Part 3: Anxiety and the Fear / Adrenaline Cycle

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anxiety fear adrenaline

anxiety fear adrenaline

If you have read Part 1  and Part 2  of my anxiety information pages, you know that you and anxiety need to team up to help you get control of your life, and eliminate the problems caused by stress, fear and too much worry.

But before I can tell you how to do that,  I need to explain to you what anxiety is and why it is a part of your  life.

Let me start off by telling you about your brain…..your VERY healthy, normal brain.


anxiety fear adrenaline brain


Your brain has many jobs,  but the most important job it has is to keep you alive.

It wants to keep your heart going.   It wants to keep your lungs and other organs functioning properly.   It wants to make sure you stay hydrated and well nourished.  And it wants to keep you out of danger’s way.

Your brain is SO amazing!

It has a unique method of doing all the things I mentioned and a method for probably a thousand things aside from that.   But it is the brain’s method for keeping you safe from danger that I am going to talk to you about.  The brain’s method for keeping you safe is called “fight or flight”,  and you may know a little or a lot about this already,  but just in case you aren’t familiar with it,  I’m going to talk about it a little bit and try not to put you to sleep.

Try to stick with me here,  I know I am going to get repetitive,  but you really need all this information to “stick”.     This part is really important for you to understand,  and more importantly,  believe,   if you are ever going to fully be able to control your anxiety.


anxiety fear adrenaline brain


Fight or flight is what happens when you are in danger and your brain “hears” that you need help.

It hears that by “listening” to your emotions.   When you feel scared or really stressed,  and your brain “hears” that you need help,  it releases a hormone called adrenaline as well as other stress hormones such as cortisol.   This release of hormones is a direct result of your fear.   It’s what the brain does and you couldn’t stop it if you tried.   If you feel fear,  those hormones are coming.

Let me give you an example of “fight or flight”:

Imagine you are walking down the street at night,  and you sense that somebody is coming up behind you and you start to feel a little scared.   Well,  your brain immediately senses that fear.   And I mean instantly.

 (Brains are very efficient that way.)

But …this is important.  Your brain doesn’t know WHAT it is that is making you feel fear.  It doesn’t work that way.  Your brain doesn’t have eyes or ears.   It works like a computer except that instead of responding to typed commands,  it responds to your emotions.

When it comes to “fight or flight”,   your emotional response to whatever is going on around you is what is running the show. 

And when that man comes up behind you on the street,  your brain “hears” your fear,  and immediately calls in for back-up.   Your brain has its own 911 system,   and it is adrenaline that responds to the call.


anxiety, fear, adrenaline


So let’s break it down…..

You call for help with your fear.

Your brain is the dispatcher who receives that call for help,  and decides how much help you need at that moment.

And the adrenaline is the body’s version of the police and fire department…..there to save you anxiety fear adrenalinefrom whatever predicament is causing you fear.   And with a response time that any fire department would love to have,  adrenaline and other stress hormones SHOOT through your body.

The adrenaline acts as a super-charger that gives you extra strength for fighting and extra fuel if you decide to skip the fighting and go straight for the “flighting”.   Adrenaline can make you hear better,  see better,  respond faster…. and it can make you hyper-aware of everything around you so that you don’t miss anything that may be a threat.

In a split second,  the brain sends that adrenaline out to help keep you safe,  so this all happens before you  even realize its happening.

It is a system that works extremely well,  which is why it has remained relatively unchanged since our caveman days.  And it has worked out pretty well for us.   At some point in our lives,  I would venture to guess that we have all benefited from this “Fight or Flight” response and I would say we are all pretty grateful to have it.   Like our real life first responders,  the police and fire departments,  we all appreciate adrenaline and what it can do for us when we need some help.

Remember that every human being has a brain with the exact same 911 system,  and the brains of those with anxiety disorders are no different.     Our 911 system works just as well as everybody else’s….exactly the same….no differently.


anxiety fear adrenaline worry


So the logical question would be,  “If there is nothing wrong with my 911 system,  and my brain is perfectly healthy and normal,  then why do I have an anxiety disorder?

