Episode 9 The Science of Fear

The Science of Fear
18th, 2019
Keyhole - Digital Marketing Agency - Joe Dudeck
Joe Dudeck
President + Founder
Metaphorically Speaking Ep9: Science of Fear
"Our bodies were designed to have that response to survive. To keep us alive from attack and help us to either run for our lives or fight for our lives. I think that even plays out in the business world."
Joe Dudeck

Fear plays a critical role in the human body’s makeup and ultimately exists to keep us alive. In this episode, we explore the science behind fear, unpacking how it physically and psychologically resides in our bodies. Recognizing that its effects are unavoidable, we discuss healthy tactics for reframing and managing fear when it shows up.


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Joe: Hi, there. I’m Joe Dudeck, President and founder of Keyhole Marketing.

Shannon: And I’m Shannon Jirik. I work for Keyhole as the Assistant Brand Manager.

Joe: And this is Metaphorically Speaking, a podcast that explores the mysterious side of marketing.


Joe: Hi there. I’m Joe Dudeck, President and Founder of Keyhole Marketing.

Shannon: And I’m Shannon Gerrick. I work for Keyhole as the Assistant Brand Manager.

Joe: And this is Metaphorically Speaking, a podcast that explores the mysterious side of marketing.

Shannon: Welcome back to Season Two of Metaphorically Speaking. In this season we are exploring the topic of fear and its impact on the ways we live, the ways that we market, the ways that we run our business, just how it has to do with our everyday lives. So hopefully you got a chance to listen to our first episode in this season where we just framed this conversation on fear. We just provide an introductory look at it. If you didn’t get a chance, we’d encourage you to go back and listen. We talk about the things that we fear. The definition of fear. The sources of where this fear comes from and even some of the effects of fear in addressing or not addressing it. So today, we are going to explore fear and how it lives, hides, and plays out in our bodies. So I’m going to turn it over to Joe who’s going to start with our reflection?

Joe: Well, I mean, you knew this was going to come at some point.

Shannon: Oh, no.

Joe: The Seth Godin quote.

Shannon: There it is.

Joe: I lasted all the way to the second episode. So that’s good.

Shannon: You did, I’m proud of you.

Joe: But he says a quote, “You can’t make fear go away, but you can dance with it.” I think obviously, we’re going to talk a lot about how fear resides in our bodies. He’s not asking for you to get rid of it, remove it from your system, but how do you actually move within fear and how does fear move within you? And so I thought that was a good quote to help us center ourselves and think about this conversation. Again, I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about how we have to get rid a fear, run away from it, discard it from our systems, from our bodies. He makes it very clear, you can’t make it go away and things we’re going to talk about a lot today.

Shannon: Right. And he, along with Elizabeth, in our last episode, just noting like you just said, Joe, it’s not going anywhere. So how are we addressing it as if it is present?

Joe: For sure.

Shannon: So this is what we want to explore today. We’re going to look at the body and the mind. We’re going to start with some biological awareness. So what does your body physically do when it’s afraid? I know I don’t really think about that a lot, but we’re going to look into just biologically what your body does. We’re going to talk about some psychological or mental awareness. So what self talk or proactivity methods can be introduced into our lives in order to manage that biological response to fear. So what can we do on our minds to combat what happens in our bodies?

Then just to look at overall health. So recognizing how fear can play a dangerous role in our state of wellbeing, physically and mentally. I don’t think we have a great understanding of how powerful fear is when it lodges itself in our minds and bodies. So we’re going to look at some of that and then in turn, look at finding a balance. So finding that balance between the flow of our physical and mental selves and just seeing how those two can work in harmony instead of in opposition to each other.

Joe: Yeah. I think back about when we first started talking about this episode, we talked about some of the content we could include. I remember Shannon, you may not even remember this, but you were laughing at my ignorance of fear and the way it lives in our bodies. Full disclosure, I went to a private Christian school. I had one health class, once every month, I don’t know. Most of that health class was talking about how we shouldn’t have sex before marriage. So it wasn’t a lot of conversation on fear or the body in general.

