They amygdala is a part of the brain responsible for initiating love, sexual behavior, anger, aggression, and fear (“fight/flight/freeze”). In fear responses, the amygdala mobilizes the body to respond to a potential threat (e.g., increases heart rate, respiration, and muscle tension), creating urges to avoid or escape the feared object or event. The purpose of this response is to keep us safe, though it can occur at inappropriate times (i.e., “false alarm”). Sometimes responses are preprogrammed and automatic (e.g., responses to predatory animals and angry facial expressions), and sometimes they are learned (e.g., acquired fears of non-harmful objects).
The amygdala attaches emotional valence to internal and external stimuli and learns based on associations. Whatever comes before a negative event becomes a potential trigger for future anxiety. Automatic and learned feared responses can usually be treated via exposure therapy, which includes approaching feared objects or internal stimuli (i.e., thoughts and feelings) in progressively more challenging situations.
-Noah Lankford, Psy.D.