Fear is one of the base seven emotions and as such is shared and demonstrated in the same way by practically every person on the planet. I say practically as there are some rare medical conditions that result in a person being completely fearless. I will discuss this at a later point.
Fear is an essential part of our emotional make up. It is there to engage us into action when something threatens our well-being as a form of self preservation and to warn others there is something that could be considered a threat. Surely this is a good thing? But fear is associated with the Flight, Fight or Freeze response and can have consequences of its own. Not to mention the issues that can be raised by prolonged exposure to fearful situations, the most common of which is stress.
Stress itself is not an emotion in its own right, rather it is an emotional state that can have a number of emotions associated to it. Lots of people cite that stress is bad. This is not strictly true. Some stress can be quite positive, driving us forward, and given motivation to our actions. Extended stress without respite however, this can be problematic.
Imagine someone applying for a job. It is the sort of job that they always wanted, they would really enjoy doing it. It is for a company they would fight tooth and nail to get in to. Stress has already begun. As the date for interview gets closer the stress increases. Is this fear? Not really. If we look at the idea of an emotion they are usually of rapid onset and of short duration. Perhaps what is being felt in the build up to interview is better described as apprehension. An emotional state that falls under the fear family.
Fear is about self-preservation. It’s origins are in the Limbic system of the brain, responsible for the hard coded emotional responses. This part of the brain can start a physical reaction before the cognitive side of our brain, the Neo-Cortex even gets involved. There is no reason to fear, it is an automatic reaction to a perceived threat: surging adrenaline, increasing heart and respiration rate sending blood rushing to the limbs ready to fight or flee from danger.
Notice also that I say “perceived threat”. There doesn’t actually have to be a threat only something that appears to be a threat. Mistaking a shadow in a darkened house for a prowler is a perceived threat, once the cognitive part of our brain gets involved and re-assesses the situation it may then be confirmed as no longer a threat.
Stress can be a very damaging situation if it is not handled correctly. There are situations where we have no control over the stress we may receive. This is possibly the worse kind of stress. Lack of control or the ability to change the situation can increase the stress this causes the stress to escalate.
Eventually stress reaches the breaking point. The body and mind can’t take any more. Once this point has been reached it is very difficult to turn around. Thinking about the situation can bring on panic attacks. Essentially, the body goes into a full fear response. The body is reacting to a perceived threat of more stress than it can handle, that is contrary to its well-being.
Once an emotional script has been written it is very difficult, sometimes impossible to change that script and an alternative has to be created by the use of supportive therapy.
Understanding the reasons for fear can give us an insight into the reactions that some people have. Fear can be one of the most difficult emotions to handle and control because of its very nature as a preserver of life.