So I don’t come to the table with a whole lot of pre-knowledge of this conversation, but it’s definitely been something that I’ve experienced more and more the last couple of years and feeling the effects of it on a personal level. So I don’t have a lot of academic knowledge but there is definitely… even with my wife, she’s helped to educate me with her good public school education, of how this plays out in the body.

I’ve experienced it. What’s important about this whole conversation is just again, sometimes we separate that fear lives in our mind and they don’t have any physical, tangible experience but it’s just not true. We’re going to talk about that today and how they really do affect the way our bodies react and the way they move.

Shannon: Yeah.

Joe: Fears aren’t just disconnected thoughts that waft over our bodies. They’re very real responses to the things that live out in our lives and they reside in our bodies and they shouldn’t be ignored. They should definitely be paid attention to because it affects the way our eyes work, affects the way our hearts pump, affects the way our muscles move, the way our brain functions. So there’s just so much that’s affected by fear. We as entrepreneurs, as employees, as students, whatever the roles we play, that we are all affected by fears. We’re going to dissect a little bit, no pun intended, but dissect just how fear lives in our bodies.

Shannon: Definitely. I think that’s such an interesting point because I don’t think that’s something I really realized is just how physical fear can be. So yeah. So, in that sense, we’re going to go back to school. We’re going to head back to high school biology class, which I don’t know how long it’s been for you Joe.

Joe: Can’t remember.

Shannon: We’re going to start with a little quiz.

Joe: Oh, gosh.

Shannon: So get ready with your private school education here. Let’s see what you know. How many fears are we as humans born with? What’s your best guess?

Joe: Gosh. Thanks a lot for embarrassing me.

Shannon: I don’t remember this one either.

Joe: I’ll say, four. I don’t know.

Shannon: Four. That’s pretty good. The answer is actually, just two. So you weren’t pretty far off.

Joe: Okay.

Shannon: That’s good. As humans, we are born with just two fears. Those are the fear of loud sounds and the fear of falling, which is pretty interesting.

Joe: That is interesting.

Shannon: Beyond that, everything else that we fear is learned through our culture or our environment. So, in the spirit of biology, we have 30 different hormones that are released when we feel threatened, which to me feels like a lot. I guess I don’t know a ton on how many hormones are released on other things, but I’m like, “Dang, 30 hormones, okay.”

Joe: That’s a lot. Yeah.

Shannon: But what these hormones do when we feel fear, is they boost activity in the heart and lungs. So our heart rate increases, we breathe a little heavier and faster. It reduces activity in our stomach and our intestines, which actually explains the feeling of those butterflies that we get in our stomach when we’re nervous or afraid.

Joe: Yeah.

Shannon: It inhibits the production of tears and saliva. So that explains the dry mouth that comes when you get afraid or when you become afraid. It dilates our pupils. It produces tunnel vision. It actually reduces our hearing, which to me makes me feel like I’m just afraid all the time because I can’t hear anything. Now it all makes sense.

Joe: That’s okay. All these different affects from fear.

Shannon: Yeah, yeah. Some of those I feel like I knew. I get butterflies or I feel my heart pumping faster, but that’s super interesting. So, to get you in a little bit more scientific-

Joe: Oh, perfect.

Shannon: … yeah, right? Can’t wait. Put your Ted talk on the brain’s anatomy.

Joe: Okay.

Shannon: We’ll go through this pretty simply. But there’s an area in your brain called the hypothalamus, which is located toward the top of the brainstem. It releases a hormone called CRF into the pituitary gland. This gland is a major portion of your endocrine system and it secretes a hormone called A-C-T-H, which there will be no quiz afterwards so don’t worry Joe, and all of you listening. But this particular hormone actually moves through your bloodstream and ultimately arrives at the adrenal cortex, which is found above the kidneys. That is where those 30 hormones are released when you become afraid.

