Understanding Fear

 What is fear?

Fear is a natural and normal human reaction in response to something. Fear can either positively or negatively affect us depending on how we perceive the fear to be. The interesting thing about fear is, that our body reacts in a similar way whether the fear is good or bad. Since fear is an emotion that our bodies respond to and that we feel, our brain cannot distinguish the good from the bad, neither does it recall time elapsed. Meaning if a particular event or thought triggers a certain emotion, for example, as a child, when you retrieve from your memory bank, even if it is twenty years later, the thought or act of the same event will trigger the same emotion. That is why you may hear persons say for instance if they eat a specific food or hear a particular song as an adult that they hadn’t eaten or heard since in their childhood, they may say, “oh, it just brought back memories, just the way my mother used to do it” etc. That is because the emotional memory bank made a deposit in their childhood and now as an adult, a withdrawal is made from the same bank.

The words fear and phobia are used interchangeable. But according to the American Psychiatric Association, “a phobia is an irrational and excessive fear of an object or situation. In most cases, the phobia involves a sense of endangerment or a fear of harm.” A phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal according to the UK’s National Health Science. A phobia is an extreme form of fear.

Fear however is critical in order to alert our bodies in the presence of a dangerous event. Fear can be separated into biochemical, which is the normal or automatic human response to danger and emotion which is an individual and unique reaction to the fear.

When the individual senses any form of threat the body reacts in specific ways. These reactions may include profuse sweating, a sudden and increased release of adrenaline, increased heart rate and breathing. This phenomenon is referred to as the fight or flight response as the body prepares to either stay and fight or run away as fast as it can. This response is of outmost importance for our survival.

 Categories of Fear

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) identifies three different categories of phobias:

Social phobias: fear caused by social or public situations

Agoraphobia: Anxiety related to situations or environments where their person perceives their environment to unsafe with no easy escape.

Specific phobias: These are the most common and focus on a specific object

Types of fear

According to Statistic Brain Research Institute some of the most common fears include

  •    Fear of heights (Acrophobia) 10%
  •    Fear of darkness (Myctophobia) 11%
  •    Fear of spiders (Arachnophobia) 30.5%
  •    Fear of death (Necrophobia) 68%
  •    Fear of public speaking (Glossophobia) ranked as number one with 74% (A severe fear of public speaking)
  •    Fear of darkness (Myctophobia) 11%
  •    Fear of spiders (Arachnophobia) 30.5%
  •    Fear of death (Necrophobia) 68%

There are other phobias to include

  •   Fear of being alone (Monophobia)
  •   Fear of social situation (social phobia or social anxiety disorder)
  •   Fear of small spaces (Claustrophobia)


Cause of Fear

Much is still unknown about the actual cause(s) of specific phobias. Causes may include:

  •      Negative experiences Many phobias develop as a result of having a negative experience or panic attack related to a specific object or situation.
  •      Genetics and environment There may be a link between your own specific phobia and the phobia or anxiety of your parents — this could be due to genetics or learned behavior.
  •     Brain function Changes in brain functioning also may play a role in developing specific phobias.


Risk factors

These factors may increase your risk of specific phobias:

  •  AgeSpecific phobias can first appear in childhood, usually by age 10, but can occur later in life.
  •  RelativesIf someone in your family has a particular phobia or anxiety, you’re more likely to develop it too. This could be an inherited tendency; children may learn specific phobias by observing a family member’s phobic reaction to an object or a situation.
  •  TemperamentYour risk may increase if you’re more sensitive, more inhibited or more negative than the norm.
  •  Negative experienceExperiencing a frightening traumatic event, such as being trapped in an elevator or attacked by an animal, may trigger the development of a specific phobia.
  •  Learning about a negative experience Hearing about negative information or experiences, such as plane crashes, can lead to the development of a specific phobia.


The tricky thing about fear is that you may not completely eliminate it, but you can control it through different techniques depending on the category and type of fear.

It’s quite normal and common to be nervous or have a certain level of anxiety depending on the activity you are engaging in or the environment of which you are placed. The good news, you are not alone nor are you an isolated case. Do your research of various methods and seek out platforms and support groups where you can voice your concerns and obtain coping mechanisms with dealing with your fears.

Finally everyone learn and overcome fears in different ways so be patient with yourself, do not compare and create and navigate your own path.

 “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”
Franklin Roosevelt.

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