Why Do We Experience Fear?

BY: Neighbors’ Consejo|

We understand that fear is a feeling, an emotion, a mechanism of adaptation to society, a reaction, etc.; all these concepts are valid since it is “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger”. [1] 

Physically, we always experience three stages of fear: Freeze, as a response to keep us hidden from a predator; Flight, because we need to get away from whatever is causing our fear; and Fight, adrenaline will help us in this stage [2] . Psychologically, according to Atlas of Emotions [3] , fear has different stages: trepidation, nervousness, anxiety, dread, and desperation, panic horror, and terror.

According to the Paul Ekman Group, there are some common fear triggers: darkness or loss of visibility of surroundings, heights and flying, social interaction and/or rejection, snakes, rodents, spiders and other animals, death and dying [4] .

We can experience fear, for example, during a robbery, a fire, an illness, walking down a dark alley, etc., in multiple situations. This shows that we not only feel fear when we perceive a real risk, but also when our thoughts and imagination perceive the circumstance as dangerous.

Fear definitely has serious consequences for our emotional well-being: Our immune system can cause cardiovascular damage, it can lead to accelerated ageing and even premature death. The memory of the fear can leave a person anxious most of the time, the world looks scary and their memories confirm that. Fear can interrupt processes in our brains that allow us to regulate emotions, and other consequences of long-term fear include fatigue, clinical depression and PTSD [5] .

On the other hand, do you know how fear works in our body, at a biological level? According to the Smithsonian Magazine, “the fear response starts in a region of the brain called the amygdala. This almond-shaped set of nuclei in the temporal lobe of the brain is dedicated to detecting the emotional salience of the stimuli – how much something stands out to us. For example, the amygdala activates whenever we see a human face with an emotion. This reaction is more pronounced with anger and fear [6] .”

There are cases in which it can become a problem, because as mentioned above, excessive fears can unleash completely excessive responses to a situation, where the person overacts to the circumstance and their own fear does not let them live. Some of the problems that can arise with this are:

  • Phobias: A phobia is an uncontrollable, irrational, and lasting fear of a certain object, situation, or activity. This fear can be so overwhelming that a person may go to great lengths to avoid the source of this fear [7] . 
  • Analysis Paralysis: Is an inability to make a decision due to over-thinking a problem. An individual or a group can have too much data. The result is endless wrangling over the upsides and downsides of each option, and an inability to pick one.
  • Panic Disorder: Is an anxiety disorder characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress [8] .

For this reason, it is necessary to receive professional help with a personalized therapeutic plan, where the patient creates their own adaptation strategies after their experience and thus can overcome their fears. Do not be afraid to visit a professional!










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