Why Your Brain May be More Packed with Driving Fears than You Think

by on February 7, 2013

Brain on fearA woman known only as SM had no driving fears or driving phobias. In fact, the 40-something woman had not been scared of anything at all since suffering from a rare disease in her childhood. Her condition, officially known as Urbach-Wiethe disease, damaged the small area of her brain associated with fear, an almond-shaped region called the amygdala.

No amygdala meant no fear, as scientists thought amygala is fear’s sole gatekeeper, right?

Well, that may very well be wrong. A University of Iowa study published in Nature Neruoscience discovered the amygdala is not the only place fear lurks in the brain, as evidenced by an experiment with the formerly fearless woman.

Researchers had her inhale enough carbon dioxide to induce panic, and induce panic it did.

“…within seconds of breathing in the mixture, she cried for help, overwhelmed by the sensation that she was suffocating,” according to the university website Iowa Now.

Since the reaction could have no way stemmed from her amygdala, researchers concluded the brain must contain other regions that are also associated with fear.

“Other regions— such as the brainstem, diencephalon , or insular cortex—could sense the body’s most primal inner signals of danger when basic survival is threatened,” IowaNow reports.

Great, you may be saying, that may mean more pockets of driving fear and driving anxiety that I didn’t even know about! But the scientists, too, are saying great because it could mean new developments in treatments that are even more effective.

This also gets a vote of great since it illustrates how panic attacks, the granddaddy of fear, may be coming from an entirely different area of the brain altogether, making them easier to pinpoint and treat. Additional conditions that may get a treatment boost include post-traumatic stress syndrome and conditions related to anxiety.

Another note to note about the study is the type of fears recognized. Fears that invade daily life may still be harbored in the amygdala, but those that seem to threaten your very life may be coming from other regions entirely. So now it could indeed be great to know that panic and fear may stem from entirely different areas of the brain, and treating your panic attacks that erupt from your driving fears may require a different mode of treatment than the driving fears themselves.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tammy Woodall May 4, 2013 at 3:21 pm

The fear, anxiety, and panic attacks one has and suffers from is VERY real. I suffer from this mental disorder. I know that it probably goes in hand in hand with the fact that I suffer with the phobia of not being able to leave my home without having a panic attack or the need to be medicated in order to leave my home. But when one has a panic attack when you do not want to depend on others to help you out when you need something done… and you have a panic attack before you even make it to your car, where you can’t breath, your heart rate increases and your chest tightens to the point, that you feel like your going to have a heart attack. That is not “fake”, the symptoms are not just in your mental, the symptoms also cause physical ailments that are very hard to cope with … unless you use prescription medication to enable you to at least reduce the symptoms one is having.

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Helen November 5, 2013 at 2:08 am

I had a panic attack while driving i could not stop my car and now when i try to drive i have a fear that i cant remove my foot from the gas pedal to put my foot on the brake and it is physical i get a bad cramp in my foot i am trying to over come it . It is very difficult i dont know what to do meds are not the answer they can make you drowsy i dont need to be drowsy driving a car help

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