What Is Fear?
Fear as a general term encompasses stress, anxiety, rational fear, phobia, and panic attacks, and so fear has a wide range of intensity from the mild fear of stress, to the absolute terror of phobias or panic attacks.
Fear is also the emotion generated by the perception of the bodily changes which occur as a result of stress, anxiety or fear.
Fear, in one way or another is the the fundamental problem behind the majority of neuroses.
When describing fears we have, we tend to subjectively call them eithers stresses, anxieties, fears, phobias or panic attacks.
Fear has the power to paralyze anyone, given the right circumstances.
Does fear prevent you from functioning normally?
Please consider talking to your GP or a local qualified therapist to see if they can help you.
Fear may be experienced as phobia (irrational fear with known triggers), as non-phobic panic attacks (irrational fear often without known triggers) or as rational fear (fear with good reason).
Panic Attacks are sudden onsets of intense fear, often with no observable or known trigger (unexpected attacks), though some panic attacks can be linked to triggers (expected attacks). During an attack the intensity of the anxiety response increases rapidly to a crescendo within a matter of minutes and then normally begins to subside.
The sufferer may feel their very survival is at immediate risk during the intensifying period of the attack, and may feel completely unable to break out of the crisis.
Phobia is an irrational fear, often triggered by a specific stimulus and is persistent and intense once initiated. A person in the midst of a phobic response has an overwhelming urge to avoid the trigger of the phobia. The fear is irrational, because it produces a response which is excessive compared to the actual danger of the stimulus (judged by the majority of people other than the sufferer).
Rational Fear will usually be considered understandable by the majority of people, given the circumstances. It is often proportionate to the perceived difficulty or danger, and can be very intense or very mild depending on the stimulus.
Between Fear, Phobias and Panic Attacks the differences in physical responses are reflecting the intensities of fear. An immediate and intense response is generated for severe phobias or panic attacks - but for a rational fear, a measured response varying between low and very high intensity is possible, depending on the nature of the triggering situation.
It is the physical changes generated subconsciously that then make us consciously aware of feeling anxious. in some cases, a successful action to resolve the issue may also be provided subconsciously.
Only if the subconscious mind is unable to initiate immediate actions to resolve the conflict, or if those invoked fail, will the conscious mind have the opportunity to begin contemplating a logical solution.
We All Have Fears, But They Are Not Always Intense
It is very likely that you have felt afraid of something at some point in your life.
Most of the time the fear would not have been a "terrible" fear such as you might get if you felt your life was suddenly under threat, and nor would most of the fears you have be as intense as a phobia.
We all recognize the "feeling" associated with fear, but when we have the feeling, we are not always able to identify the underlying reason that may have caused it. We may feel "on edge" or "anxious" but not understand why.
Even low level fears can bring about a debilitating state of persistent anxiety if they are left unresolved.
The Anxiety Response
The anxiety response is an ancient one which has been passed genetically through many species in our evolutionary tree - beginning way before humans evolved.
The anxiety response seems to have evolved to make extra resources available to an animal when it finds itself in difficulty or conflict. The response begins when subconscious areas of the brain first determine the difficulty or conflict, and the response can be tuned to reflect the degree of risk to well being.
In all cases, whether they animal feels stressed, anxious, or fearful, the subconscious anxiety response would have preceded the feelings.
Fear was originally good for us! The fear of heights is present in most of us, and millions of us in history have probably been kept safe by it.
With an intense anxiety response (extreme fear), large amounts of the hormones adrenalin and noradrenalin are released into the blood under subconscious direction. They prepare the body to overcome any dangers or threats that may affect its immediate well-being.
This is phase one of the anxiety response, it produces the bodily changes (increased heart and breathing rate, blood diversion from digestive system to muscles etc) and is supported by physical actions also sourced from the subconscious mind. These actions are the well known fight, flight, or freeze responses, which for humans could more appropriately be represented as fight, run, or hide. We perceive the emotions of fear, anxiety etc, only after the physical changes to the body have occurred.
Adrenalin and noradrenaline cannot be continually secreted for long periods, so if we are still at risk after say 20 minutes, a second level of response takes over, primarily using adrenal corticoid hormones, the production of which can be sustained for longer periods.
This is the second phase of the anxiety response – and as the subconscious mind constantly reviews the threat and maintains this second phase until resolution, this is the anxiety loop.
The loop is "check the threat - if not present return to normal functionality and stop monitoring - otherwise maintain extra resources - repeat the whole sequence."
Resource availability is maintained at a lower level than phase one, but unlike phase one, healing responses are also stimulated in the body and other life dependent processes which had been temporarily switched off in phase one are re-activated.
There are many symptoms and feelings that can be perceived in this phase, but they are all consequences of the brain's attempt to maximize resource availability to deal with the threat, while also trying to support the long-term viability of the body.
Once the threat or danger has been “resolved”, the anxiety loop will wind down and return the body to normal processing.
Is your life often disrupted by any kind of fear?
Consider seeking advice from your GP or from a local qualified therapist