Fear is a common, expected, basic emotion. We have all experienced it, to varying degrees. It is an innate physiological response from birth, a protective and socialising factor with a key role in survival (Pérez-Grande, 2000).
I have a lot of intrusive thoughts constantly, I obsess with negative thoughts about myself and what others think of me. This causes me social, academic and personal blockages… and sometimes prevents me from doing what I have to do in my day- to-day life in a normal way. I live in fear of making decisions… It took me almost two years to do my dissertation because I couldn’t sit in the chair, I got anxious, I have to do another one now because it’s a double degree and I still haven’t been able to do it.
Fear appears in certain situations, most of them threatening or dangerous for the integrity of the person. Fear, in turn, is a bodily reaction that we experience as a state of excitement and tension. Therefore, it is conceived as a motivating and socialising phenomenon (Adolphs, 2013; Pérez-Grande, 2000). Fear is normal, habitual. We all feel it from birth. The most primary reactions that appear around fear in people are physiological. When we feel fear, our body releases numerous hormones –adrenaline, epinephrine and others– provoking a cascade of changes and reactions to achieve the necessary tension. Some of the symptoms that the person feels are tachycardia, sweating, shivering, trembling, dry throat, weakness of legs and arms, stomach pain or accelerated breathing (Craske et al., 2011). All of this biological reaction prepares the body for the threat.
The externally observed response can vary between two extremes: absolute immobility or extreme motor agitation (Steimer, 2002). These evolutionary responses are very similar to those of other mammals. The starting point of the fear reaction begins in the brain. It is there, between the amygdala that coordinates and communicates with other parts such as the insula, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, that the signals necessary to react are elaborated (Fullana et al., 2016). During the fleeting analysis of the situation, the brain considers whether it is better to adopt an immobile reaction, almost in a state of cataplexy, or whether, on the contrary, the safest and most necessary way to avoid the threatening situation is to become agitated, shout and seek to flee as quickly as possible (Pérez-Grande, 2000).
In addition to cognitive and behavioural manifestations, fear also involves a large number of thoughts. They are part of the brain’s rapid and exhaustive processing of the situation and also of external factors such as one’s own previous experience and internal cognitive schemas (González-Javier et al., 2021). According to different theories, it is the amygdala that acts as a coordinator and key element in the identification of stimuli as dangerous. This identification could be directly related to those scenarios or triggers that cause fear in human beings as an innate survival instinct. Others, of a more subjective nature, would be linked to individual experiences, cognitive schemas, learning or the influence of the social context, where the person has grown up, what is the environment that surrounds the person. In any case, the amygdala remains in a latent state until the presence of that stimulus activates the entire cascade of responses (Fullana et al., 2016).
In my consultations, patients often ask me, “But did I react well? Does this only happen to me? Will I get rid of it one day? The combination of factors referred to above is the explanation.
This formula is what differentiates the reaction to the same stimulus in different people. This subjectivity does not only imply different external reactions, but also different inner thoughts and feelings. According to Echeburúa (2000), these reactions are totally dependent on the person who suffers from fear and on the external factors and the stimulus that provokes this emotion. For all these reasons, it is always essential to legitimise fear. It is a basic emotion that plays an undeniable role; universal and multicomponent