Marion Pellicano Ambrose
After posting “Maryland Tale of Terror
I received a great number of messages saying how scared people were after reading the story. Dawn and Barbara were even blaming me for not being able to sleep that night! It made me start to think about just what it is that makes us afraid.
I remember studying about the “Fight or Flight” response of the brain in situations of danger. I had a wonderful Professor of Neuroscience in graduate school named Dr. Tootle. He was a true genius but was able to communicate complex theories and studies in simple terms. He told us that fear is first perceived in a part of the brain called the amygdale which sends a signal to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus then stimulates the sympathetic nervous system to release hormones such as adrenalin, cortisol, endorphins and insulin. This is what causes our classic symptoms of increased heart rate, sweaty palms, heavy breathing, tensing of muscles and increased strength and energy. This is our brains way of preparing us to run or fight if necessary. Other responses may include:Paling or flushing, tightening of the sphincters of the body, constriction of blood vessels in many parts of the body, dilation of pupils, relaxation of bladder or bowels, tunnel vision, shaking and loss of hearing.
It’s important to recognize that when we are frightened, we can’t think clearly, we can’t make good judgments and, as a teacher can assure you, we can’t learn! While it’s fun to be scared in a good movie or read a creepy tale, facing fear in real life situations is something quite different. We need to make every effort to slow our reaction down, regulate our breathing and consciously reduce our heart rate and racing thoughts. When our brain tries to revert to its primitive “Fight or Flight Response”, we need to do what police officers, firefighters, soldiers and rescue workers are all trained to do. Stop –Breathe, - Assess - Think – then Act. Practice scenarios with your children, like stop, drop and roll, or crawling close to the floor in a fire. This helps condition the response and eliminate the paralyzing fear.
I’m not a Neuroscientist, Psychologist of Psychiatrist, but I’m a mom and a teacher. I’ve been responsible for others in times of great danger and stressful situations. It was only by reasoning and conquering my primitive brain that I was able to overcome my own fears and react calmly and rationally, in the best interest of myself and others.
So the next time you are faced with a truly frightening situation, grab yourself by the amygdale, and give your hypothalamus a piece of your mind! Breathe, Assess, Think and only then, Act.