Back to Articles

How to Get Past Paralyzing Fear

A little bit of fear can help spur action but too much often makes us freeze - what should we do when too much fear paralyzes us?
February 8, 2018 | Comments

Have you ever had the experience of nearly hitting a deer with your car? If so, you may be familiar with the true meaning of the popular saying “deer in headlights.” This “freezing” that deer do when they are being charged by a predator, which is what they instinctually interpret your car as, is actually adaptive – it helps them camouflage to hide from creatures that are hunting them.

Of course, the phrase “deer in headlights” refers to a much wider phenomenon than the actual occurrence of deer freezing in front of oncoming traffic. It refers to a phenomenon that all mammals face from time to time, an overwhelming sense of fear that is ultimately paralyzing. This is the type of fear that stops us in our tracks, that overwhelms us and forces us into inaction when we perceive that there’s no escape.

Scientists, including Critica co-founder Jack Gorman, have studied what this kind of paralyzing fear looks like in the brain. They have been able to see the brain pathways that accompany this type of “deer in headlights” fear in studies with rats. When the rat sees no escape from a maze in which it may be delivered a shock, it too becomes paralyzed and the fear centers of the brain are activated. But when the rat perceives a possible escape plan, it suddenly springs into action, and its brain activity looks quite different.

In a recent blog for Psychology Today, we asked how this insight about freezing with fear might be relevant to action and inaction in response to climate change. We ask how much fear is too much and how to inspire people to take action to prevent negative consequences of climate change rather than to become paralyzed with fearful inaction. You can read more here. We hope you enjoy and look forward to your thoughts and questions.

More Like This