Being scared is something that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. Whether it’s a fear of public speaking, heights, or spiders, there are countless things that can trigger anxiety and make us feel stressed and uneasy. But why do we feel scared in the first place? And what can we do to overcome our fears and live more happily and confidently? In this article, we’ll explore the science of fear and offer practical tips and strategies for tackling the things that scare us.
What is fear?
Fear is a natural, evolutionary response to perceived danger or threat. When we encounter something that we perceive as being dangerous or harmful, our brain triggers a series of physiological responses that prepare us to take action. These responses include increased heart rate, faster breathing, and heightened senses, all of which are designed to help us respond to the threat at hand.
Why do we feel scared?
As mentioned earlier, fear is a natural response to danger or threat. Our ancestors needed to be able to detect and respond to potential dangers to survive in their environment, so fear has been wired into our brains over the course of many generations. However, sometimes our brains can interpret something as a threat when it’s not actually dangerous or harmful. For example, someone with arachnophobia might feel scared even when they see a harmless spider. This is because their brain has learned to associate spiders with danger, even though the spider itself poses no real threat.
What are some common fears?
There are countless things that people can be scared of, but some of the most common fears include:
- Fear of public speaking
- Fear of heights
- Fear of spiders or other insects
- Fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia)
- Fear of social situations
Fear of public speaking
Many people get nervous or anxious when they have to speak in front of a large group of people. This fear can be especially challenging for people who work in public-facing roles, such as teachers, managers, or salespeople. One reason people can be afraid of speaking in public is that they might worry about being judged or evaluated by others. They might also be afraid of making a mistake or forgetting what they want to say.
Fear of heights
People who are afraid of heights might feel uneasy or dizzy when they are in high places, such as tall buildings or bridges. This fear can be especially challenging for people who have to work at high altitudes, such as construction workers or window cleaners. One reason people can be afraid of heights is that they might worry about falling and getting hurt. They might also be afraid of feeling out of control or helpless when they are at a high elevation.
Fear of spiders or other insects
People who have a fear of spiders or other insects might feel scared or uncomfortable when they see these creatures. This fear can be especially challenging for people who live in areas where spiders and insects are common, such as in rural or tropical environments. One reason people can be afraid of spiders or other insects is that they might worry about getting bitten or stung. They might also feel uneasy about the idea of having a spider or insect crawling on them.
How can we face our fears?
While fear can be a challenging emotion to deal with, there are many strategies we can use to confront and overcome our fears. Here are a few tips:
1. Identify your fears
The first step in facing your fears is to identify what they are. Take some time to think about the things that make you feel anxious or scared. Make a list of these things and try to be as specific as possible. For example, instead of just writing “public speaking,” you might write “giving a presentation in front of a group of 20 or more people.”
2. Challenge your thoughts
Sometimes our fears are based on faulty thinking or assumptions. For example, you might assume that if you make a mistake during a presentation, everyone will think you’re incompetent. However, this is unlikely to be true. Try to challenge these kinds of thoughts by asking yourself if they’re really rational or if there’s another way of thinking about the situation.
3. Take small steps
It can be overwhelming to try to face your fears all at once. Instead, try to take small steps that build up to facing your fear. For example, if you’re afraid of flying, you might start by watching videos of planes taking off and landing. Then, you might move on to visiting an airport without getting on a plane. Eventually, you might work up to taking a short flight.
4. Practice relaxation techniques
Fear can be extremely uncomfortable and can cause physical symptoms like palpitations, sweating or tightness in the chest. Practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation can help you calm your nerves when you’re feeling scared or anxious.
5. Seek professional help
If your fears are very intense or are interfering with your daily life, it might be helpful to seek professional help. A mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist can help you develop coping strategies and explore the root causes of your fears.
The Bottom Line
Fear is a natural, evolutionary response to danger or threat. However, sometimes our brains can interpret something as a threat when it’s not actually dangerous or harmful. The good news is that there several strategies we can use to confront and overcome our fears, such as identifying our fears, challenging our thoughts, taking small steps, practicing relaxation techniques, and seeking professional help. By facing our fears and taking steps to overcome them, we can live happier, more confident lives.
- What causes fear?
- Why do we feel scared?
- What are common fears?
- How can I face my fears?
- Is it okay to feel scared?
Fear is caused by the brain’s perception of danger or threat.
We feel scared as a natural response to danger or threat.
Common fears include public speaking, heights, spiders, enclosed spaces, and social situations.
You can face your fears by identifying them, challenging your thoughts, taking small steps, practicing relaxation techniques, and seeking professional help.
Yes, it’s normal and natural to feel scared sometimes. Fear can be a useful emotion that helps keep us safe.
- Etkin A, Wager TD. Functional neuroimaging of anxiety: a meta-analysis of emotional processing in PTSD, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobia. Am J Pschology. 2007;164(10):1476-88.
- Friedman BH. An Autonomic Nervous System Profile Associated with Fear: Interpretation in the Context of Psychophysiological Research In: Vastfjall D, Johansson P, eds. Advances in Psychophysiology. IntechOpen; 2019. doi:10.5772/intechopen.86581
- Garcia-Romeu, A. (2020). Psychedelics for anxiety and depression? Your mileage may vary. Harvard Health Blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/psychedelics-for-anxiety-and-depression-your-mileage-may-vary-2020091720962