What Exactly Is Fear?

We commonly feel the uneasy sensation of being terrified whenever we feel in danger or under threat, whether the threat or danger is genuine or imagined.  

This “intensely unpleasant sensation” that we experience when we sense or realize a threat or danger is known as “fear.”


Fear—Is It Normal?

The emotion of fear is common, healthy, and typical for people. It safeguards us from harm and assures our survival.

For instance, we won’t put our hands too close to a fire or other hot object out of fear of getting burned, and because we are afraid of getting hit by a moving car, we always look in both directions before going across the street.

Fear is a biological human reaction that is normal and occurs as a sort of defense when there is a likelihood of danger or harm.

Fear can either be inborn or learned (conditioned by experiencing traumatic events).


What Makes People Fearful?

Fear has no single source, and its causes can be as varied as the grains of sand on the beach. This is because a person’s triggers for fear and how strongly they are felt by that person may differ depending on the individual.  

Fear can be sparked by a variety of things, from physical fears like exposure to dangerous objects, people, or animals to emotional fears like those brought on by traumatic experiences in the past, worries about one’s ability to support oneself financially, apprehensions about change or failure, and the list goes on. 


What Effects Does Fear Have on the Body?

When our brain is aware of a threat or danger, we could start to feel fear. When we feel fear, our bodies interpret it as a form of stress and release stress hormones (cortisol is the most common).

Adrenaline is also released to assist us fight, freeze, or flee from the source of our fear.

These physiological reactions to fear can include, among other things, a racing heartbeat, high blood pressure, rapid breathing, chest pain, dry mouth, shaking, a desire to vomit, feeling overpowered, alert, out of control, and a fear of death.

These are common, temporary responses that need to be turned off as soon as the threat or danger has gone. 

However, if our body doesn’t’ switch off’ this fear response for a long time, it could be harmful to our mental and physical health.

Intense, overwhelming, persistent sensations of fear that are out of proportion to the real risk offered by the object or circumstance can have a significant influence on our relationships, day-to-day functioning, and our health and well-being.


What Impact Does Fear Have on One’s Mental Health?

Living in continual fear can be detrimental to one’s mental and physical health, and fear is a symptom of the majority of mental health issues.

Fear is a root factor in many mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance and alcohol misuse alcohol, suicidal thoughts, and psychosis. 

There is also a strong correlation between fear and a number of physical health issues. Fear weakens our immune system and can result in fatigue, migraines, cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal issues like ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, decreased fertility, early aging, and even death. 


How Can We Effectively Overcome Fear?

The reality is that there is no one way to overcome fear once and for all. This is due to the fact that while our lives undergo both deliberate and unintended changes, we will occasionally experience the feeling of being afraid.  

We can’t get rid of fear completely as it is a natural and fundamentally human feeling necessary for our survival. 

The good news is that you can discover how to properly control your natural response to fear and use it to your advantage so that it doesn’t negatively affect or take over your life. 

The steps required to effectively overcome fear can be broken down into 3. First, acknowledge fear, second, identify your source of fear, and third, confront your fears.

Acknowledge your fears:

This requires a shift in your mindset. 

You must alter the way you view fear; rather than viewing it as an adversary, you must realize that, like all other human emotions, fear is an essential feeling for survival and progress.

Accepting fear makes it less threatening and less distressing on your life.

Determine the cause of your fears: 

What precisely are you afraid of? Finding the source of your fear is necessary for overcoming it.

Do nothing the next time you experience emotional fright. Spend some time alone in silence observing your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. What is the underlying reason for the fear? Anything that comes to mind, write it down and be as descriptive as you can. 

Being calm and reflecting can help you face your fears in a way that is purposeful, deliberate, and powerful. 

You’ll be able to see what is causing your fear with more clarity if you practice mindfulness techniques like meditation.

Face your fears:

Confronting the root of our fears is the last step in overcoming them. 

By confronting your fears in a safe and controlled surrounding, you will become more comfortable in situations that you might ordinarily avoid out of fear.

You can do this on your own and begin with small steps, such as looking at photographs of the thing you’re afraid of or viewing videos of individuals handling similar things or circumstances. After that, you can safely approach the source of your fears in real life.

You should soon discover that as you work on overcoming your fears, you are feeling more at ease around the source of your stress. Then you can put yourself to the test in increasingly difficult situations.


How Can I Tell When I Should Get Help Because Of Fear?

You can seek the help of a licensed and reputable mental health professional if you don’t feel ready to face your fears on your own, aren’t having much success doing so, or if you experience persistent, overpowering, or intense fear that it is negatively affecting your daily life. 

Experts in mental health can help you confront your worries and safely navigate them at a speed that is both comfortable and good for you. 

Talking about your fears and controlling them as you confront them will help you live a more rewarding life. 


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At HFH, we genuinely care for our patients and we strive to leave them better than we met them.

Meet our director

Dr. Charlotte Nwigwe is an MBBS degree holder from the University of Benin and a fellow of the National Postgraduate Medical College in Psychiatry.

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