How Fear Impacts Your Health

Fear is an intense emotion that is part of the human experience. It activates certain chemical processes in our bodies that make the memories more significant and causes us to think irrationally. Individuals who do not face their fears or overcome them may either develop Stockholm syndrome, where they begin to cope with terrible and frightening situations by becoming submissive and apathetic, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from long-term exposure to fear. It is not the fear itself that can lead to serious health problems but our inability to overcome it or logically escape it when we enter ourselves into it voluntarily. The long-term damage from fear can damage our brains, cardiovascular system, digestive system, and lead to premature aging or sudden death. The impact of chronic exposure to fear is also associated with mental disorders such as clinical depression, PTSD, anxiety, and fatigue.

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Sharpens Survival Functions In The Body


Whenever we experience intense fear, our bodies kick into fight-or-flight mode and can cause us to feel like Superman. The reactionary adrenal gland release (chiefly epinephrine and norepinephrine) activated by the sympathetic nervous system sharpens survival functions in the body. These hormones cause our blood to circulate faster to provide instant energy to our muscles. Our eyesight, hearing, and sense of perception become more acute. As the name implies, the fight-or-flight response was traditionally thought to activate only the option of fleeing or fighting perceived dangers. However, it is now believed there is also a third response when individuals become incapacitated by the dreadful fear and are unable to react at all.

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Increases Hormone Levels

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The adrenal gland increases hormone levels of catecholamines, which are mostly made up of epinephrine and norepinephrine. Other hormones such as cortisol, estrogen, and testosterone are also released to augment strength and mobility. Neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin help activate mental acuity and augment thought processes. The fight-or-flight response is so powerful that mothers have been known to lift cars weighing two tons or more to recuse their children from traumatic accidents. It is generally safe for these hormone levels to be increased temporarily in healthy individuals. However, when these hormone levels are constantly being increased, they can have a very traumatic effect on long-term health.

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Weakens The Immune System

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The cortisol hormone released during fight-or-flight mode and when we experience stress weakens the immune system by decreasing the volume of lymphocytes circulating in our body. Being stressed out all the time makes us more susceptible to infections and even cancer. The lymphocytes are partly composed of B-cells that release antibodies to terminate invading bacteria and viruses external to the cells. The T-cell type of lymphocytes target invaders that have entered into cells and begin destroying the virus or bacteria. Another aspect of living in long-term fear that can damage the health may be collateral. Individuals suffering from extreme stress or the fear of something may abuse substances to cope.

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Impacts Memory


The body floods the amygdala region of our brains with hormones when we are afraid. This impacts memory by storing the moments when our perceptions became more acute in high-resolution. These memories will burn into our souls as thoughts that have paramount importance over any others and may haunt us. These may be perceived simply as red flags in our subconscious minds that make us feel a certain looming sense of dread regarding individuals associated with these fears. This reactive irrational fear-based thinking is the force behind PTSD and can lead to long-term memory formation problems and damage to the function of the hippocampus. The memories incurred from the mechanism dubbed the 'amygdala hijack' are always perceived as negative, as a warning to avoid similar situations in the future, and possibly explaining why first impressions are so important.

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Cardiovascular Damage


The long-term effect of being exposed to adrenaline is certain to incur cardiovascular damage over time, often in the form of tissue damage and constriction of blood vessels causing increased blood pressure. Individuals who suffer from heart disease are the most susceptible and can instantly suffer from a fatal arrhythmia, a condition where the heart beats out of rhythm and is unable to maintain circulation. Under heavy stress, individuals may develop broken heart syndrome (takotsubo syndrome) and drop dead from a sudden weakening of the heart and the decreased ability to pump blood. Cardiovascular damage can even occur in individuals who are not used to exercising and suddenly attempt to overexert themselves. Therefore, individuals who are more healthy, in general, are most able to handle the stress and long-term exposure to fear much better than those who are frail and unhealthy.


    HealthPrep Staff