Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.
Fear is an emotion that typically occurs when we perceive a threat to our personal well-being, that can prompt an action against that threat. It is considered a reaction to something immediate that threatens our security or safety; i.e. being startled by someone suddenly jumping out from behind a bush. Fear is experienced by most people at some point or another and is considered to be a natural, normal part of life. With this emotion, we can experience an array of mental and physical changes. Irrational and/or intense fear can interfere with our sense of security, happiness, and our ability to function effectively.
The experience of fear generally leads us to experience emotional and bodily changes. We may experience an enhanced perception of space and time, and our senses of sight, hearing, and smell may be heightened. In life-threatening situations, fear can also reduce our ability to notice finer details while increasing our capacity to distinguish large or blurry objects. These adjustments in perception greatly increase our chance of survival in a dangerous situation.
Fear can be healthy and all people are likely to experience fear of some sort. It helps us to stay away from harmful and dangerous situations and it can affect our physiology when a threat is perceived. Without fear, our chances of day-to-day survival would diminish. Many people are fearful of death and new fears are often learned when fear-inducing stimuli are coupled with objects or events not usually frightening. When this happens, these events or objects may cause us to experience fear.
When fear is present our muscle tone, brain activity, heart rate, breathing and startle response are likely to experience changes. Fear will typically evoke a "fight or flight" response, which is our biochemical reaction to the stress. In 2004, researchers Bracha, Ralston, Matsunaga, Williams, & Bracha, suggest an expanded version of the fight-or-flight response, namely, "freeze, flight, fight, or fright".
Both animals and humans possess innate fearful reactions to some stimuli, such as unexpected or loud noises. These stimuli may differ from person to person, with some fears occurring frequently within the general population. A person’s response to danger generally involves many different areas of the brain, but researchers have identified the amygdala as pivotal to the processing of fear. When an individual is confronted with a potentially dangerous situation, the amygdala sends excitatory signals to other brain areas to ensure that these areas also become more alert. Evidence of the amygdala’s importance to the processing of fear has been highlighted in many studies.
Physical responses associated with fear:
An erratic heartbeat
Erratic sleep patterns
Freezing in place
Increase in blood pressure
Loss of appetite
The mental effects of fear:
A loss of focus
Intrusive or distracting thoughts
Repetitive negative thoughts
It is best to find a therapist when your fear is persistent and is having a negative impact on your daily function. The therapist will enable you to address this challenge.