Both fear and anxiety are provoked by danger. Fear is the response to a specific and immediate danger. Anxiety results from a non-specific concern or threat. Today many threats are psychological rather than physical, but the same primitive impulse often takes hold.
- Imminent danger,
- Personal security or pain is threatened,
- Concern for a future specific unpleasant event,
- Perceived loss of safety.
Root: danger, sudden calamity.
Fear describes a specific and sudden danger to your physical well-being. When fear passes, we feel reliefand often exhilaration. Our emotional brains react immediately to defend against a possible threat, then over time, we can comprehend the situation more fully and decide on the best action to take.
Origins, Archetypes, and the Plot of Fear
The purpose of fear is to protect us from danger. There are several unlearned triggers for fear, including:
- something hurling rapidly toward you, such as a truck racing toward you
- sudden loss of support, such as the floor giving way,
- The threat of physical pain,
Also, there are any number of learned triggers for fear, such as receiving a letter from the IRS, being called to the principal’s office, or entering a dark room. People also fear losing control, humiliation, shame, or insignificance. The common theme is avoiding threats.
Fear causes a variety of reactions depending on the intensity, timing, and coping options available. The reactions include:
- Freezing in place and feeling terror if we can’t do anything to avoid the immediate danger.
- Running or escaping from the immediate danger,
- Sharply focusing our attention and mobilizing us to act to reduce or eliminate the danger when we can take effective action to cope with the threat, or
- Panic, including shortness of breath, racing heartbeat, and the inability to focus on anything but worrying about the feared future event,
- Fighting to destroy the object of our fear.
Fear also often causes cold hands, deeper and more rapid breathing, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, sweating, dry mouth, and trembling or tightening of the muscles, especially in the arms and legs.
We estimate the risks and vulnerability of the threat almost instantly and then fight, freeze, focus, or flee based on this assessment.