When we speak of fear we speak of an emotion, which together with joy, fear, sadness, surprise, disgust, anger, etc. they were considered by the famous Paul Ekman as basic emotions (later he would add contempt). However, we can already intuit that tireless research has been carried out on this and we do not have a rigid consensus.
Fear, a basic and multidimensional emotion
In what we do have an agreement on emotions is that they involve three different components: a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioral or expressive response ”, that their functions are adaptive (That fear, anger, disgust that we fear so much has its function) and that it is a multidimensional experience. This approach coincides with the three-dimensional model of anxiety proposed by Lang (1968). Each of these dimensions can acquire special relevance in a specific emotion, in a particular person, or in a specific situation.
According to Reeve (1994), they have adaptive functions, social functions, and motivational functions.
Let’s think, for example: “I am angry” (conscious/subjective experience). Our physiological response (facial flushing, increased heart rate, muscle tension …) and our expressive behavior (furrowed eyebrows, poor communication with others, constant complaints …)
How we see what we think, act, and feel is closely related.
Once we have briefly clarified how emotions work (if you want to know more, do not forget to consult the biography where there are links to go deeper) we are going to analyze the “most feared” ones.
Fear and anxiety
Today fear and specifically anxiety are central issues for both experts and the media.
Anxiety is the physiological response that accompanies fear. It is the type of activation that the body needs to flee or face a stimulus that causes emotion. But let’s stop here, unlike animals, fear occurs in us according to the interpretation we make of the situation. The stimulus is not in itself the generator of fear, but it is the perception of security or control of the situation that makes it something feared or bearable.
We have said that fear is an adaptive emotion that allows survival. When does it become a problem? When it is excessive or inappropriate; that is, when such intensity does not allow us to be functional, react adequately or when it occurs in situations that are not a threat at first.
Let’s think about the fear that a dog can produce in us, at first there is no problem, it even avoids the occasional bite. But this fear prevents us from visiting some friends who also have the dog locked up in the garage. So? Here we begin to talk about phobias and specifically about a specific phobia. These are situations in which fear is excessive or irrational, manifests itself in the face of a specifically identified object or situation, which implies a systematic avoidance of this situation or object and which can lead us to the degree of social paralysis.
It is worth mentioning that in the case of phobias, like Venustraphobia, dentophobia, and acrophobia, etc, it is enough to think about the object or situation that generates anxiety to feel the physiological activation and the catastrophic thoughts of their fear. We also differentiate it from agoraphobia because it is not so specific. It refers to the irrational and invalidating fear in all situations in which the person interprets that fleeing or getting help is difficult or impossible, so he avoids leaving his home, going up the elevators, taking the train, etc.
The dreaded panic attacks
In clinical psychology, a disorder characterized by the appearance of episodes of anguish, lasting approximately minutes, but experienced with extreme bitterness by those who suffer, has been defined as a crisis of anxiety. This kind of sudden reaction is always accompanied by feelings of impending doom, loss of control, and even triggering madness. Given their high intensity and unpredictability, they are experienced as unbearable that can generate functional limitations.
In view of the triad (thought-emotion-action), we bring you four simple but effective techniques for you to start managing these emotions and we know that by being constant with them you will feel much better. Yes. Do not hesitate to consult a professional if you notice that you cannot handle it, remember that each of us has a unique way of being and reacting.
How to handle fear and anxiety
Technique 1: deep breathing
This technique is very easy to apply and is useful to control physiological reactions before, during, and after dealing with emotionally intense situations.
- Take a deep breath while mentally counting to 4
- Hold your breath while mentally counting to 7
- Let go of the air while mentally counting to 8
- Repeat the above process
What it is about is to do the different phases of breathing slowly and a little more intense than normal, but without having to force it at any time. To check that you are breathing correctly you can put one hand on the chest and the other on the abdomen. You will be breathing correctly when only your hand moves from your abdomen when you breathe (some call it abdominal breathing).
Technique 2: stop thinking
This technique can also be used before, during, or after the situation that causes us problems. It focuses on thought control. To put it into practice you must follow the following steps:
- When you start to find yourself uncomfortable, nervous, or upset, pay attention to the type of thoughts you are having, and identify all those with negative connotations (centered on failure, hatred of other people, guilt, etc.). Say to yourself “Enough!”
- Replace those thoughts with more positive ones. The problem with this technique is that it takes some practice to identify negative thoughts, as well as to turn them around and turn them into positive ones. In the following table we present some examples:
“I’m a mess”
“I can’t bear it”
“I feel overwhelmed”
“Everything is going to go wrong”
“I can’t control this situation”
“I am able to overcome this situation”
“Worrying does not make things easier”
“This is not going to be so terrible”
“I am sure I will”
Technique 3: mental rehearsal
This technique is intended to be used before facing situations in which we do not feel safe. It is simply imagining that you are in that situation (for example, asking someone to go out with you) and that you are doing it well, while feeling totally relaxed and safe. You must mentally practice what you are going to say and do. Repeat this several times, until you start to feel more relaxed and confident.
Technique 4: muscle relaxation
This technique can also be applied before, during, and after the situation, but its effective use requires prior training. For its practice, follow the following steps:
- Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
- Close your eyes.
- Slowly relax all the muscles in your body, starting with your toes and then relaxing the rest of your body until you reach the muscles in your neck and head.
- Once you have relaxed all the muscles in your body, imagine yourself in a peaceful and relaxing place (for example, lying on a beach). Whichever place you choose, imagine yourself totally relaxed and carefree.
- Imagine yourself in that place as clearly as possible.
- Practice this exercise as often as possible, at least once a day for about 10 minutes each time.
If you have been convinced of the usefulness of exercise, remember that you must practice it constantly to get to automate the process and achieve relaxation in a few seconds.