Because the brains of people with an anxiety disorder have 911 on a perpetual state of re-dial.  

“Why? What is wrong with me?”


You have an anxiety disorder because you are constantly telling your brain you are in danger.   The problem is not with your brain.   The problem is that you have been ordering adrenaline  like its going out of style and you haven’t even realized it.  

“How?  Why?”

The short(ish) answer is because you are a chronic negative thinker and a strong emotional reactor.   You worry and react to more than the average person does,  often about stuff that the average person wouldn’t think was quite so bad.

Your emotions keep your 911 system very busy.

Always, always remember that worry is perceived as fear by your brain.  It’s a lower stage of fear,  I suppose….but still a type of fear,  and it causes your brain to work a lot of overtime and send out a lot of adrenaline.  (The amount of adrenaline that you receive is in direct proportion to the level of worry or fear that you are emotionally experiencing.)  And that mental exhaustion from being so busy all the time, and that adrenaline that you keep receiving is what is giving you your anxiety symptoms.




So now you may be thinking:    

“Well of course I worry and think negatively.   I have an anxiety disorder.   It’s not my fault.  It’s my brain making me  worry because of all that adrenaline or some other chemical problem in my brain.

But that isn’t true. 

In the absence of any other diagnosis accompanying your GAD or Panic Disorder,   your brain is not sick or diseased.

It cannot “control” your thoughts or alter them.    YOU have to think every single conscious thought you have.    It is true that your subconscious can lob some random thoughts out there that,  especially in those of us with anxiety disorders,  are often odd or worrisome or “trouble making”,   but even in those cases,  those thoughts are still coming from a very healthy part of YOU and you are fully in charge of how you respond and react to them.    It is all YOUR thoughts,  and the feelings that precede or accompany them,  that cause your anxiety disorder….not the other way around.

I will try to explain further….this gets kind of long…but again….hang with me because I’m hoping to bring this around home in the end and have it make sense.  ( I’m not feeling too optimistic about that right now…lol….I’m giving myself about a 60% shot here but I’m just going to keep typing and see what comes out.)

OK,  so every time you worry,  every time you stress,  every time you feel fear …..your brain is listening and releasing a little bit more of that adrenaline and cortisol.

Remember that your brain doesn’t know whether you are worrying about a deadline at work or whether you are worrying about a possible intruder to your house.   It only knows how strongly you react to whatever it is that is upsetting you,  and it will always respond accordingly with what it thinks is the appropriate amount of adrenaline.

Sometimes its a little adrenaline that your brain sends out….sometimes its a lot, depending on your level of emotional stress.   Your brain is VERY responsible and efficient that way.


anxiety adrenaline fear brain


So this is what happens EVERY time you worry and EVERY time you stress or fear something,  and it has worked this way your entire life.

Eventually,  after years and years of you ordering up this adrenaline practically every day of your life, being the chronic worrier that you are,  your brain eventually just starts to keep the adrenaline on “automatic refill” and never really shuts it off.

Its kind of like assigning you a 24 hour bodyguard.

And, again,  here is why the brain does this….its really important that you “get” this part:

panic adrenalineAfter so many months and years of listening to you tell it how crazy and unsafe your world is (at least that is how your brain perceives your thoughts),  your brain decides that you pretty much need its help around the clock.    It perceives your world as so threatening,  that you must never be without your adrenaline.    You are on a “round the clock”  adrenaline pump which means that you are feeling the adrenaline side effects ALL THE TIME……not just when you are agitated or stressed or worried.

It’s very easy to see why it would be confusing and a little scary to have those adrenaline side effects when you aren’t consciously afraid or scared of anything,  isn’t it?    They just don’t seem to make sense.    But knowing what you know now,   you can see how there is a perfectly logical explanation for those side effects.   It’s all part of a perfectly normal,  perfectly planned biological system to keep you alive and safe.

