Fear is a common theme in our everyday lives, and Gerald Hüther
, a German neuroscientist, lays this out in his book “Biologie der Angst – Wie aus Stress Gefühle werden” (“Biology of Fear – How Stress Turns into Emotions”) from a biological standpoint. Fear is an adaptive behavioral system, which, rather than being hardwired into us, is adjusted with a variety of neurotransmitters: Spot a tiger? Become fearful, run away (or whatever you can reasonably do to not be eaten), escape and get a reward triggered. The tiger got a bite out of you? Adjust your behavior next time, e.g., climb up a tree.
The gist of the book: When faced with a challenge, we resort to learnt solution strategies. If successful, we strengthen this behavioral response; if unsuccessful, we stress out and try harder until that either fails or succeeds. If it fails, this can trigger a new response, yet if the old behavior is too deeply ingrained, we simply keep on trying harder and harder. This turns normal stress into unhealthy stress, eventually negatively affecting our immune system, mood, and a host of other things that helps us have a good time. If we’re in this state long enough, the old, ingrained pathways soften, and new behavioral responses can arise. Often, this is accompanied by a fundamental shift in perception, values and how we interact with the world. While this is a seemingly gentle process on paper, the harsh reality can be a time of turmoil, highs and lows and a general sense of being lost.