So, it starts in your brain and it moves all the way down your body into your kidneys. That particular adrenal cortex releases all those hormones that prepare the body to deal with a threat. So when our body feels afraid, one of the hormones that’s released is called dopamine, which you may have heard of. It’s otherwise known as a natural high, if you will. It’s a perfect time to transition back to Joe. Because as we’re recording this in Colorado, you know all about getting high.

Joe: Wow.

Shannon: Is it a natural, I don’t know.

Joe: That’s a high. There’s a little song that goes along with that.

Shannon: You’re right. But with this high, in the natural sense, that’s where your heart rate starts to rise. You get this tunnel vision, your peripheral vision is actually reduced. Your stress hormone levels rise and that hormone is called cortisol, which you might’ve heard of.

Joe: Yeah.

Shannon: So that level rises and your body actually limits several other of its natural functions in order to make sure you have as much energy as possible flowing to your muscles so that you’re prepared to defend yourself from danger. So it’s incredible.

Joe: Yeah.

Shannon: What the body does in reaction to fear. It might feel like, at least to me, I fell like my heart’s rising and my blood is pumping faster and I feel almost like I’m paralyzed but it’s actually preparing me. It’s limiting other reactions in order for all of my systems to react to how I feel.

Joe: Yeah. It’s really been interesting the last couple of years because I’ve never been numb to all of those factors or I don’t know why. Because my wife would go through and tell you every one of those behaviors probably she’s experienced and I’m like, “I don’t know. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it a little bit.”

Shannon: Yeah.

Joe: I’m not sure why. I don’t either embrace or acknowledge them. I’m sure they have all lived within me at some point, but I just have ignore them.

Shannon: Right.

Joe: I do know probably two or three years ago, I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue. Just went to the doctor to get some stuff checked out and she had told me about that. I don’t know if any doctor would tell you that? We went to a functional medicine practitioner. So she really did more of a real thorough analysis of the things leading up to that and investigating my lifestyle and things I was doing. At that point, it started this process to move out to Colorado and oddest of swirling in our lives at that time. I just really had exhausted my adrenals and resulted in adrenal fatigue.

So that was really just these cortisol levels were just being pumped up, pumped up, all the time and just exhausting me. Really was from chronic stress, chronic exhaustion and probably chronic fear and this fight or flight response that we have just was going full time without any rest. So my body was really experiencing this. Some of the factors was just like I couldn’t really get going in the morning, super exhausted. I always needed a break in the afternoon but then at nighttime, I was ready to go.

Shannon: Yeah.

Joe: I couldn’t really go to sleep. And even weird factors of dizziness when standing. I didn’t know what that meant, but just if I stood up quickly that would happen or get headaches in the afternoon and a super weird reaction. I looked this one up. I had this pain in my lower back and then that actually, these tendons would go around your hips and then they actually attached to the sides of your knees. So I actually had these weird inside knee pains. I looked that up and it was totally legit.

Shannon: Am I getting old? Or am I, you feel like you’re-

Joe: I’m not sure but it’s such a weird place to get old there, inside there. So I was like, “What is this about?” So I looked that up and that’s actually related to the way your body responds to that. So again, just that factor of carrying around a lot of the stress and all of these fears that were affecting me physically. I ended up having to change my diet. For me, I had to get rid of coffee for a long time. It ended being a long, I don’t know, a six month process to recover from that. There wasn’t a quick fix. It wasn’t like I could just stop drinking every hour, that wasn’t it.

Shannon: … there’s your problem.

Joe: Yeah. It was just change my diet. Think about more healthy fats, some natural salts, which would be good for my system. More proteins, less carbs, more vegetables. So, a standard diet you would know about, but really elevate the value there and just reduce my dependence on coffee and stimulus to keep me going. It just took some time. All I had to do is just really change my lifestyle to just relax and more yoga, more breathing, that kind of stuff. And there were some supplements I could take, but ultimately, to change my lifestyle and really embrace the heaviness that was going on in life at the time, the fears that I was experiencing.

