Amygdala) and take a shorter route to reach the amygdala.
The amygdala is the tiny part of the brain, which is responsible for your primal emotions such as fear, anger, and pleasure. It acts as an alarm or the radar. When this tiny part gets a sensory signal, your body responds immediately and produces hormonal and other physiological changes to fight or flee. It hijacks the other parts of the brain and most of the physical and mental resources go to the survival mode. And, at that point of time, your rational or thinking brain shuts down. So, you tend to react spontaneously when you face a fearful situation triggered from the environment or within you.
Fear is the biggest obstacle for many of you in achieving your goals. If you do not find a way to reprogram your brain to overcome fear, you will never be successful at your own specific goals in life. And the easiest way to reprogram your brain is by being mindful.
Mindfulness meditation is all about living in the present moment. It is challenging to be mindful when you experience fear. But by regular practice, mindfulness meditation will help your sensory signals to take a longer route (Sensory signals – Thalamus- Neocortex-Amygdala) rather than the shorter route (Sensory Signals- Amygdala).
Mindfulness meditation combines mindful breathing, body scanning, and mental noting. Mindful breathing will help to regularize your breathing rhythm and prepare the mind to enter the meditative state. Body scanning will help you overcome physical discomforts such as sweating, trembling, throbbing, aching, stiffness, or other discomforts. The mental noting technique helps to detach with your thoughts, feelings, and emotions and help you experience the inner silence that arises within you.
Practicing these techniques eventually helps you learn to live in the present moment. When you try to appreciate the present moment, your awareness towards your body and your mind widens. You create an opportunity to gain insight of the root cause of your fear, how, and when it is triggered. When you begin to understand your fear, you can bring in many positive thoughts to rewire your brain.
Here, I have briefly explained the three basic mindfulness meditation techniques to rewire your brain for fear:
Step 1: Mindful Breathing
Choose a position with which you can be comfortable and stay alert. Slowly close your eyes. Now, try to bring your attention to your breath. Mindfully, be aware of your every in-breath and out-breath. Practice this breathing technique for 2 to 3 minutes until your body and mind settle down.
Step 2: Body Scanning
Now, gently bring your awareness to your body. Try to scan your body from the top of your head to toes. And, try to find whether you can feel any physical discomforts. Once you identify the discomforts, gently acknowledge the feelings and allow it dissolve by itself. Practice this technique as long as you feel comfortable.
Step 3: Mental Noting
Now, gently bring your awareness to your thoughts. When you get distracted, try to mentally note down what kind of thoughts distracted you from being mindful. And, mentally label them. For example, if it is a thought related to fear, you can label them as “fear.” This powerful technique will help you create a space between you and your distracted mind. This creates a deeper silence and spaciousness within you. When you discover the silence and the spaciousness, eventually you can break the wiring for your automatic pilot mode for fear and rewire them to relax the body and your mind.
Step 4: Closing
Whenever you feel comfortable, you can slowly bring your attention back to your breath. Try to bring your awareness to your breath for a few minutes. And then, slowly shift your awareness to your immediate surroundings. Try to be aware of the sounds and smells around you. And, whenever you are ready, gently open your eyes.
- Mendez-bertolo. C, Moratti. S, Toledano R, et al. A fast pathway for fear in human amygdala. Nat Neurosci. 2016; Aug; 19(8): 1041-9.
- Adolphs. R, Tranel. D, Damasio. H, Damasio. AR. Fear and the human amygdala. Journal of Neuroscience. 1995; 15(9): 5879-5891.