The Effects of Drama, Fear and Tragedy on Brain and Cortisol Levels


From melodramatic reality shows to tragic news events, high-emotion situations hijack our brains.

When we perceive excess drama, fear, or trauma, our bodies flood with cortisol and deactivate higher reasoning.

This blog post will unpack how our brains shift functioning during periods of turmoil and provide tips to regain equilibrium.

The Dangers of Cortisol

Cortisol, known as the “stress hormone,” erupts in the body during tense experiences.

While essential in small doses, elevated cortisol takes a toll over time by impairing cognitive facilities and harming physical health. Specifically, cortisol surges can suppress rational thought, memory formation, concentration, and more.

Understanding what occurs biologically when we enter drama, fear, or tragedy modes can mitigate detrimental impacts. Learning to identify and counteract cortisol’s effects empowers us to stay balanced amid turmoil.

Drama Mode: When Egos and Emotions Run High

Reality television thrives on interpersonal drama: tempers flare, insults fly, and feelings get hurt. When we engage in or witness dramatic disputes in real life, similar biological shifts occur. Namely, the ego kicks into high gear and emotions overwhelm logic.

When someone perceives an emotional threat or personal offense, their amygdala activates. This region of the brain processes negative emotions and immediate reactions, putting the body into “fight or flight” mode.

Heart rate spikes, blood pressure rises, and the mind becomes hypervigilant against attack.

Simultaneously, cortisol pours into the bloodstream. Excess cortisol stunts activity in the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s center for rational thinking, self-control and morality.

With the prefrontal cortex impaired, the ego hijacks mental processes.

Perceived slights swell in importance while empathy, truth and ethics fade in priority.

Sucked into melodrama, the mind rationalizes irrational behavior. The ultimate goal becomes defending reputation and self-image. In groups, pack mentalities form refusing to back down. Cortisol whispers that we must fight viciously or be destroyed socially.

To break melodramatic brain patterns, consciously reset priorities.

  • Recognize irrational ego reactions and override them through self-talk and mindfulness. Ask: “Is this situation a big deal?”
  • Use logic to override exaggerated emotional responses.
  • Avoid pack mentalities urging you to attack reputations.
  • Regulate elevated cortisol through relaxing activities.

Fear Mode: When Anxiety Ambushes Our Brains

Fear is an instinctual response wired to anticipate threats.

However excessive worrying also damages health and cognitive abilities when cortisol overflows. To break fear’s stronghold through uncertain times, understand its biological mechanics.

When a perceived threat arises, the amygdala again activates, signaling worries to the hypothalamus.

This neurological structure then triggers cortisol and adrenaline release alongside bodily changes. Heart rate escalates, blood pressure rises, and muscles tense to enable a quick escape.

While small doses of fear promote caution, chronic worrying sustains peak cortisol levels. Flooded cortisol receptors then downregulate causing blunted reactions. Fear signals fail to land and caution decreases dangerously amid hazardous situations.

Additionally, excess cortisol shrinks the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.

Brain imaging confirms up to 6% loss of gray matter density during prolonged stress.

Atrophy in areas governing logic, memory, and mindfulness enables anxiety to hijack mental processes through catastrophic thinking.

This references imagining worst-case scenarios as an inevitable fact.

To break fear or anxiety’s hold, implement thought redirection. Intentionally shift attention towards solutions, gratitude, and positive outcomes.

Turn off the news and go outside in nature to calm brain activity.

Exercise vigorously to metabolize cortisol. Practice meditations to strengthen prefrontal reasoning. Maintain perspective on what truly endangers life now – typically far less than our worries suggest. The present holds potential beyond anything we dread or fear coming.

Tragedy Mode: Navigating Shock and Unthinkable

Natural disasters, accidents, assaults and bereavement constitute real traumas. In tragedy mode, the mind scrambles to process devastating realities while needing to functionally persevere. This section explains the neurological effects of tragedy and suggests means of coping.

Initially upon trauma, the brain may resist accepting truth through denial. But forced to acknowledge catastrophe, neural shock ensues.

Cortisol floods receptors as adrenaline drops rapidly. Energy depletes causing numbness while thoughts race chaotically. Core beliefs shatter simultaneously as the mind swings between heartbreak and flashbacks.

In a desperate effort to make sense of nonsensical loss or violation, trauma can warp rational faculties. Questioning “why” typically proves futile yet persists. Mind fragmentation fuels negative emotional cycles between anger, bargaining and sorrow.

While shock constitutes a natural response, lingering cognitive disarray thickens cortisol’s destruction. Traumatized brains cycle through fight or flight reactions causing system-wide damage without release. Destruction reddens until pressing pause through grieving, safety and stabilization interventions.

If traumatized, consciously counteract cortisol. Seek therapy immediately and implement coping ahead of full neural burnout. Trauma healing requires feeling to release yet balancing emotional processing with rational downtime.

Allow tears while also resting, distracting and recalibrating perspective. Implement cortisol countermeasures like exercise, massages and positive social contact. When stability improves, dedicate time to rebuilding meaning.

Develop a revised life purpose and install hope for a post-traumatic future. Healing happens through empowered envisioning beyond tragedy’s grasp.

Drama, fear and tragedy activate primal neural reactions that damage health and reasoning capacity when sustained. By understanding cortisol’s biological effects, we can consciously override them.

Purposeful thinking techniques, lifestyle habits and meaning mindsets allow peace and logic to prevail through turmoil.

To learn more coping strategies for cortisol regulation through difficult situations, make an appointment with Dr. Benejam today by calling (561) 376-9699 / (305) 981-6434.