I think at that time too, it was just the fears of being a new dad and all the stuff that came along with that and not knowing what in the world I was doing. I was certainly scared that everything that I was doing was wrong and I would screw my son up for the rest of his life and all that stuff. So all of these things were lodged away for a long period of time and then resulting in this physical, the way it played out like that. So definitely, even though I don’t have the knowledge of that before my body was telling me this is your response to that.

Shannon: Right.

Joe: It’s really interesting because that was very much the way our bodies were designed to have that response to survive. To keep us alive from attack and help us to either, the fight or flight, either run for our lives or run into it and fight for our lives.

I think that even plays out in the business world. We have those people or those clients who are like, “Oh my gosh, I got to get out here and run for our lives from these clients.” Or, the people that we just have to stand up against and fight for our space and our place in that time. So, it sounds a little embellished on, it’s a little hyperbolic, but it’s very real. I think that it’s not just what cave men experienced, it’s very much what we experienced today in the business world. It can result in physical ramifications of those fears. Yeah.

Shannon: Right. No, I think that’s so fascinating because if I experienced any of those symptoms, I would not ever naturally assume it was related to fear. It’s like, “Oh, my back hurts.” Or, “Oh, I’m not getting enough sleep.” Well, I would attribute it to something else. I would never naturally assume, I’m afraid or I’m feeling stressed, you know?

Joe: Yeah.

Shannon: I’m just so glad that you were able to figure that out. I think there’s some encouragement there. What are you feeling in your body? What is your body lodging or telling you that you’re not paying attention to that actually might be related to some serious fears that you’re wrestling with.

Joe: Yeah. I think that was the biggest takeaway. It was certainly eye opening to figure out what that diagnosis was. But the result of that, the response to that was, pay attention.

Shannon: Yeah.

Joe: Pay attention to the signs your body are telling you. I think that’s again, I talked about earlier, that numbness that I felt was for years of not paying attention to that.

Shannon: Yep.

Joe: My wife Lindsay, is very much more attuned to the way life affects her and how it impacts her life and I’ve been like, “Oh, it’s all good. It’s all fine.”

Shannon: Yeah.

Joe: My body’s telling me, no, it’s not all good carrying this around.

Shannon: It’s not. Yep. Yep. Yeah. So just to circle back to that survival piece. Probably everyone is familiar with that fight or flight response. Your brain triggers, do I attack this, do I challenge it, or do I run away from it? And what we really want to get across here is, fear is not something that needs to be avoided. It has a biological, essential role to who we are as humans. It attributes to our survival and very much has value in who we are.

In Joe’s situation, he was feeling those kinds of fears lodged in his body and he needed to see that. So, to take this conversation a step deeper, it’s interesting to dive into how fear reacts into specific parts of our body. Then take a step back to explore what that means in a metaphorical sense. Obviously, that’s what we’re trying to do here.

So I want to look at a couple of different areas of the body and look at them biologically, but then also look at them metaphorically. If we start with the heart, like I mentioned before, physically, what happens in our heart when fear arises is that the central blood vessels around our vital organs dilate and they flood them with oxygen and nutrients. So our heart begins to beat faster and harder. Our hormones boost activity and our heart rate rises. That’s something that we’re all pretty familiar with, I’m sure. And these are very natural and even healthy responses. Our heart is doing what it’s supposed to do when it feels fear in those moments. But that begs the question in a metaphorical sense, how can we learn to respond or react to fear in our hearts?

Yes, our heart is doing this physically, but how can I learn to respond to this in an emotional or in a heartfelt way? What are choices that we can make to respond to fear in healthy ways? Is that emotional for you? Is that spiritual for you? I love that look at it. Yes, our body is doing something physically, but can I look at my heart in an emotional way and prepare it to feel fear?

Joe: Yeah.