Here are some of the symptoms that all that adrenaline may be giving you at random times throughout your day:

Racing and/or Pounding Heart

Hyper-Awareness of your Bodily Sensations and Your Thoughts

Trouble Sleeping

The Urge to Run and Flee a Situation Without Knowing Why

Constant Sense of Dread and Doom/Feeling as Though Something Bad is About To Happen

Stomach Upset/ Bowel Upset

The Feeling That You are Going to Pass Out

The Feeling That your Legs Won’t be Able to Hold You Up

The Feeling that you Might Freak Out and Do Something Crazy

Chest Tightness

The Feeling That You Can’t Get a Full Breath

Shaky and/or Tingling Hands/Fingers

Numbness in your Extremities

Hot Flashes

I mean, is it any wonder we think we are dying half the time?!     The things we worry about may be “all in our heads”,   but these symptoms certainly aren’t!

The above list of symptoms would probably look almost exactly the same if I asked you to list the symptoms of your anxiety disorder.   Because a great deal of your anxiety disorder symptoms ARE your adrenaline side effects.   They are one and the same.   Adrenaline being released is a symptom of anxiety.    And all of those feelings I mentioned above are simply side effects of that adrenaline.   It’s all very logical and very natural.     Even your wildest feelings,  your wildest thoughts,  and your wildest reactions are all part of this very normal anxiety response system that we were born with .


anxiety, fear, adrenaline, panic


Your interpretation of  your adrenaline side effects as a “bad thing”,  and as something to fear,  is a massive contributor to your anxiety.

Imagine a roller coaster with a bunch of people on board.    As that roller coaster car chugs up that steep hill getting ready to shoot down the other side,  every one of those people is experiencing the fear/adrenaline response.    They are all nervous,  full of energy,  with pounding hearts.   They are ten stories up in the air about to hit top speed while rolling down a steep hill!   I imagine you would be hard pressed to find a person who could stay calm enough to keep their brain from pumping out some adrenaline in that situation!

panic brain adrenaline

But not everybody on that roller coaster responds to that adrenaline in that same way.  

If it were me,  I would probably be throwing up with fear because I would very consciously be convinced that death was imminent.   I don’t trust rollercoasters AT ALL.    But most people….the average person….would probably have enough faith in that roller coaster to keep them safe.   Their conscious feelings of security and sense of fun would over-ride their subconscious fear response and they would feel EXCITED….not scared!   They would actually ENJOY the fear/adrenaline response and the rush it brings.

What we need to do is change YOUR perception of your own fear/adrenaline response.  We need you to you start interpreting the response as a mild annoyance,  something that can easily be worked through with a few minutes of strong,  calm thinking.   No drama…..nice and smooth.

The response itself is your roller coaster ride.     The response itself is what creates even MORE of a response because of your fearful reaction to it.    If you have trust that it is there to keep you safe and it is not going to hurt you…..if you have faith that this response is your friend…..then the roller coast ride will quickly end and you can get out of the car.


fear panic brain


It is vitally important that you remember and always keep in mind that all that adrenaline is there because your brain thinks you need it to stay alive.   It is there because of the emotional and mental “thought” messages that you are sending  to your brain.  Your brain thinks it is helping you.   Your brain thinks it’s doing a GOOD thing.

Your wonderful,  sweet brain is looking out for you.   And until your brain thinks you no longer need that protection..its just going to keep pumping it out and patting itself on the back for the great job it thinks it’s doing keeping up with you.

And rightfully so.   It is a very good brain you have there!

Your brain probably has to work twice as hard as the average person’s brain, in order to keep up with all that you put on its plate.    You with your constant worry, and catastrophizing and self-analysis.   You mental pace is exhausting and your brain has kept up with all of it.

