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Fear - Symptom, Treatment And Causes

Last Updated: Feb 07, 2022


What is Fear?


Fear is a feeling which is created by perceived threat or danger that happens in certain organisms. Fear can cause a change in organ functions and metabolism which can ultimately lead to behavioral changes, like fleeing, freezing, or hiding from the perceived threat.

Fear in human beings can happen because of a specific stimulus that is occurring in the present or even from an expectation of a future threat perceived on the person’s life or body. Response to fear from the perception of danger leads to confrontation or escape by avoiding the threat which is also known as the fight-or-flight response. Fear in extreme cases can also lead to paralysis. In animals and human beings, fear is a resultant factor that occurs due to the process of cognition and learning. Thus fear can be classified into two types. The first one is a logical fear and the later illogical fear. Illogical fear is also known as phobia.

What is the rarest fear?

Depending upon the root cause of the fearful sensation can be common as fear of the dark to the rare fear like:

  1. Ablutophobia:

    Refers to a fear of having a bath which can be related to the trauma associated with water events especially during the early stages of life. This type of fear often grows into social anxiety and unhygienic body odors which can be unpleasant as time passes by.

  2. Arachibutyrophobia:

    Known as fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. It is quite specific in nature which makes it rare in its occurrence. It may seem a small problem but it can also develop a fear of choking and eating other food products.

  3. Arithmophobia:

    Or the fear of math can be easily mistaken with a dislike for math. The phobia is not linked to numbers or symbols but is linked to a situation where one is forced to solve a math problem.

  4. Chirophobia:

    Fear of human hands, can be one 's or someone else's hands which often lead to major hand physical injuries and conditions like arthritis.

  5. Chloephobia:

    Is known as fear of touch, sound, and even the smell of newspapers. It can be triggering as newspapers are quite common to find.

What are the 5 primal fears?

  1. Extinction:

    Fear of annihilation or ceasing to exist or in layman's terms ""fear of death"". The fear is associated with fear of how an individual might die. Some examples of extinction are fear of the dark, flying, heights, and fatal diseases.

  2. Mutilation or Bodily Invasion:

    Fear of breaking the physical boundaries or fear of losing a part of our body. This can lead to the anxiety of being hurt or any situation that can be life-threatening.

  3. Loss of Autonomy:

    Fear of being restricted, confined, trapped, or suffocated. This can be connected to physical fears like being immobilized, paralyzed, or physically restricted, or it can be mental like smothered, entrapped, overwhelmed, imprisoned, any circumstances that cannot be controlled by oneself.

  4. Abandonment, Separation, or Rejection:

    Humans are known as social animals and fear of being alone can be one of the biggest fears of humankind. Examples include fear of keeping a relationship or if one has lost the person, the relation can be diverse like friendship, broken marriage, or death of a loved one.

  5. Shame, Humiliation, or Worthlessness:

    Also known as Ego-death, can be a fear associated with social situations where one feels ashamed of bad situations in front of their loved ones. Situations like criticism, failure, bullying, victimization or mistakes, in public speaking can be the trigger.

What causes fear?


It's a universal truth that triggers fear as a threat. The threat of being harmed. Depending upon the source of threat ( physical, emotional, or psychological ) It can be real or imaginary, making it versatile that one can have a life-threatening feeling to almost anything like:

  • Social interaction and/or rejection.
  • Death and dying.
  • Darkness or loss of visibility of surroundings.
  • Heights and flying.
  • Snakes, rodents, spiders, and other animals.

What do you fear most in life?

Life can be unpredictable in many aspects of life, which make a person more fearful towards certain parts such as:

  1. Fear of Failure:

    Is one of the most common fears that can be seen in the human race. It can easily hold people back from achieving many things that an individual can do if they overcome that fear.

  2. Fear of Success:

    Fear of success can be confused with fear of failure but it's different. In this, the individual is aware of their skill set but often worries about the management of the success once achieved.

  3. Fear of Loss:

    It is one of the most prominent and powerful fears which can hold an individual back in their personal and professional life. It stimulates negative emotional outbursts of anger, which can be unhealthy on both mental and physical levels.

