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Mindfulness Part 6 - The Fear Factor

By John McManamy

We are making a transition from mindfulness to managing stress. The two interact: stress is our major mood trigger. Mindfulness helps us spot our triggers while we can still manage them. Working from the other end, mindfulness helps rein in runaway stress.

Bringing “know thyself” into the equation allows us to apply these general principles to our particular situation. We learn to identify our specific mood triggers. We learn to work with our strengths and work around our vulnerabilities. 

I had these and other connections in mind when I started this Recovery series. But then, reviewing my five mindfulness articles, I spotted a new one. Let’s call it The Fear Factor.  Here’s the connection:

Fear underlies our stress pathways. I will be going into this in far more detail in future articles. What you need to know right now is that stress is linked to our fight-or-flight response. Basically, in the face of a perceived threat, the thinking parts of the brain go off-line while the faster-processing primitive regions take over. Then, hopefully, once the danger has passed, the cortical areas resume executive control and in good time the brain resets to normal. 

But what if the brain doesn’t completely reset to normal? Then we are living in a constant state of fear. Our fear is governing our behavior. The rational part of the brain should be switching off the messages from the irrational parts of the brain, but this isn’t happening.

In fact, the very opposite is occurring. The irrational parts of the brain are influencing our thinking. Our thoughts become irrational. If these irrational thoughts have reached the state of paranoia, it’s as if everyone in the world is out to get you, even the librarian.

Have you ever hesitated over asking the librarian about locating a particular book? No, you’re not being paranoid. Just a little irrational, that’s all. Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal.

The present can be a pretty frightening place for a lot of us. Think of the present as where reaction meets thought. But if we have some kind of fault in our brain circuits then we’re talking about overreaction meeting irrational thinking. The two feed off of each other.

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