How Fear Hijacks The Brain

woman in fear
Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Fear. It holds us back and hijacks our thinking. It makes you disconnect from your body and boy does it make you uncomfortable.

Fear. It means you aren’t connected in the present because you’re on that worry train thinking about what is going to happen or really what isn’t going to happen. You’re so busy catastrophizing and thinking the worst that you can’t be present enough to actually see positive possibilities.

Fear. It hijacks your brain and your thinking. Once you’re in a fight, flight or freeze mode, your nervous system is so stress activated in its sympathetic dominant state, that you deactivate the thinking part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex, while your body is physically preparing for war.

Your amygdala starts a cascade of stress hormones that affects other parts of the brain and body too as your heart rate and blood pressure increases and your overactivated emotional brain takes over and the intense emotional reaction starts. You’re fear activated.

While it’s important to have that reflex for when we actually are in danger, it doesn’t serve us in our day-to-day life, as we try to deal with typical stressors.

In our everyday life, the average person makes approximately 34,000 decisions and research says that 70% of our decisions are made out of fear in an effort to avoid something. Wow! Right?

That is what happens when you don’t work to calm the brain. We get stuck in that fight flight or freeze mode. And when our kids are struggling, we need a rational brain working so not only do we choose sides back from my face but we have the capacity to implement what we can learn to support behavioral changes.

illustration about fear

Fear Blinds You to Seeing the Positive

It takes 1/4 of a second for your brain to see or experience something negative and 20 seconds for your brain to do the same with something positive. We are wired to see the negative and we have to work against that tide to see the positive. This wiring towards the negative is a leftover primitive reflex from the time of the caveman when we had to be on alert to survive.

In our culture we always want the big win with the least amount of effort which causes us sometimes to mess up all those beautiful steps in between. I recently had somebody that was “angry” with me because their child’s tantrums didn’t completely disappear. Even though their child went from having more than 20 tantrums a week to less than three their brain was so hyper focused on those three tantrums that they couldn’t celebrate this amazing success.

It wasn’t until I asked them why they weren’t celebrating what their child and family had done that they could actually see the dramatic difference in their child’s behavior. They weren’t being difficult and instead their brain was just so hijacked with fear, that they couldn’t let their guard down enough to feel excited about these positive changes.

Fear Feeds Negative Talk

What if… How will I know… This won’t work… Sound familiar? Your fear is feeding your negative thoughts and words and some days you can’t stop the negative thoughts.

I know, it is so easy to get there. As you already know, we are wired to see the negative first but the problem is your fear is preventing you from seeing positive possibilities. Instead, you are driving that worry train to catastrophe. Yep, we have all been there.

You can get off the worry train. It starts with shifting what you say outloud and what you say to yourself. Your brain will believe anything you tell it, so why tell it such negative things? YOU CAN flip the script!

Shift from “If” to “When” and start using language that tells your brain good stuff is happening, your subconscious brain will not only believe it but it will take actions toward all while your nervous system begins to lower stress levels. This isn’t an overnight action, and it takes time to happen but you can break from the negative speak.

Fear causes us to disconnect and avoid

Nobody likes to be afraid… It’s uncomfortable!  And when we worry about our kids there’s nothing more scary.

We have become a society where we want to disconnect from uncomfortable emotions and while that may help us temporarily, all it really does is cause the thing we’re avoiding to fester. And when we don’t address the thing we’re avoiding, boy it’s going to show up when we really don’t want it to and now be a mountain to climb.

Binge watching Netflix, emotional eating, and three glasses of wine aren’t going to cause your problems to go away and yet this has become how most people deal with stress.

Disconnecting and avoiding is a sure fire way to feed your fear. The further we get away from our fears, the bigger the hill becomes until finally it’s a mountain.

When it comes to kids who are struggling, eventually their difficulties will move from challenges to crisis. I see it every day in my Ridgefield Connecticut center where people say, “I knew he was anxious but his grades were so good so I didn’t do anything.”

Hey, we can only connect the dots when we look back and there’s no reason to feel any more guilty than you already do. When you see signs of stress and anxiety, that is when you take action. Don’t wait for the crisis to happen, take action by calming your fears first.

Fear makes us angry and irritable

 When we are afraid, something inside of us feels so incongruent that we often are angry and irritable on the outside.

I lovingly refer to this as when Bruce Banner turns into the hulk. No one likes to be afraid yet we are forced to make so many decisions and it’s natural that these thousands of daily decisions cause us to feel angry and irritable.

