“All men are afraid. Those who are not afraid, are not normal; this has nothing to do with courage”
We currently live in an environment of fear. Fear of the coronavirus, which, although we do not see it, we know it exists and can kill us, the fear of the end of the lockdown and of each person’s awareness in face of this fact, the fear of economic repercussions, the fear of future outbreaks of the pandemic, fear of the future.
Feeling afraid is not a good feeling, it does not help and there is no one who has not experienced that feeling. However, it is not a specificity of human beings, since we have all seen, on numerous danger occasions, fearful behaviour in various animal species.
Sometimes, we give different designations to the concept of fear, such as anguish, anxiety or worry.
Fear is a spontaneous and natural reaction inherent to the survival of the species and that a person experiences throughout various stages of his life, and can include numerous degrees, from simple insecurity to a dread that can lead to total terror.
For the human being, fear can be considered a feeling of fright in relation to a person, a situation or even an object. It is inherent to the person himself, what frightens an individual, may be indifferent to another.
There are countless situations that can make us feel fear and, consequently, suffering (some are real and others imagined), such as being afraid of open spaces, jumping between buildings, walking at great speed, having a gun pointed at the head, clowns, flying or fear of death.
Faced with fear of death, people tend to find alternatives, as happened after the 9/11 attacks in the United States. Air travel is statistically safer than driving. However, when Americans recalled the attacks, they chose to start traveling by car, which resulted in many more traffic accidents, and in the death of more 1,600 more people in that year. If they had overcome their fear, most of them would certainly be alive. Also, the information about violence that occurs around the world reported daily by the media makes us feel afraid, leading us to think that we are always in constant danger and that at any moment we can be victims of this same violence.
Likewise, the manipulations used by marketing companies regarding our adherence or not to fashion, such as clothing, hygiene products or the purchase of goods such as mobile phones or cars can make us feel afraid of being rejected by the group with whom we socialize.
Similarly, banking institutions, insurance companies or politicians use various arguments with more insightful messages in order to achieve their goals, causing us fear.
Nowadays, fear is one of the main reasons for people’s “numbness”, who prefer to remain in unpleasant situations (areas that were previously comfortable and that over time have changed and become unfavourable areas), without attempting any change. These people prefer to remain in bad situations and fear something new and unknown.
These attitudes show that fear is closely associated with the survival instinct. Fear makes us think about the risks and the consequences if we have certain behaviours. If we were not afraid we would not be alive, because we would have behaviours that would lead to our demise.
There are two types of fear, one that identifies itself with the feeling when we are facing a physical threat, when we are trying to move way from a thief who is running after us and the fear regarding our thoughts at what may happen to us in future based on our imagination or past events.
We must not ignore our fears, as they were the ones that promoted the survival of the human species over millennia. If fear now warns us of danger (which can be of physical, moral or have other origin), it can prevent us from being hurt or even losing our lives. Also in primitive times, fear was experienced by cavemen who, when faced with predators, ran out of their reach or took refuge in the nearest caves.
In the Middle Ages, there were several sources that served as foundations to sustain the fear it provoked in the populations. There were permanent fears shared by all social classes and that linked evil to the existence of the devil (the centre of all fears) and his influence on human life. There was fear of the sea, stars, wolves, omens, or ghosts.
There were also cyclical fears that arose at a certain moment and then disappeared, like the plagues, poverty, tax increases, the warriors' passages through the villages, who destroyed everything in their path, witch hunting, the persecution of the Jews, and also fear of death and of the fire of Hell.
They were also based on biblical writings, which made reference to belief in the devil, witches and the evils they could cause, other fantastic beings and "orders" to destroy magicians and enchanters. These reports led to the belief that witches exist and that they can cause harm - and/or bring advantages – to humanity.
In those days, the Tribunal of the Holy Office was created. As a way to extinguish heresies in Europe, to fight the devil and his agents, the Inquisition, through various manipulation instruments and psychological torture, made people believe that evils existed, when they did not exist at all.
Throughout the Middle Ages, fear was the theme of European imagination and served as a theme in the most varied literary, iconographic and religious arts.
The population in the Modern Age maintained the same mentality about fears, with the supernatural continuing to interfere in their lives.
The fears and concerns they felt came from the Middle Ages as a consequence of countless disasters that occurred then, such as the Black Death, the Hundred Years War or death that was always imminent due to food shortages, diseases and rudimentary medicinal practices that resulted in very high mortality rates.
According to religious texts, (the Church can also be considered as a source of nocturnal fear), the people related night to darkness, giving darkness a nature of anguish and caution.
In those days, the moon was seen as a wandering star, a mysterious influencer of all forms of life on Earth, tides and agriculture. People believed that the moon contributed to madness and that human beings were affected by its whims and by nocturnal evils. Satan is, par excellence, the sovereign of the shadows and commands the sabbath (demonic encounters of wizards and witches). In contrast, they had the sun, which radiated light and heat. Although censored by the Church, various moon worshiping practices were carried out.
In an era when people lived predominantly in the countryside, the forest was a workplace during the day, but at night it was considered a threat.
In the imagination of the people of the Modern Age, wild animals were synonymous with fear, wolves were considered as untamed and bloodthirsty animals, for which reason collective hunts were carried out. In some European settlements, although censored by the Church, the “Our Father the Wolf” was prayed.
They feared werewolves very much, associating wolves with the moon, which influenced the transformation of these beings.
Ghosts were also part of the collective imagination of the populations, as it was believed that the dead could return. At a time when there was high mortality and death and religiosity were always present, they contributed to the belief in apparitions, which showed up mainly at night, at bedtime. Any simple nocturnal noise was supposed to be a ghost, so some sacred objects like crucifixes and rosaries were placed in the room.
From the 18th century onwards, a new mentality and a certain distance from these fears and beliefs emerged. Despite the scientific developments that have since occurred and tried to justify them, even today we can see the maintenance of some ancestral myths in some traditional societies.
However, today and around the world there are countless reasons for people to be afraid. According to the US National Institute of Mental Health, 20.8% of people suffer from anxiety disorder, spending most of their time fearing something that may or may not happen. According to statistics, the number of patients with this pathology is ten times higher than in the 1980s.
In 2017, the Pew Research Center (USA), after a survey carried out in 38 countries, concluded that the three biggest fears of humanity are: the Islamic State-62%; climate change-61%; and cyber-attacks-51%.
In the face of fear and physiologically speaking, the brain is involuntarily activated by stimuli, releasing substances that will contribute to the individual's heart speed up and the respiratory work to increase, supplying energy to the muscles of the body, which in turn contract and work in two ways, in the struggle with what it fears or else it runs away from it, but it must never wait to see what happens.
In order to alleviate or eliminate fear, in addition to the drugs that are already being created, there are several techniques, the main one being therapy. The most relevant is cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), which understands that The way we think influences the way we feel. So changing the way we think can change how we feel. Hypnosis helps the person to stimulate their own mind, to get out of the comfort zone and overcome obstacles, just as the desensitization that consists in gradually exposing the person to the threatening object also helps to overcome fear.
Psychoanalysis has also been shown to be effective in treating fear and anxiety. According to experts, its success does not depend on the therapeutic line itself, not least because everything depends on the relationship between the therapist and the patient.
The fear we have about the future is important as it encourages us to proceed with more determination.
Although, in general, there have never been so many conditions to make us feel fear and be intolerant of negative emotions as now, we should try to overcome the various setbacks that we are continually experiencing, move on, change the perspective of things, because what is important is to try to get rid of the fear of fear.
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