What Are You So Scared Of?

You’re home alone and you’re watching American Horror Story. The room is dark with the exception of the television and you start hearing noises from behind you, getting closer and closer. As this happens you see a dark shadow getting closer and closer.

Your muscles tighten, heart races, and your breath quickens.

Next thing you know you realize it’s your dog that can’t see and keeps bumping into walls because of how dark the room is.

This sensation is called fear. Your body initiates a fight or flight response that is so pivotal in any person’s survival, even though there was no actual danger at all. However there are multiple questions pertaining to figuring out how the nuts and bolts of fear works. What exactly is fear? Why do our bodies react this way when we become scared? And how can we develop ways in order to conquer it?

Professor Jamie Goodwin of the psychology department said, “What becomes problematic is when our fear reactions are exaggerated and/or misapplied. Overwhelming fear can be paralyzing, and responding to public speaking the way one would respond to a charging mountain lion is not helpful or adaptive.”

Fear is a chain reaction that occurs in the brain that begins with a tense stimulus and ends with the release of chemicals that cause an increased heartbeat, quickened breathing, and tight muscles according to Dr. Rajiv Desai, an M.D. who is working in India.

The stimulus can be anything; a spider, a roller coaster, a mouse, or a classroom full of people waiting for you to do a presentation on how biochemistry can save the world—it really can be anything. 

According to Julia Layton of howstuffworks.com, our brain has more than 100 billion nerve cells that “comprise an intricate network of communications that is the starting point of everything we sense, think and do.”

Our fear responses are almost entirely autonomic: we don’t consciously trigger it until it has actually happened.

Freshman Alicia Torello believes that the only thing to fear is fear itself…unless it’s spiders. However spiders aren’t the fear that Torello fears the most.

“I’m afraid of bridges over water. I’m not sure why but I have a lot of nightmares about them,” Torello said, “Every time I have to drive over one, I say a Hail Mary.”

If we didn’t have the ability to be afraid, we wouldn’t have the ability to survive for a long period of time. We would find ourselves walking into traffic or wrestling tigers. Layton also wrote, “In the course of human evolution, the people who feared the right things survived to pass on their genes.”

In a Gallup Poll conducted in 2005, the poll revealed that the top five fears amongst college students are terrorist attacks, spiders, death, failure, and war. Fear of heights comes at a close sixth and a fear of nuclear damage rounds out the top ten.

Most of us do share the same fears, which will create a bond between us and another person as well as increase the awareness of the fear. Although most of us may share some common fears, for some people their fears will vary. For instance a man on a farm will not have the extensive fear of being mugged like someone who lives in an urban area. Depending on the location of the person, the fears may vary.

Freshmen Tom Conley shares a fear that many people across the nation have, a fear of heights.

“My first roller coaster was high up and it traumatized me for the rest of my life,” Conley said, “From a humanistic perspective, if I lose balance I’ll fall…but being clumsy doesn’t help.”

But don’t fear, for that there are ways to conquer your fears. It involves creating your own positive response that counters the negative fear response.  As you condition yourself with the positive response to the negative fear response, you’ll be able to conquer the fear. Of course it is easier said than done.

Jennifer Shamrock, lecturer of communication, believes that we have to be informed about our fear to conquer it. “A way to overcome our fears is to learn from them,” Shamrock said.

Experiencing a fear every now and then is a normal part of every day life. However to live in chronic fear can physically and emotionally be detrimental to your health. We’re bound to confront our fears a few times in our lives and those are the moments when you decide whether or not to remain in fear or stand up and conquer it.

PHOTO TAKEN from orkin.com