Fear From A Psychological Perspective

Fear is something wired into our brains since the day we are born. It is a part of our survival instinct so we can respond when we feel unsafe or threatened. 

Fear is an innate, primitive, and powerful human emotion. It helps to protect us and it works like a warning sign that makes us alert in the case of any emergency. Like all emotions, fear can be mild, medium, or intense, depending on the situation and the person experiencing it. A feeling of fear can be brief or it can last for a longer time. Facing your least favorite teacher with your parents can be briefly fearful. The fear of dogs might be a long one.

How Fear Works

When we sense danger, or when our brain perceives a situation as threatening, it activates the nervous system and starts sending signals to the rest of our body. Our brain then prepares the body for fight or flight situations which causes physical responses, such as a faster heartbeat, rapid breathing, slow digestion, and an increase in blood pressure. Blood pumps to muscle groups to prepare the body for physical action (such as running or fighting). Skin sweats to keep the body cool, and so on. Some people might also experience sensations in other parts of the body like hands, legs, chest, etc.

This response activated by the body is known as "fight or flight" because that is exactly what the body is preparing itself to do: fight off the danger or run fast to get away i.e take a flight from the dangerous situation. Example - you are quite apprehensive when it comes to meeting people, when you see a familiar face who is reaching you to have a word- you will either prepare for that situation ( fight) or flee from that situation ( fight).

The body stays in this state of fight-flight until the brain receives an "all clear" message and turns off the response.

Sometimes our fear might be triggered by something unexpected and sudden (a loud noise), even if it is not dangerous. This happens because the fear reaction is automatic and instant- it is only after a few seconds that the brain realizes that the situation was not threatening and then it turns off the fear response. The surprising thing is -all this usually happens within a matter of seconds.

Why is fear important?

Fear involves a universal biochemical response as well as a highly individual emotional response that prepares our body for fight or flight. Fear at a normal level essentially enables us to prepare and survive. It usually begins at a productive level but can pile on us and stay for a longer period. The optimal level of fear helps us in a potentially dangerous situation to act in a better manner. 

The long-term effects of Fear

When people live in constant fear of threat, they are susceptible to negative impacts across all areas of their lives to an incapacitating extent. Fear is meant to be experienced for survival however, if it is not calibrated according to the actual threat, it can harm both our minds and bodies. As its intensity increases, it can lead to psychiatric disorders, which can be even more harmful to people with pre-existing conditions. In the course of a highly unprecedented event like a pandemic, an individual is very likely to experience a crisis of mental health.

Fears during childhood 

A lot of children experience fear related to certain things. This is because fear is a natural reaction to anything unfamiliar and unknown —and much of what children experience is new and unfamiliar. At a younger age, many people have a fear of the dark, monsters, being alone, etc. However, most people can grow out of these and conquer such fears. 

Some children might be more vulnerable to experiencing fear than others. And when the fears last for a longer time than expected i.e beyond the developmental age, it might be a sign of an anxious or fearful personality. People who experience intense and recurrent fear might need some support to overcome them.

Sometimes, people get teased about their fears. Even if the person doing the teasing doesn't mean to be unkind and unfair, teasing only makes the situation worse.


Fear is a common experience for all humans. It is beneficial in many situations throughout our life. It helps us to take action and prepare for important things in life however when it becomes prolonged or excessive it can be damaging. Finding ways to cope with these feelings can help prevent negative emotions and anxiety in an individual. Lastly, one should always keep in mind to not tease anyone who is fearful of a particular thing or situation, since it might be an indicator of something bigger. 


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