What is Fear/ Phobia

fear and phobia

What is fear?

Based on psychological research, fear is considered a primal emotion characterized by a
universal biochemical response and a heightened individual emotional reaction. Fear serves as an
alert system, signaling the presence of potential danger or the threat of harm, whether that threat
is physical or psychological in nature.
Fear can be broken down into two primary responses when facing a perceived threat:
biochemical and emotional

Biochemical Response

Fear, as a natural emotion and a survival mechanism, triggers specific physiological reactions
when we encounter a perceived threat. Physical responses to fear encompass increased
perspiration, elevated heart rate, and heightened adrenaline levels, leading to a state of
heightened alertness. This physical reaction is commonly referred to as the “fight or flight”
response, as it readies the body for either confronting the threat head-on or making a rapid
escape. This biochemical reaction is likely an outcome of evolution, representing an automatic
response that plays a crucial role in our survival (Kozlowska et al., 2015, p.).

Emotional Response

On the contrary, the emotional reaction to fear is deeply individualized. This is because fear
triggers similar chemical responses in our brains as positive emotions such as happiness and
excitement, making it possible to find fear enjoyable in specific situations, like when watching
thrilling movies (Javanbakht A et al., n.d.).

Symptoms of Fear

Fear often involves both physical and emotional symptoms. Each person may experience fear
differently, but some of the common signs and symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Chills
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Upset stomach

In addition to the physical symptoms of fear, people may experience psychological symptoms of
being overwhelmed, upset, feeling out of control, or a sense of impending death (“psychology of
fear,” 2008).

What is a phobia?

Phobias within the realm of anxiety disorders, one notable aspect is the inclination to develop a
fear of fear itself. Unlike most people who typically experience fear only in response to
genuinely scary or threatening situations, individuals living with anxiety disorders may become
apprehensive about the mere possibility of experiencing fear. They view their fear responses as
negative and actively seek to avoid these reactions.
A phobia represents a distortion of the typical fear response. In this case, the fear is directed
towards an object or situation that doesn’t pose a genuine threat. Despite recognizing that this
fear is irrational, individuals cannot control their reactions. Over time, the fear tends to intensify
as the fear of the fear response gains a stronger foothold (“psychology of fear,” 2008).
Psychologists use the term ‘phobia’ to describe an intense feeling of fear that gets triggered by
specific objects or situations, and where the fear is out of proportion to the actual amount of
danger. Unfortunately, these extreme fears tend to last a long time and can sometimes lead to
other problems with anxiety and depression.
People can develop a phobia of almost anything. The most common types of phobias involve: •
Fears related to the environment (e.g., fear of heights, fear of storms). • Fears related to animals
or insects (e.g. fear of spiders or dogs). • Fear of particular situations (e.g., fear of the dentist,
fear of driving). • Body-based phobias (e.g. fear of injections, fear of childbirth). 

Treatment of fear and phobia:

Continual exposure to comparable situations fosters a sense of familiarity, which can
significantly diminish the fear response. This concept serves as the foundation for certain phobia
treatments, wherein the objective is to gradually decrease the fear response by making it seem
more familiar.
Phobia treatments rooted in the psychology of fear typically emphasize methods such as
systematic desensitization and flooding. These techniques are designed to engage with both the
physiological and psychological reactions of the body in order to mitigate fear (“psychology of
fear,” 2008).

Systematic Desensitization

Systematic desensitization entails a gradual progression through a sequence of exposure
scenarios. To illustrate, if you have a fear of snakes, your initial therapy session might involve
discussing snakes.
Gradually, in subsequent sessions, your therapist guides you through activities like viewing
snake images, interacting with toy snakes, and eventually, handling a live snake. Typically, this
process is complemented by using new coping strategies to better control the fear response
(“psychology of fear,” 2008).


Flooding involves extensive exposure to the feared object or a frightening situation over an
extended duration within a secure and supervised setting until the fear subsides. As an example,
if you have a fear of flying, you would take a flight even if it terrifies you.
The objective is to push through the intense anxiety and possible panic, reaching a point where
you must confront your fear and eventually recognize that you are safe. This process can assist in
strengthening a positive response (you are not in danger) with a dreaded experience (being in the
sky on an airplane), ultimately helping you overcome your fear.

Coping With Fear

There are also steps that you can take to help cope with fear in day to day life. Such strategies
focus on managing the physical, emotional, and behavioral effects of fear such as (“psychology
of fear,” 2008):

Get social support. Having supportive people in your life can help you manage your
feelings of fear.
Practice mindfulness. While you cannot always prevent certain emotions, being mindful
can help you manage them and replace negative thoughts with more helpful ones.
Use stress management techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle
relaxation, and visualization.
Take care of your health. Eat well, get regular exercise, and get adequate sleep each


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