Why Do We Fear?

Everyone has experienced fear. Fear is a basic human emotion, like joy, sadness, disappointment, and all the rest. It’s something we all share. No matter who you are… how old you are… where you live… or what your background or belief system, you know what it feels like to be afraid.

Thankfully, feelings of fear usually pass fairly quickly. Fear is often triggered by something unexpected that surprises or startles us. In many situations, the source of a sudden feeling of fear turns out to be of no concern at all, such as a loud noise we don’t anticipate. But, other times, a fear response can help protect us from something truly dangerous.

As human beings, we’re programmed to protect ourselves and survive. Fear is the body’s warning system that signals us to be alert, wary, and careful. The survival instinct activates instantaneously when a perceived danger makes us feel threatened or unsafe and prepares us to either fight or run away. This “fight or flight” response has allowed human beings to survive for millions of years.

The fight or flight response is so spontaneous, in fact, that people may react before they are even consciously aware of their fear of a threat. Think about it. Haven’t you ducked before realizing a ball was sailing across the volleyball or basketball court directly at your head? Or perhaps you remember jumping back up on the curb out of the path of an oncoming car without being totally aware of the car’s presence on the roadway.

Sensing danger causes physical reactions in the body that prepare it to act quickly. Many people feel their heartbeat and breathing quicken, experience a surge of energy, and perhaps begin sweating. Once the perceived danger has been identified as nonthreatening or the source of the fear is gone, the fight or flight response and associated reactions in the body stop. The body then returns to its natural state.

For some people, unfortunately, the body seems to get stuck in the fight or flight response longer than is healthy for the body. Some people even live in a state of almost constant fearfulness. After a while, the effects of living this way can take a toll. Overactive and persistent feelings of fear can get in the way of experiencing a full, happy life. They can contribute to emotional and physical health issues.

If you feel fearful much of the time or if you can’t seem to calm your nerves after a fear-inducing or stressful experience, speak with your doctor about the situation as soon as possible. Thankfully, there are effective ways to deal with and manage an overactive fear response. Help is available if you need it.

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