Fear is felt when there is a threat of harm, either physical, emotional or psychological, real or imagined.
What is Fear?
Fear is traditionally considered a ‘negative’ emotion, but fear actually serves an important role in keeping us safe as it mobilizes us to cope with potential danger.
It is the well documented ‘fight or flight’ mechanism that literally kept our ancestors alive in life-threatening circumstances. In short, it is about survival.
If we couldn’t feel fear, we wouldn’t survive for long, even now.
We’d stroll across busy highways, carelessly approach carnivorous wild animals, walk along precipices with no safety rope.
During human evolution, the people who feared the right things and hence took life-saving, mitigating action in dangerous situations, survived to pass on their genes to the next generation and on and on.
In the 19th-century there was much debate surrounding evolution.
The “face of fear”, that wide-eyed, gaping grimace that often accompanies sheer feelings of extreme fear, became a talking point. Why do people make that face when they’re terrified?
Some said God had given people a way to let others know they were afraid,even if they didn’t speak the same language.
Charles Darwin, however, said it was a result of the instinctive tightening of muscles triggered by an evolved response to fear. To prove his point, he went to the reptile house at the London Zoological Gardens.
Trying to remain perfectly calm, he stood as close to the glass as possible while a puff adder lunged toward him on the other side.
Every time it happened, he grimaced and jumped back. In his diary, he writes, “My will and reason were powerless against the imagination of a danger which had never been experienced.”
He concluded that the entire fear response is an ancient instinct that has been untouched by the nuances of modern civilization.
Fear has many different forms and many different ways of being expressed. Some other words one hears are panic, dread, fright, alarm, fear, trepidation and more, but fear is the general term that covers them all.
What is the difference between a fear and a phobia?
The key to distinguishing a fear from a phobia is that while many people are uncomfortable if a spider crawls on their arm, people suffering from arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, are physically and/or psychologically impaired by it.
“To be defined as a phobia, the fear must cause some level of impairment,” says R. Reid Wilson, PhD, spokesman for the American Psychological Association.
“I had a woman come in who was afraid of spiders, and it got to the point where she wouldn’t go out at night because she couldn’t see where they were.”
“There are nature and nurture components to phobias,” says Kathy Hoganbruen, PhD, National Mental Health Association spokesperson.
“While we don’t know exactly why or where phobias originate, they are a type of mental illness, with genetics often playing a role, as well as environment, meaning maybe someone had a negative or traumatic experience related to the core of their phobia.”
Imagine a situation that makes you nervous. Maybe it’s getting on a plane or giving a presentation to colleagues.
Your pulse quickens. Your face flushes. Your breath speeds up and becomes uneven as adrenaline pumps through your veins.
For some, the fear and anxiety becomes strong enough that they completely avoid the situation, even if it means missing out on trips, or not advancing in a career.
By practicing a few techniques, it is possible to learn how fear affects your body and how to control your stress response.
Can we change our response to fear?
Fear has a physical response; rapid heart rate, quickened breath, inability to focus or respond to other people, blood rushing to your muscles to help you run and other physiological responses.
Stressful situations produce these physical responses, which your mind interprets as, “You are afraid.”
When someone physically feel fear, if they take a moment to listen to their body and gain back control it can help overcome the feelings.
If someone is breathing quickly or hard, they can take a few deep breaths and slow their breathing.
Controlling the physical response to fear can influence the emotional response.
Fear is largely caused by inner thoughts. A person’s body gives a fear stimulus and their mind goes into overdrive, giving all kinds of irrational reasons why the situation should cause fear.
Of course, the reasons are rarely logical. A person really isn’t going to make a complete fool of themselves if they have to make a speech, or statistically come to any harm at all if they travel on an aeroplane, but these irrational thoughts fill the mind and intensify the fear.
The key to overcoming irrational fear is not to believe these thoughts.
Instead, one can try and identify those thoughts that are causing the fear. Try and challenge them.
What evidence is there that someone will make a complete fool of themselves? None.
They might not receive a standing ovation, but that is OK, the goal is to give a professional presentation where the audience can learn something.
It is worth reappraising the situation and distancing oneself from overly critical thoughts.
How can fears be reduced?
Imagination and redirecting thoughts are good ways of handling fears.
A hypnotherapist, or other registered mind-therapy professional, can help with visualisation techniques.
Imagining the situation that causes the fear, perhaps getting onto an aeroplane, standing up in front of an audience or encountering a spider, imagining it as vividly as possible.
As the anxiety grows, new information can be added in, thinking about what exactly you are worried about, what is the likeliest outcome then strongly visualising the desired outcome – perhaps getting on the plane and arriving at an exciting new destination, or hearing the applause from an appreciative audience, or just walking on by that arachnid.
These kinds of visualisation techniques are very powerful, and a professional therapist can help in many ways.
Fear can produce a rational and sensible reaction in a genuinely risky situation.
People fear things or conditions that cause them to feel unsafe or dubious. For example, if someone is not a strong swimmer they may have a fear of large bodies of water.
When they are swimming, their fear is helpful considering it makes them aware of safety and not going beyond their capability.
This fear could be reduced by learning how to swim better.
Another example is escaping from a burning building or from a damaged car, this is fear in real time, giving appropriate flight responses.
Fear can be extremely useful if it makes an individual aware of how to stay safe around something that could be seen to be unsafe.
In current days, various governments and countries around the world are grappling with the unprecedented challenges of the global coronavirus epidemic.
From this have come examples of the worst and best of humanity in a time of fear.
Panic buying has demonstrated people being inconsiderate and selfish due to their fear of not being able to buy certain items.
This has led to a shortage of some items for some people.
Conversely, where there are thousands on the bread line who are struggling themselves, people are helping out, delivering food, donating resources etc.
