Overcome your fear factor

Fear and worry got you down? Here’s how to calm these feelings.

Have you grown more worried and fearful about life over the years? You aren’t alone. Research has shown that feelings of fear, general anxiety, and nervousness tend to rise with age.

These negative feelings can manifest in many ways. You could be more concerned about your financial future, the risk of a new or returning health problem or injury, or as the recent COVID-19 pandemic has shown, changes in world events.

“People become more fearful about daily life because they worry a setback will come at any time, and it’s something they can’t control,” says Dr. Ipsit Vahia, medical director of Geriatric Psychiatry Outpatient Services at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital.

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Where stress lives

Yale researchers have found a neural home of the feeling of stress people experience, an insight that may help people deal with the debilitating sense of fear and anxiety that stress can evoke, Yale researchers report May 27 in the journal Nature Communications.

Brain scans of people exposed to highly stressful and troubling images — such as a snarling dog, mutilated faces or filthy toilets — reveal a network of neural connections emanating throughout the brain from the hippocampus, an area of the brain that helps regulate motivation, emotion and memory.

The brain networks that support the physiological response to stress have been well studied in animals. Activation of brain areas such as the hypothalamus triggers production of steroid hormones called glucocorticoids in the face of stress and threats. But the source of the subjective experience of stress experienced by people during the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, has been more difficult to pinpoint.

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