Fear. What is your response when you think about the following words that describe the fear feeling? Shock, distressed, anxious, alarm, panic, frightened, terror.
The emotion called “fear” is the most researched of all human emotions. Fear is a survival mechanism. Pick up a poisonous snake and what might happen after it bites you? Learning to fear something dangerous helped our ancestors to survive. Try to pet a T-Rex and you would be eaten for dinner?
Humans need to be able to experience healthy fear for safety and to stay away from danger. Fear serves a purpose.
Fear and the Brain
Fear is created in both the brain and the body. The amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the limbic system, is considered the seat of fear in the brain. Our “thinking brain” gives feedback to our “emotional brain” and perceives the environment as dangerous or safe.
Fear is a neuro-physiological response to a perceived or actual threat. Fear activates our fight, flight, or freeze response by stimulating the hypothalamus, which directs the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal-cortical system to prepare our bodies for danger.
Anxious: Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety is a book by neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux (Publisher: Penguin, 2015). “Together, fear and anxiety disorders are the most prevalent of all psychiatric problems in the United States…”
Disorders of anxiety and fear include phobias, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Common phobias include the following: fear of public speaking, flying, spiders, needles, heights, enclosed or open spaces, storms, snakes. A specific phobia is an intense, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger.
Is Fear Holding You Back?
Humans fear loss, risk, and failure. A doctor who fails to pass the licensure test cannot practice medicine, so he/she procrastinates on signing up to take it. Fear of bodily harm prevents some humans from skydiving—the risk is not worth the temporary pleasure. A fear of snakes may prevent camping trips. Do you like stability and security or change and risk?
Fear can stop someone from following his/her dreams and achieving goals. Fear can stop someone from socializing in public. Fear can stop someone from leaving his/her home. Fear of what? Fear of failure, being judged, being harmed.
Have you felt so afraid of failing at something that you decided not to try it at all? Some people fear success. What if I lose it all after I get it?
Adolescents fear being embarrassed in front of peers or being judged as less than. Children fear the dark, monsters, and being picked last for a game at recess. Both youth and adults fear rejection and betrayal.
Entering a haunted house during Halloween is different from being chased down a dark alley by a stranger. Do you like to watch scary movies or not?
Others have a fear that they cannot control the terrifying unknown (their perception of what is horrifying).
Zach William’s song is called Fear is a Liar. The chorus is the following:
“Fear, he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
‘Cause fear he is a liar”
Fear is a universal emotion. Every person on planet Earth has experienced fear.
“This song is my anthem, and I pray it encourages others to break up with fear too.” Francesca Battistelli sings the Breakup Song:
“Fear, you don’t own me
There ain’t no room in this story
And I ain’t got time for you
Telling me what I’m not
Like you know me well guess what?”
“No one is immune to fear. Even courageous people experience fear. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the management of fear,” according to a 2015 article in The Washington Post.
Information about fear can bring awareness, curiosity, and questioning to promote understanding about why humans experience certain reactions to perceived or real threats. Acknowledge the fear and take action.
Seek out a mental health therapist if needed to address debilitating fear that impairs daily functioning.
“Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.”—Brene Brown
Reach:Melissa Martin, Ph.D, is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.