This shows that although everybody is in fear of the unknown, humanity pulls together if needs be.
Is it Typical for Children to Have Fears?
Many young people can have fears of being away from others, or becoming an outcast or even a mythical creature.
Children of school-age might feel scared when there’s a storm or apprehensive when they are having their first sleepover.
As they grow and learn, and with assistance from adults, most children overcome, or outgrow their childhood fears.
It’s typical for children to feel apprehensive now and again. Fear is a feeling that can help children with being wary, careful.
Things that are new, different or unfamiliar can appear to be terrifying from the outset.
But, familiarity and gentle guidance from adults can help.
What are children scared of?
What children feel fearful of changes as they develop.
For example, a few months old baby may feel insecure or scared if the familiar faces they have already become used to, mum, dad, siblings, are supplemented by visitors, more distant relatives or friends.
They may become clingy and upset.
Between around 10 months and two years, small children can feel very anxious if their parents leave them at childcare or bedtime or with a relative for example.
They fear being separated from their parents, so they cry and become noisy and demanding.
Children aged around four to six have very strong imaginations, and depending on the input they get from movies etc. can be frightened of scary beasts or monsters hiding under the bed.
They can’t always determine what is genuine. Many fear the dark at sleep time.
Some fear frightening dreams (known as night fears), or loud noises and thunderstorms.
Older children begin to fear genuine threats.
From around seven, in general their fears are more realistic, and the ‘beasts under the bed’ can’t unnerve them (as much), since they know they’re not genuine.
At this age, a few children start to fear things that could occur in actuality. They may have a dread that a “trouble maker” is in the house.
They may feel apprehensive about catastrophic events they catch wind of. They may fear getting injured or that a friend or family member could pass away.
School-age children may likewise feel restless about homework, evaluations, or fitting in with companions.
Pre-teens and adolescents may have social feelings of trepidation. They may feel on edge about what they look like or whether they will fit in.
They may feel apprehensive before they give a report in class, start another school, take a major test, or play in a major event.
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What are some examples of phobias?
There are some pretty obscure phobias out there, but they are just as real to the sufferer as any other fear.
For example dendrophobia, the fear of trees, xanthophobia, fear of the color yellow, or koumpounophobia, a fear of buttons.
There is even panophobia, the fear of everything.
What we recommend for Phobias
- If you are suffering from Phobias then ongoing professional counselling could be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you address the fears you are facing.
Weighted Blankets may help you sleep better if your phobias are affecting your quality of sleep. Weighted blankets apply enough weight on you that they make you feel much more relaxed and calm at night.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about fears:
1. Why do we have fear?
In humans and in all animals, the purpose of fear is to promote survival.
In the course of human evolution, the people who feared the right things survived to pass on their genes.
2. What are the 10 most common fears?
· Social phobias for example self-consciousness, eating in front of others
· Agoraphobia: fear of open spaces
· Acrophobia: fear of heights
· Pteromerhanophobia: fear of flying
· Claustrophobia: fear of enclosed spaces.
· Entomophobia: fear of insects
· Ophidiophobia: fear of snakes
· Cynophobia: fear of dogs
· Astraphobia: fear of storms
· Trypanophobia: fear of needles.
3. Why is fear so powerful?
Fear is a powerful and primitive human emotion. It alerts us to the presence of danger, and it was critical in keeping our ancestors alive.
Fear can be divided into two responses: biochemical and emotional.
The biochemical response is universal, while the emotional response is highly individual.
4. What fears are we born with?
We are born with only two innate fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud sounds.
5. Can fear be learned?
Fear can be learned through direct experience with a threat, and also via social means such as verbal warnings or observing others.
6. How is fear developed?
According to psychology humans develop fears and phobias towards certain objects when they experience a traumatic experience related to that object in their early childhood.
Later on comes the media with its distorted facts about scary things to further reinforce the fear that the child has developed earlier.
7. Does everyone have fears?
Almost everyone has an irrational fear or two—of flying, for example, or your annual dental checkup.
For most people, these fears are minor.
But when fears become so severe that they cause tremendous anxiety and interfere with your normal life, they’re called phobias.
8. How can fears be overcome?
· understand fear and embrace it – fear exists to keep us safe
· don’t just do something, stand there!
· name the fear
· think long term
· educate yourself
· prepare, practice, role play
· utilize peer pressure
· visualize success
· gain a sense of proportion
· get help
· follow others, find mechanisms that work for you
· find and maintain a positive attitude
· be willing to fail and try again.
Fear is a fascinating subject.
If you want to learn more about managing it, here are some reading suggestions:
Without fear, we are able to see more clearly our connections to others.
Without fear, we have more room for understanding and compassion. Without fear, we are truly free.
Most of us live in a constant state of fear – of our past, of illness and aging and death, and of losing the things we treasure most.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, promises Zen master and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
Fear, the most powerful force in our life, is the least understood. Every one of us experiences it. Many arrange their lives to avoid it.
Yet nearly every one of us needs to find more fear.
Most of us know fear as the unwanted force that drives phobias, anxieties, unhappiness and inhibits self-actualization.
Ironically, fear is the underlying phenomenon that heightens awareness and optimizes physical performance, and can drive ambition, courage, and success.
Harnessing fear can heighten emotional intelligence and bring success to every aspect of your life.
Author Judi Holler has a message: It’s time to stop letting fear boss you around so you can start leveling up personally and professionally.
This is a book for people who believe that they deserve more. Holler focuses on helping the listener shut down self-doubt so they can start taking action.
After listening to this book Judi promises that you will get braver, bolder, and more confident in your natural-born badassery.
To manage anxiety, start with the way you think – Mayo Clinic – June 2018