Fears and Phobias
What Is Fear? Fear is a powerful emotion. This emotion is rooted deep within our internal makeup just like the most basic of instincts. The purpose of fear is to strongly motivate or prompt us to take action to avoid danger. It is a survival mechanism that has helped not only humankind but also most other species on our planet to survive. Fear is a normal reaction to a stimulus.
Fear heightens our awareness and prompts other physiological responses that aid us in survival as well. Because of this built in mechanism of survival, our bodies and minds are able to deliver powerful reflexes that allow us to exceed our normal capabilities when our survival is threatened.
Like many other physical and psychological responses of the body, fear can exist or occur with varying frequency, last for varying duration and be experienced at many different levels of intensity. In addition, it has a tendency to produce different effects for different people based on a vast number of other variables. The way we experience fear can be affected by our level of self-confidence, self-esteem, physical condition, mental training, psychological factors and previous experiences.
Physiological Effects of Fear
The first thing that typically happens is the catalyst scenario or action. This is when the danger or perceived threat presents itself. Our body reacts in fractions of seconds. The brain sends messages to various other bodily systems to prepare them to face or escape the source of the danger. It tells the heart to increase the rate at which it pumps oxygen rich blood to our muscles and vital organs. Breathing is also sped up to prepare for a rapid intake of needed oxygen.
Muscles become tense and ready to meet the physical challenges of combat or flight. Adrenalin production is stimulated to provide extra strength and speed of both body and mind. You have probably heard the phrase “fight or flight” many times before. This is the physical state of readiness that often occurs when spurred by fear. We essentially become prepared to either run away or fight the threat through physical confrontation.
Our fears are not always in direct response to a real danger. At times, our perception of danger is flawed. Since this response is almost instantaneous, sometimes it is triggered by startling events before we truly have an opportunity to evaluate whether a threat truly exists. If someone has ever snuck up behind you and yelled “Boo” in your ear, you have probably experienced this type of fear.
There are other types of fear as well. At times we experience fear that is not based on situations that that present danger. These are known as irrational fears or phobias. Phobias cause us to fear certain situations that we rationally know to be harmless. However, because much of the physical reaction to fear happens so fast and the effects are so powerful, we feel that the threat does exist.
Phobias are fears that are prompted by specific events or situations. With these situations, the danger does not truly exist in any magnitude that justifies the response. Unfortunately, they occur instinctively with or without our conscious response. In short, we cannot control it.
Phobias, like other fears occur with varying intensity and have the power to negatively affect our lives. Phobias cause us to experience anxiety and other unpleasant manifestations of fear just as if a real danger was present. For example, the fear of heights is a common phobia. If a person who is afraid of heights was standing in a high-rise office building near the top floor, and looking down and out of the window, he or she may experience terrifying levels of fear or anxiety even though the situation presents no actual danger.
These phobias can cause an assortment of related problems for the people who experience them. Decisions may be made based on avoiding the situations that prompt the fearful response. This may cause a person to avoid or miss out on certain aspects of life because the person feels the constant need to avoid the things that may cause the feeling. The physical and mental feelings that accompany fear can sometimes be unpleasant enough that people will go to great lengths to avoid any potential sources.
Why Do Some People Have Phobias?
There are many different reasons that can contribute to the development of phobias. One potential reason may stem from a previous experience. Sometimes your brain has a mind of its own and programs specific reactions to correspond to specific kinds of stimulus. For instance, if you once stepped on the edge of a small cliff and nearly fell to your death, you may develop a fearful response that occurs anytime you find yourself in close proximity to a similar edge or cliff. You brain made a subconscious association with cliff edges and death. As a result, you now experience the extreme fear related to death anytime you are in a similar enough situation to trigger the response.
At other times, these phobias may develop from genetic conditions, psychological disorders or other anxiety related issues.
This section contains information and concepts for indentifying and dealing with various forms of fears and phobias. Once you learn to correctly identify your fears, you will have a much better chance of overcoming them or at least dealing with them more effectively.