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Why Do We Fear? Understanding Fear, Phobias & Anxiety

Why Do We Fear? Understanding Fear, Phobias & Anxiety

We have all experienced fear at some point in our lives. Whether it is the fear of spiders, the fear of public speaking, or the fear running late and missing our morning coffee. Fear can be a powerful emotion that can hold us back. But why do we fear? What’s the science behind it? Let’s take a closer look.

Fear is actually a natural response that’s hardwired into our brains. It’s a survival mechanism that evolved to protect us from danger. In the wild, fear would have helped our ancestors avoid predators and other threats, allowing them to survive and pass on their genes. Today, fear still serves a similar purpose, helping us to stay safe and avoid harm.

But sometimes our fears can become irrational or exaggerated. For example, a fear of flying might prevent someone from traveling to see their family or taking that dream trip overseas. In these cases, fear can be a hindrance rather than a help.

So, why do we sometimes develop these irrational fears? Well, there are a few different factors at play. Genetics can play a role, as can past experiences. For example, if you had a bad experience with a dog as a child, you might develop a fear of dogs later in life. But sometimes there’s no clear reason for our fears, and they seem to come out of nowhere.

Fear is a basic emotion that is often experienced in response to a specific and immediate threat or danger. It is a natural response that helps to keep us safe by triggering the fight or flight response to danger, which prepares us to either confront the threat or run from it or sometimes freeze.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a more general feeling of unease or worry that is often not tied to a specific threat or danger. Anxiety and fear can be a normal response to stressful situations, but when it becomes excessive or persistent, it can interfere with daily functioning.

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder that involve an intense and persistent fear of a specific object, situation, or activity. The fear is often irrational and out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the object of the phobia. Phobias can be very disruptive to daily life and may require treatment to manage.

So, while fear is a natural and adaptive response to a threat, anxiety and phobias are more complex emotions that can be triggered by a variety of factors and may require different types of treatment.

Anxiety is a more generalised feeling of unease or apprehension that is often not tied to a specific threat. It can be a normal response to stress, but when it becomes excessive or persistent, it can interfere with daily functioning and be considered an anxiety disorder.

Worry is a type of thinking that involves a negative and repetitive focus on potential future events or problems. It is often associated with anxiety and can be a symptom of an anxiety disorder. While fear and anxiety are emotional responses, worry is more of a cognitive process.

Fear is a response to an immediate threat, anxiety is a more generalised feeling of unease, and worry is a cognitive process that involves negative and repetitive thinking about potential future events or problems. While they are related, these emotions have different triggers and can require different types of intervention and treatment.

There are many common fears and phobias that people experience. Here are a few examples:

  • Fear of public speaking
  • Social phobia, or fear of social situations (social anxiety disorder)
  • Fear of heights
  • Fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia)
  • Fear of spiders
  • Fear of needles
  • Fear of dentists
  • Fear of doctors
  • Fear of hospitals
  • Fear of medical procedures
  • Fear of children
  • Fear of commitment & marriage
  • Fear of flying
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of death
  • Fear of snakes
  • Fear of dogs
  • Fear of thunder and lightning
  • Fear of being in situations or places where escape
  • Fear of being embarrassed
  • Fear of germs or dirt
  • Fear of driving
  • Fear of bridges or tunnels
  • Fear of choking
  • Fear of eating
  • Fear of vomit
  • Fear of the dark
  • Fear of water
  • Fear of crowds

What is happening in our Brains?

When we feel fear and anxiety, our brains are activating a complex set of neural and physiological responses that are designed to help us prepare for potential threats. The amygdala, a small almond-shaped structure in the brain, is a key player in this process. It receives sensory information from our environment and rapidly assesses whether it represents a potential threat. If so, it sends a signal to the hypothalamus, which activates the sympathetic nervous system, leading to the release of adrenaline and other stress hormones. This triggers the “fight or flight” response, which prepares the body for action.

At the same time, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for rational thinking, is also involved. It helps to evaluate the threat and determine the appropriate response. In some cases, the prefrontal cortex can override the amygdala’s response and help to calm us down.

In the case of anxiety, the fear response may be triggered by perceived threats that are not actually present. This can lead to a chronic state of worry and heightened arousal, even in the absence of an actual threat. Over time, this can cause changes in the brain that lead to increased sensitivity to stress and anxiety.

Hypnotherapy can help to address these underlying issues and retrain the brain’s response to stress and anxiety.

The good news is that fears can be overcome. There are many different techniques for overcoming fear, from exposure therapy, counselling to hypnotherapy. It’s important to remember that fear is a normal part of being human, and there’s no shame in seeking help if your fears, a phobia, or anxiety which impact your daily life.

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About Genie Pepper

I support people to achieve their goals through hypnotherapy and counselling, incorporating science-backed positive psychology tools and behavioral therapy. I assist my clients to find the keys they need for wellbeing and to develop a positive flourishing life.