Reacting vs. Responding to Fear in Eating Disorder Recovery

How many times has fear taken over your better judgement in recovery?

Take a moment and recall a specific event where you reacted out of fear.

Maybe you reacted with an intense display of emotion, or you ran to destructive eating disorder behaviors to numb out

In the latest episode of Fear Less, an audio series on The Recovery Warriors Show podcast channel, we explored the difference between reacting vs responding.

Keep reading to discover how to respond instead of react in the face of overwhelming fear and emotion.

Reacting vs. Responding

Fear is a powerful emotion that can trigger instantaneous reactions within us. In our primal instinct to protect ourselves, we often find ourselves reacting to fear without taking a moment to pause and consider our actions.

However, there is a profound difference between reacting and responding to fear. Let’s explore the concept of reacting vs. responding, and examine how the implications of each and how cultivating mindfulness can help us make more conscious choices when faced with fear.

Reacting – is an instinctual, impulsive response triggered by the amygdala, which can impair rational reasoning and judgment.


Responding – requires conscious thought and consideration of the situation before making a decision. It allows for a clearer, calmer mind that can consider future consequences.

The Science Behind Reacting

When fear is triggered, our amygdala, the part of our brain responsible for processing emotions, goes into overdrive. In these moments, cognitive functions, such as reasoning and judgment, become impaired [1].

Acting from this state of heightened emotion often leads to impulsive decisions and actions that we may regret later. It is important to recognize the impact of your emotional state on the decision-making process.

The Art of Responding

Responding, on the other hand, involves a more deliberate and conscious approach to fear. It requires stepping back, observing your reactions without judgment, and giving yourself the space to reflect.

Responding allows for consideration of the potential consequences of our actions, ultimately leading to choices that are grounded in intelligence and compassion.

Mindfulness practices, such as yoga and meditation, can greatly enhance the ability to respond to fear by increasing self-awareness and self-regulation.

Learning from Patterns

To develop our capacity to respond, it is crucial to recognize patterns that arise from our fears.

Fear Less Host Jessica Flint highlights her fear of abandonment and the recurring theme of “unhappily ever after” stories in her past relationships. By acknowledging these patterns, she was able to shift her mindset and approach, just as she had done with her previous battle against an eating disorder.

Learning from past experiences empowers us to make conscious choices that can lead to growth and healing.

How to Respond Instead of React

To make the shift from a history of reacting to fear, to a future of responding instead – you must embrace the power of the pause.

The Power of The Pause

The episode highlights the importance of taking a moment to pause when faced with fear. This pause allows for a shift from the brain’s reactive instinct, to a conscious response.

When fear is triggered, the amygdala takes over, impairing the reasoning and judgment of the cerebral cortex. However, by pausing and waiting for the initial intense emotions to settle, you can regain clarity and make decisions with a calmer, more rational mind.

This practice of pausing and reflecting increases the ability to respond to fear rather than simply reacting to it. Taking time to pause gives the nervous system a chance to regain balance [2].

Taking This Practice Further

To enhance the ability to respond to fear – mindfulness, yoga, and meditation, can help further develop the capacity to observe reactions without judgment and consider the most intelligent and compassionate response.

Ultimately, “the power of the pause” empowers you to navigate fear with greater thoughtfulness and intentionality, leading to personal growth and healing.

A Brighter Future Awaits

Reacting to fear is instinctual, while responding is a conscious choice that arises from mindful awareness.

By acknowledging the impact of your emotional state on decision-making, you can develop the ability to respond to fear with intelligence and compassion.

Learning from past patterns, embracing mindfulness practices, and addressing body image fears are steps towards cultivating a stronger sense of self and making choices that align with your recovery goals.

Remember, in the face of fear, take a pause, observe, and respond mindfully. By doing so, you can navigate through life’s challenges with greater clarity and resilience, ultimately fostering personal growth and transformation.

Take a listen to the full episode to hear more insights on reacting vs. responding, including a powerful analogy that can help you put this into practice. And join in as we continue the Fear Less journey together, one episode at a time.

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