You ought to throw a parade in its honor!fear panic brain

I cannot stress enough how strong and healthy your brain is.   It’s probably pretty tired…but it’s not sick.

There is nothing wrong with your brain.  It is just doing its job.   Always remember that your brain “hears” everything you say,  and you telling yourself that something is wrong with your brain that you are powerless to control,  is not exactly what your brain needs to be hearing right now,  and it is definitely not going to soothe your brain into feeling safe enough to shut off that adrenaline.


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So that is the fear/adrenaline response cycle.   What happens when you are exposed to this cycle repeatedly – on a long-term basis?

You start to become what they call  “overly sensitized”.  

Here is what happens when you become overly sensitized.

You startle easily. 

You over-react even more to things that you normally wouldn’t over react to.

You get upset/agitated more easily than you used to.

It’s not as easy to convince yourself of what is a real threat and what is not.

You find it very difficult to feel truly calm….ever.

You are feeling adrenaline rushes more and more frequently and you may begin panicking because of them.    

Mental fatigue kicks in.  You become more nervous,  more irritable,  and of course what do all of these feelings cause?  MORE WORRY…..and even MORE adrenaline to be released which makes you feel even MORE emotionally spent,  and edgy,  and irritable and nervous.

Do you see how this is turning into a really nasty cycle?

adrenaline fear cycle brain panicEvery day you become more sensitized and more aware of the physical and mental changes that all the adrenaline  is giving you.  Except you don’t realize you have all this adrenaline in you so you don’t realize WHY you are feeling these physical and mental changes.  And you get freaked out by it.  

The longer this goes on,  the more freaked out you get,  and the more adrenaline your brain sends.   And the more adrenaline your brain sends,   the more freaked out you get.

Eventually one day you realize that you are not the same person you used to be.  Regardless of what your particular symptoms are,  you are now to the point where you are no longer able to live a “normal”   life.

Your anxiety feels out of control and like it’s ruining your life.

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Ok,  so on that happy note,  I think that’s enough for one page…..I will do a sub page on how an anxiety disorder can turn into a panic disorder.    I was going to put them both together but I think it’s too much at once.   I already think this is too long but it’s too hard to condense into anything shorter.

Read this over and over before you move on to the next page though.  It’s a lot to take in and lets let it float around your mind for a while on its own before we add anything else in the mix.   And then when you are ready,  move on to Part 4:  Anxiety and Mental Fatigue.   Have a great day and thanks for reading!



anxiety fear adrenalineAnxiety, Fear, Adrenaline

Photo Credit:  All Images Pixabay

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7 Comments on "Part 3: Anxiety and the Fear / Adrenaline Cycle"

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w l

Thanks you so much for this, I have been suffering from what I THOUGHT was anxiety disorder for 3 years now (and I’m only 22) and have felt pretty helpless the whole time. I was given advice on looking into the adrenaline aspect of things and then I stumbled across this great article.

I love the conversational format of your article and how well it flows. It may be long but was really effective in keeping me engaged whilst also conveying a lot of information at the same time.

I can’t thank you enough, time to get my life back 🙂


Your thoughts and words are so incredible helpful! I have never looked at it this way and yet it makes tremendous sense. You are describing word for word a part of me that I have struggled with for many many years (maybe since I was a kid). Only recently, after a very bad health scare, did it manifest itself into actual panic attacks. Thank you so much for deciding to share your story!

Joel Dames

But you have a huge following. So there are many others like me who love to read your blog just as it is. Maybe I’m not giving the millenniums credit for their attention span.

Joel Dames

Hi Lisa,

Been following you and thinking of you and so meaning to keep in touch. Love your writing and your use of illustrations.

Hope I might comment on this three-part series. For me it was not too long. But for especially younger digital-generation people with a sated attention span, each part might be broken down into a couple of parts. Maybe with stuff from your life or those you relate with. If possible I would think 500 to 700 words a segment. And that is what my Word Press SEO app keeps telling me.


The Worry Games
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