  4. Fear of Being Judged:

    It is one of the most common social fears that one can possess. The fear can create a shell that can keep the person from social situations.

  5. Fear of losing personal Identity:

    When an individual connects one personality to a materialistic possession, one may feel the fear after losing the thing. The possession can be unconscious and may not realize in the conscious mind.

Why do some brains enjoy fear?

There are certain aspects of fear that one might enjoy as the fearful sensation releases certain hormones during fight or flight response. First, the initial kick of the fear during a flight or fight situation is enjoyable due to chemical reactions caused by dopamine in the neurobiological system.

Other than the physical reactions, fear can act as a confidence booster. Since the situation puts you in a struggling position, coming over from it can make you feel accomplished and confident.

In this case, the situation can be traumatizing or it can be successful, and totally depends on an individual approach to the flight and fight situation.

Is fear a habit?

As the scientist says, fear is illogical, developing its habit is also considered the same. In most cases, fears like fear of the dark and monsters in the closet can be overruled by age. However, if not so, one may develop a habit of fear, which can convert into a phobia. Developing a phobia can be damaging for both your mental and physical health. It can also hinder your social life if not taken care of.

What does Psychologist says :

Psychologists have suggested that fear in one of the few innate emotions found in all human beings. Other innate emotions found in human are anger, anxiety, angst, joy, horror, panic, and sadness. However, there is a difference between fear and anxiety. Although both these emotions are closely related to each other, anxiety often happens as a threat which is perceived to be unavoidable or uncontrollable. The amygdala is the place in our brain, which is associated with fear. The amygdala is located behind our pituitary gland. Amygdala generates the secretion of hormones that influences aggression and fear. Once the stimulation of fear and aggression is generated, amygdala elicit the release of the hormones, which put the person into a state of alertness, which makes the person run, move, take a flight and others.


More about Fear :

The fight-or-flight response in human is regulated by our hypothalamus which is a part of our limbic system.

It is interesting to learn over here that once the person returns to the safe mode, and there are no signs of potential threat around, the amygdala sends the information which created fear to the mPFC (medial prefrontal cortex), which stores the data for similar future situation. This process of learning by the brain is also known as memory consolidation.Some of the hormones and chemical elements that are secreted because of fear are epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol and calcium.

These hormones and chemicals are responsible for regulating the heart rate, blood flow, dilation of the blood vessels and air passages and others.

What are the negative effects of fear?

Fear not only clouds our psychology but also damages our physical health and mental abilities.

When it comes to physical health, fear can weaken the immunity system. Under fearful circumstances, our neuro system sends alerts to most of the organs to shut down and use all the saved energy to deal with the fearful situation.

Prolonged exposure to fear can cause cardiovascular damage, decreased fertility, and gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, which can also lead to coma or death.

On the other hand, fear can hamper certain parts of your brain, such as the hippocampus which can lead to long-term memory damage. Chronic fear also causes memory damage which makes a person more anxious and fragile.

Furthermore, fear interrupts the regular processes and reactivity of the human brain. Skills like read non-verbal cues, regulate emotions, reflect before acting, and act ethically. It also manipulates thinking and decision-making, leaving the person with more impulsive and intense emotional reactions.

What does fear do to the body?

Even though fear is an emotional reaction to certain situations, it can lead to physical changes in the body. The first response your body shows is alarming the whole body about the threat via hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA). It releases cortisol, adrenaline, and nonadrenaline which also activates your autonomic nervous system, preparing it for the second stage.

The resistance stage, which was second in the process which is responsible for restoring the damage caused by the brief period of stress and fear. It helps restore your energy afterward. If the situation does not resolve within a small time it can lead to the third stage, which is known as exhaustion.

Prolonged stress can exhaust the natural resources of the body leading to permanent damage to your immune system. The period can be described as adrenal fatigue, burnout, overload, maladaptation, or dysfunction.


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Written ByDr. Milind Barhate MBBS,DPMPsychiatry
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