Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What Is Fear?

Fear is the emotional response to a perceived threat, real or imagined. It is one of our basic innate emotions. Fear is associated with the actions of escape or avoidance.

In the book, "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals" by Charles Darwin, he gives an excellent and vivid description of fear.

Fear is often preceded by astonishment, and is so far akin to it, that both lead to the senses of sight and hearing being instantly aroused. In both cases the eyes and mouth are widely opened, and the eyebrows raised. The frightened man at first stands like a statue motionless and breathless, or crouches down as if instinctively to escape observation. The heart beats quickly and violently, so that it palpitates or knocks against the ribs... That the skin is much affected under the sense of great fear, we see in the marvelous manner in which perspiration immediately exudes from it... The hairs also on the skin stand erect; and the superficial muscles shiver. In connection with the disturbed action of the heart, the breathing is hurried. The salivary glands act imperfectly; the mouth becomes dry, and is often opened and shut.
Fear is a normal response to protect us from danger and if we could not feel it, we would not be able to protect ourselves. Our life experiences alter how we feel and perceive fears in our lives. All too often, people who have been traumatized are triggered by current experiences that have no basis in real dangers. The fear then becomes a connection to an event that is not real in the moment but is perceived by that person.

The parts of the brain that are involved in the fear response include the amygdala which stores emotional memories including fear memories, the hippocampus which puts memories and experience in context to the stimuli being faced, the thalamus which decides where to send incoming data that it receives and the hypothalamus which is responsible for the fight or flight response.

Many times, we hear people tell us or others to not be afraid and portray fear to be something that is bad or negative. All emotions are part of our mind and body for a reason whether they are from real or perceived sources. Our job should not be to discount, abhor, or condemn these emotions. Instead our job should be to embrace all of our emotions whether we feel they are positive or negative and fully become aware of how they impact our mind, our body and our personal growth.

Too often, our society tries to control others and bring others in line with what we feel is the proper way to look at some aspect of life. The use of fear is one of the main ways that this is done and all you have to do is look around yourself in a day, and you can see evidence of this. From the government and their policies, to politics, schools, society norms, religious institutions and even down into the family practices and norms. Fear is often used as a weapon against others. Even the news media is extremely skilled at using fear to get us to tune into the news programs.

Take a step back though and consider just how valuable fear is to our lives. It helps protect us and keep us from doing harmful things to ourselves and others. If we embrace it and we go into the fear, our lives become much more rich and full and alive. Of course, if we constantly overwhelm ourselves with fear from every direction, than fear becomes a hindrance to our lives.

Fear holds great power and energy and if we push it down in our lives and try to distance ourselves from it, than it will rob us of so much. Fear is potential energy that can be used to create a chair reaction of events into further awareness and potential benefit. We can learn so much from it and use it to move us forward into situations that benefit our lives and our growth.

Often we are so afraid of fear and we are so overwhelmed in life that we can not deal with fear. We find ways to avoid it and run from it while it finds ways to get out attention. We may think we are avoiding it or just not thinking about fear but in the end, we are only fooling ourselves. If we continue to fool ourselves, our fears will get our attention and they will force us to deal with them. The sooner we begin to listen to our fears and embrace them, the better off we will be.



*For more articles, check out the Mind Body Thoughts Blog


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