When we perceive something, we process it in the context of our needs. If the perception resolves as either beneficial or detrimental, we will then respond with a predetermined appropriate action. However, if we do not expect that we can respond appropriately, we then initiate a protective reaction. This distinction between reaction/response is based on our ability or capacity to adapt to the demands placed on us by our surroundings, which is called our Adaptive Capacity.
Humans beings experience this as stress. When what we perceive (either beneficial or detrimental) falls within the scope of our perceived ability to adapt, we respond to the demand. This type of stress is known as Eustress. When what we perceive (either beneficial or detrimental) falls outside the scope of our perceived ability to adapt, we react to the demand. This type of stress is known as Distress. In Human Beings the mechanism that processes sensory information, determines the most appropriate intent based on that information and then determines whether to respond or react is known as our Ego.
Perhaps unique among species, Human Beings are aware of themselves as individuals in relation to one’s social unit, enabling profoundly complex and successful social structures. Self-awareness must function seamlessly with one’s Ego and consequently, Eustress and Distress become an element of our experience of ourselves. “I am happy.” and “I am anxious.” are good examples of how we experience the Ego interacting with our awareness of ourselves, directing or at least attempting to influence our intent.
Response/Reactivity is cataloged in the ANIMAL section (where it is expressed as a Drive) as this is the first evolutionary paradigm that has both the foundational physiology and neurology that we experience.
Fear is the expression of reactive intent and is expressed in every evolutionary paradigm. It, therefore, has unique expressions as a Reflex, Drive, Instinct, Emotion, and expression of Ego. Correlations between these modes of cognition and their associated neurology can be found here:
COGNITION AND THE EVOLVING BRAIN
REFLEX: A toxic stimulus triggers a protective response, which is still experienced by us as a Startle or Freeze reaction. This is a foundational quality that enables the success of all living things.
DRIVE: The Startle or Freeze response has a motor component. Think of a Snail contracting into its shell or us curling up into a ball. This is an attribute found in all Animals.
INSTINCT: Perceived threat initiates either a Fight or a Flight response. The choice is based on our motor capabilities relative to the perceived threat. Freeze needs to be suppressed to enable this range of actions. Think of when you have been startled, and then reacted with some action (perhaps anger). This is an attribute of Vertebrates (as well as other lineages diverging from Animals).
EMOTION: Protective responses have a group dynamic, where the reaction is spread over the herd/tribe. Perception of “The Other”(racism/antiracism) as a threat is currently a common political tactic to manipulate emotional reactivity – driving people to vote for their safety. Emotional expression of fear can be recognized across the range of species of Mammals.
EGO: Reconciling reactivity with self-awareness and awareness of one’s social context has a square peg in round hole quality to it. This can be mild, which we deal with by simply passing it off as just part of our experience of being alive, or can be extreme, which we experience as the range of non-neurological psychological diagnoses (anxiety/depression, etc.). Most of our social structure (laws/money, etc.) is an attempt to balance out this dissonance between our Ego and our awareness of being Living Beings (Soul).