Fear is a term that is widely used to refer to various psychological disorders related to panic and agoraphobia . In general, it is an emotion that is expressed through anxiety, concern and anticipation of events; it is a complex process in which there may be different reactions to imminent danger.

People who frequently feel this emotion with great intensity, may suffer frequent and uncontrollable episodes . It may be due to certain traumatic events in the past, but it could also be the perception of real dangers that they have already faced.

It is a physiological activation generated in the body and also in the mind through thoughts that are linked to an initial one. The first of them is the one that is directly related to the danger that has been detected, generating this complex process where tension, nervousness and stress are manifested .

Fear represents a projection of what is being obsessively thought in relation to an activity or situation that is feared. The people can anticipate the possible consequences , it is about understanding an uncertain future which we want to emerge unscathed. Those who suffer from chronic fear are suffering from a situation that prevents them from living a quiet life, so in psychology this subject is studied in depth to understand it and find solutions.

What is fear in psychology?

In psychology, fear has been defined as one of the basic emotions typical of the human being. It is one of the primary emotions that are generated from certain stimuli, to which the body responds due to previous experiences. Consequently, people tend to react in a similar way at certain times.

Multiple studies have been conducted on this topic and it has been concluded that people can react in similar ways even without knowing each other. That is, although each individual belongs to different cultures, it does not prevent them from having a behavior that has similarities .

Fear has its origin in a complex process carried out in the brain, basically it works as an alarm that warns about a possible danger . Specifically, it is the brain area where a structure whose name is amygdala is found .

It is usually described as an emotion that represents a certain negativity or displeasure in the person who feels it. However, it cannot be defined as something negative because in certain cases it can represent something positive; by how it allows to cope with certain situations . When a person understands how the fear they feel works, they will be able to better manage their own emotions, fear then has the function of helping to regulate them and keep them safe.

What are the characteristics of fear?

As previously explained, this emotional state is a conscious response to a possible danger , but it must also be considered that it may be a manifestation of distrust in a social interaction. Any factor that can be considered as unpleasant for each person from a rational or illogical point of view, could be the trigger for fear.

It turns out to be essential that there is a stimulus that is the cause of this state of anxiety and insecurity, both mental and physical reactions are combined during these episodes. Other characteristics of fear are described below:

  • Fear can cause drastic changes in an individual’s habitual behavior . At times you may show reactions that are uncontrollable.
  • The reason for starting to experience this emotion may be due to a stimulus that is unpleasant from a perception of real, fictitious, past or future danger .
  • During the experience of fear, the brain involuntarily begins to activate chemical compounds , which are responsible for physical reactions such as tremors and sweating.
  • It is considered to be both a physiological and a psychological defense mechanism . The person can react defensively when attacking or to ensure their survival by fleeing from danger.
  • The senses are responsible for the perception of possible danger . These signals are sent to the brain to later be interpreted, this occurs in the limbic system; which can regulate emotions. Consequently, the amygdala is activated, there fear is released with its respective symptoms and reactions.
  • Some of the physical symptoms are cardiac surge, adrenaline release, rapid breathing, increased blood glucose, dilation of the pupils, and muscle contraction.
  • The person is in a permanent state of alert before a detected alarm, which indicates that he must guarantee his personal safety. Taking into consideration that there are different types and levels of fear, the responses may also be different, adapting to each case.
  • Fear can be due to situations where physical integrity can be compromised by factors such as death, fear of heights, the dark, physical blows, or other damage. It can also be due to social situations such as stage fright, poor academic performance or falling in love
  • The fear can be pathological when it is detected that the individual begins to manifest these characteristics in an exaggerated way. That is, the psychological, physical or social causes; They could be the trigger for some kind of phobia.
  • Phobias arise for different reasons and each of them has a particular term such as the following: fear of heights is agoraphobia, fear of the dark is nyctophobia and fear of death is somnophobia. There are many classifications.

Its duties?

Taking into consideration that fear is both a positive and negative emotion, depending on the case in which it occurs, in psychology it is considered essential . Fear can also be dysfunctional if it does not coincide with the stimulus for which it is generated, then it is a reaction to a danger that is not real. Its functions are described below:

  • Functional fear is that which is generated from a stimulus from a real danger. This emotion allows you to face the same danger to survive, it is an emotion that adapts to the behavior of people in certain situations. It represents being a benefit because it allows people to be alert to possible risks and act according to those circumstances.
  • Dysfunctional fear , as its name implies, is an emotion that is generated through a process that has no coherence. So, it means being a limitation that hinders the normal performance of a person, it is not useful to guarantee personal safety. In these cases it is irrational fears that consequently make people not make the right decisions, and overreact.