Shannon: So, taking a look at our vision, which is another thing that’s defected when we feel fear. When fear appears, our pupils dilate to actually take in more light. We get tunnel vision because our peripheral vision is reduced. Fear inhibits the production of tears and saliva. We get that dry mouth, our eyes begin to dry. So yes, that’s what happens physically. But in a metaphorical sense, how could we change the way that we see things that happen in our lives that cause fear? So is our perspective accurate? Is it truthful? Do we need somebody else to hold a mirror to our blind spots? So again, yes, this is happening to your eyesight, even to your mouth when you feel afraid. But how do you view fear? How do you see it and how can you prepare yourself to see it?

Joe: That’s super fascinated to learn. Just from our sight, in our heart, and the way our bodies work in those realms within fear. Another capacity is the way our muscles respond to fear. We want to make sure that there’s enough energy flowing to our muscles as possible so that we can defend ourselves from danger. Sometimes that lives out in the, like you talked about earlier, those butterflies that we sense in our stomachs. I think my wife gets that a lot. Lindsey gets that a lot.

I think I probably get it in a way that my lip quivers sometimes I’m nervous, which again doesn’t seem like it’s much, but probably is more than I acknowledge. So I think that always begs the question, are there some boundaries or some limitations we need to set up for ourselves to preserve ourselves? Are there people in our lives, are there conversations that are happening, experiences that are happening, that we need to separate ourselves to preserve the energy in us?

Shannon: Yeah.

Joe: Again, thinking about it metaphorically speaking of, what are those limitations so that we’re not just pulled into that in order to save our bodies, save our functions, or to save others from that experience.

Shannon: Yeah, and I think it’s just a really good reminder for myself. We can feel these things happening in our bodies. I can feel my heart rate getting faster or see my eyes almost getting thinner, if you will. Or I can feel my muscles tensing. And then switching that into the emotional. I recognize biologically that I’m experiencing fear. How can I see this in a different way? How can I approach this in more of an emotional sense?

Joe: Yeah. There’s also a part, one last bodily part that we want to talk about is just the brain and the way it helps us process fear. So, for example, if we were to put fear into context. If we were to see a mountain lion at a zoo, we wouldn’t necessarily, we’d be curious. Like, “What is that thing? What is it doing? Why is it moving that way?” But if we’re in my backyard and we see a mountain lion, which is possible.

Shannon: It is.

Joe: We’re going to have a little different reaction than curiosity.

Shannon: Right.

Joe: We’re going to have really a lot of fear running through our system but that part of the brain, which is the hippocampus, I think that’s how it’s pronounced?

Shannon: It is. And we’re not talking about the band name in this case, this is actually a portion of your brain.

Joe: Exactly. That works with the prefrontal cortex to help us to figure out, is it a real threat or how should we process this?

Shannon: Right.

Joe: Again, thinking about it in a metaphoric sense, are there ways we can put our own fears into better context? Are there truths that we need to explore within that? Because sometimes we just let every truth pass through us and it just overtakes us. So, is there some time and some effort we need to apply into looking at our fears and putting those into better context saying, “Is this is a real threat or is this a perceived threat that isn’t really real?” So, yeah, is it a real mountain lion in our lives or is it a zoo mountain lion.

Shannon: Right.

Joe: So yeah.

Shannon: I don’t think we give that part of our brain enough credit because that’s just incredible.

Joe: Yeah, it is.

Shannon: It really is such an emotional part of our brain. The hippocampus triggers this fight or flight, but it’s due to context. It’s due to the last, however many years of our lives, running through its function. Like, “Is this something to be afraid of or is it not.”

Joe: For sure.

Shannon: Fascinating? So, speaking of context, just to hone this even further into how fear plays out in the business world. What I found really intriguing is that it’s almost impossible to make rational decisions when we’re in a state of fear, and this is backed up by research. According to Dr. Gregory Burns, who is a neuroscientist at Emory University, fear actually turns off the exploratory and risk taking functions of our brain. So we’re only able to react defensively, preventing us from assessing all of our options and making smarter decisions. So it’s just mind blowing to me. I don’t know. It’s just incredible to think that when we feel afraid, we almost lack a sense of rationality.

