What is Fear?

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Brendan Mccann

Artwork by Brendan Mccann found on Pinterest

Travis Okimura, Journalist

 

Fear – An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. That’s Google’s definition, but what is it really? Is it the feeling you get when you are alone in a dark room, is it the fear of losing someone you love, or is it simply speaking publicly. Fear is one of the seven universal emotions that we feel as humans. It has played a big part in our evolution and survival on this earth and although it might feel horrible it is necessary for our safety.

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” 

H. P. Lovecraft

Our natural instinct is to be afraid when there is potential danger. Like other emotions, fear causes a psychological response that alerts our body; this puts us in fight or flight mode. For example, if you are walking in the woods and you see a bear coming towards you your flight or fight response kicks in and you freeze. Instinctively your body increases your heart rate which in turn provides the body with energy and oxygen needed to fuel your response to danger. Your body will also tense up and tremble which will make you more loose and primed for action. Your eyes send signals to your amygdala which is the area of the brain that processes emotions and interprets images and sound. From there the amygdala communicates to the nervous system which tells your body to either flee or stand your ground. Knowing that you shouldn’t run away from a bear, your brain tells you to stand your ground, make loud noises, and make yourself look as big as possible to scare off the bear.

While fear is a natural emotion that protects us from immediate harm or danger, phobias are exclusive or specific fears such as an object or situation where there is danger or panic. There are a lot of phobias ranging from papyrophobia which is the fear of paper, and hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia the fear of long words. Other common phobias are thalassophobia – fear of the ocean, arachnophobia – fear of spiders, acrophobia – fear of heights, thanatophobia – fear of death, and genetic and environmental factors. Distressing events like surviving a fatal fall from a high place or nearly drowning can cause someone to get a phobia. 

Although fear is not pleasant it is necessary for our survival as humans, our brains send signals to the body which allows us to go into flight or fight mode. Because of this, our body gets a burst of adrenaline which will let us react to the situation. In addition to immediate fear there are explicit fears and phobias which relate to a specific situation or object.