In the latter case, it is about fears that have no real referents, they arise from a set of experiences and beliefs that are created in an erroneous way. The cognitive process of each person will interpret reality in a very personal way, one of the possible causes of the creation of phobias could be found here.

What are the types of fear and how are they identified? 

In some cases a different level of affectation can be detected , the fear may be due to perceptions from the physical senses or due to certain social activities. The most common types of fears are described below, they are the following:

  • The physical fear is due to the fact that the person fears suffering some type of pain derived from a real external stimulus, although it can also be imaginary. This is a type of fear that is difficult to control because it arises involuntarily, the person tries to avoid what could cause damage to his body and for this he will take whatever action is necessary to achieve it.
  • Social fear is a response to a stimulus from an interaction to socialize. It manifests itself on occasions in which the person feels ridiculed or judged by others. So this is a forecasting mechanism for the possible consequences of such actions. This is the origin of social phobia .
  • Metaphysical fear has its origin from an internal mental process that depends on certain empirical sources. Psychologists associate it with pathologies such as depression and other similar disorders.

There are a wide variety of fears that are difficult to categorize due to the fact that there are even few diagnosed cases, however it is important to mention some of them, such as the following:

  • Jonah complex
  • Fear to fail
  • Fear of death
  • Fear to loneliness
  • Fear of animals
  • Fear of heights
  • Fear of uncertainty
  • Fear of compromise

Finally, there are phobias , which are described as a pathological fear that only some people experience. It belongs to a small group which suffers the consequences of this condition, affecting their quality of life. That is, they may even require psychological treatment to overcome this fear that they describe is ” uncontrollable .”

There are many types of phobias and these can eventually develop at any age. Some may have their origin from traumatic events in the past, which is why they become a psychological limitation that causes drastic changes in behavior.

For example, if a person had a traffic accident from which they could escape unscathed; in the future you could develop an irrational fear of using any means of land transportation. This means then that the person is going to avoid using vehicles that help them to move from their home to their workplace, this means a problem that will have multiple personal and professional consequences.

Importance of its study in psychology 

The main function of fear is to trigger a series of mental mechanisms that allow a better adaptation and reaction to certain dangers. It is a means of self – protection that works automatically in situations of greatest risk for the person. This is activated once the possible threat has been detected, which is why it reacts either by facing it or by fleeing.

The stimuli that represent a threat to the integrity of a person can be of various types. They also depend on the beliefs or ideas that are had in this regard, emotions turn out to be a very personal element of each person; and therefore the possible reactions depend on a mental filter.

In psychology, fear was considered to be one of the most complex mental processes , understanding how it works is essential to treat patients who are most affected by its consequences. It is a condition that affects a large part of the population worldwide, it has repercussions that significantly limit the quality of life.

It could be said that fear helps people cope with or move away from events that they may not be prepared to deal with . It turns out to be a fundamental function for survival, if the human being did not feel fear, it is possible that he would not have managed to stay alive. Situations or actions considered reckless can be controlled through fear, this emotion represents a positive factor in these cases.

Fear makes people aware of the existence of different types of danger , psychologists consider that this is a fundamental basic mechanism Physiological reactions are consequently mechanisms that are perpetuated in a few seconds, at this point all bodily functions are being monitored from the brain with the same objective: to avoid danger.

In some cases, fear transforms into panic episodes, then it is a disorder that generates a generalized crisis with attacks of anxiety that are repeated frequently. In these cases, psychologists have been able to find a relationship between dopamine and certain areas of the brain, communication between neurons depends largely on the high concentration of this substance in the amygdala. This is where stress and fear originate.

For psychologists, it is crucial to understand how the nerve connections between the amygdala are linked to the anterior cingulate. The first is responsible for interpreting the information detected by the senses, and the second is responsible for processing the emotions related to the danger detected. The response generated by both parties can be exaggerated compared to the received stimuli.

The brain functioning in these cases is not the same in each person, some individuals are more likely to feel more fear. Other factors from education, experience and certain cultural or social elements are also involved.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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