Joe: Rationality. Yeah.

Shannon: We can’t make a decision as well, or at all, when we’re in a state of fear.

Joe: Yeah. I think that’s a really great segue into our final phase of emotion in this episode. We’ve talked so much about the body and how it responds to and holds fear in this episode. To close out this conversation, we really thought, why not introduce a technique that is also physical and there’s an element of experiencing your body and acknowledging your bodies in the presence of fear there.

My wife’s been doing a technique called EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique. Something she found I think in the past, but something she’s really been reading in a book called, How to Heal Yourself from Anxiety, it’s by Amy Scher. This EFT is a process also known as tapping. It’s a way of disrupting the negative energy that’s inside of us. It’s also been used quite a bit to help people with PTSD.

Basically, it focuses on the meridian points or the pathways to energy within our bodies. So it’s got this five step process of how to work through some of this fear that may be being held in your body. It can be out there, it can be a little bit weird, but at the same time, like I said, if you call it weird, then you’re calling my wife weird and that’s not good to do. No, she’s had great success and we understand that it’s not for everybody to consider. But it’s been helpful.

So the five steps are, first starting just by rating your current state. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the power or the intensity of fear in your body? What are you physically feeling right then? Think about some of the physical sensations and then give yourself a score. Then create what’s called a setup statement to describe your feelings. It could be something like even though, and then you would in this place, describe how you feel right now. I can be okay right now. So you just want to take some time to really think through it with as much detail as possible. What are you physically feeling right now in your body?

Then follow that up with a phrase like, this is kind of telling yourself what your body really wants. I can be okay right now. I can love myself and accept myself right now or I can release it right now. So the first part of the phrases is, what are you telling your body you don’t want? And then you follow up with what are you telling your body you do want? And then you state that set up statement aloud, three times, while you use your fingertips to tap right on the outside, fleshy part of your hand, the part that you would use to karate chop somebody.

Shannon: Oh, yeah. That one I know.

Joe: Yeah, that one, you know. So you tap a few times while you say that phrase aloud, three times. And then you move to other meridian points along your body. So there’s a process you have to follow. I’ll tell you the process actually. It goes from your outside of your hand to the middle, top of your head, to your eyebrows, to the side of the eye, to under the nose, to your chin, to your collarbone, to the side of the body, which is 4″ underneath your armpit. Then finally to your fingertips, where the fingernails meet the cuticle.

So you’re saying that phrase, but you’re modifying as you acknowledge different ways your body feels throughout the time. You might just check in after you go through that process and see how do you feel? Is there still work to be done? What is your intensity of your fears at that moment?

So again, it’s definitely out there even saying this, I’m not sure if I should show anybody. Like, what the heck is that about? Like I said, it’s been super helpful for her to… I think she starts her days with that and it just really helped her move through her fears and fears that have resulted in anxiety and to get her body to be in sync with the way her minds are working through this stuff as well.

Shannon: Yeah. And if you need those meridian points again.

Joe: Yeah.

Shannon: In case you didn’t memorize those. You can look those up.

Joe: Yeah, definitely. Like I said, there is a process to go through starting with that hand and then going from the top of the head really down the body and then eventually to your fingertips. So I’m not sure what would happen if you went out of order. It might be good to just stay with the process. So hopefully, you find that helpful.

Shannon: Definitely. So in our next conversation we are going to talk about how we respond to fear. But as always, if you have questions or comments related to this topic or the types of things we can do for you here at Keyhole, please don’t hesitate to send us an email at: hi@keyholemarketing.us.

Joe: Hopefully, you enjoyed that biology lesson.

Shannon: Flashback back to high school.

Joe: Yeah. And not to my high school, right? From what I heard about other people’s high school experience. Hopefully it was good for you and you find some good things in it. And again, it’s kind of scientific, but hopefully valuable for you and I look forward to the next conversation. Thanks so much.


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