Listen, it’s really scary when your kid is struggling. And it’s even easier to get angry when you’ve tried medications and therapies and working with the school and nothing is getting better. There is a lot to be angry about with our archaic mental health system that ignores the science of what works to improve mental health. That’s why you’re googling in the middle of the night.

While a little bit of anger can prompt us to look beyond treatments that are helping your kid and family like so many parents who find me, you don’t want your anger to turn you into the hulk because that’s just going to damage your relationship with your child and your family.

Fear shuts down rational thinking

Einstein says, “the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.”

Yet, this is what we do in mental health treatment every day. We ignore the science of what works and we suggest the same treatments and medications over and over again even when it’s been shown to be ineffective for that individual.

So why do we repeat the same behaviors? Well when we’re afraid fear immobilizes us. We don’t have the same level of control over our actions and thoughts and we may not make the most rational or best decisions.

Fear Disconnects Emotions

When we are afraid, we aren’t feeling emotions or thinking, we’re just reacting. Fear causes the brain to sort of put up blinders and hyper focus only on getting through the stressor.

Of course under prolonged periods of stress, that means not only are we disconnected emotionally but emotional growth can be stunted.

We must focus on connecting to body sensations and emotions. Our emotional intelligence matters more than IQ in the real world and fear stunts emotional growth and connectedness too.

Practicing mindfulness so we can be more alert to fear signals and employ healthy resources is critical, as fear activates us daily but we can counter it with healthy tools that calm the brain. For kids, it's role modeling emotional language and teaching them how to connect thoughts and feelings to body sensations.

Fear immobilize us and prevents good decision making

When we are in fight flight or freeze, our brain jumps into war mode, which means our alert system has taken over as we look for a predator. Our brain shuts off the thinking part, the frontal lobes, so that we are in a hyper alert state to defend ourselves.

The problem is we have highly stressed lives and a war isn’t imminent for most people. Our brain gets stuck in this stress activated mode due to every day compounded stressors, and the overwhelm that comes with it causes us to get stuck in the same behavioral patterns.

Without control of our rational thinking, fear shuts us down and most take no action and instead are “frozen” trying to just survive the discomfort that constant stress brings.

What’s the antidote to fear hijacking?

Calming the brain is the antidote to fear.  Is it really that simple?  Yes.

While we’re constantly searching for a pill or a type of therapy that is going to stop intrusive thoughts or the physical discomfort that comes with distress, how we get off the worry train is through micro actions that we use throughout our day. No magic wand required, just constancy of thoughts and actions.

Without regulating your nervous system and moving from a stress activated sympathetic dominant fight or flight state into a relaxed parasympathetic state, it isn’t possible to think straight or take purposeful action because your brain isn’t going to allow that… It’s in a fear driven, “war mode”.

When we use neuroscience to understand what drives behavior, we can counter behaviors that don’t serve us.

Unlearning unhealthy behaviors requires one to practice new behaviors within intentful action. For example, if you know that you literally get heart palpitations every time you put your kid on the bus and you come back home and cry, repeating that every day will only reinforce that behavior.

Fostering a new behavior will require you to do something different. In this case, employing EFT tapping techniques, mindfulness techniques like meditation, going for a walk, etc.. You have to disrupt behavior by replacing it with a new one.

For you mama or papa, that means working on calming your own brain first. At our center we talk about “sharing the calm” and that means we’ve got to get our stuff together before we can help our kids. This is called co-regulation and means that our kids regulate off of us.

Your fear driven brain doesn’t serve you and it’s certainly not helping your child and family, so take the time to get off that worry train. It’s time to cultivate a calm brain and happy family.

Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”

Are you looking for SOLUTIONS for your struggling child or teen? 

Dr. Roseann and her team are all about solutions, so you are in the right place! 

There are 3 ways to work with Dr. Roseann: 


You can get her books for parents and professionals, including: It’s Gonna Be OK™: Proven Ways to Improve Your Child’s Mental Health, Teletherapy Toolkit™ and Brain Under Attack: A Resource For Parents and Caregivers of Children With PANS, PANDAS, and Autoimmune Encephalopathy.

If you are a business or organization that needs proactive guidance to support employee mental health or an organization looking for a brand representative, check out Dr. Roseann’s media page and professional speaking page to see how we can work together. 


Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of  media outlets including, CBS, NBC, FOX News, PIX11 NYC, The New York Times, The Washington Post,, Business Insider, USA Today, CNET, Marth Stewart, and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.” 

Dr. Roseann - Brain Behavior Reset Parent Toolkit

She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach.  She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).

© Roseann-Capanna-Hodge, LLC 2023

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. *The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC does not guarantee certain results.

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