Is Fear A Friend or Foe?

Written by

Deborah Freudenmann BHSc

Fear is one of the most natural and universal human emotions. You have evolved with a potent fear response to keep you healthy, safe from harm, and alive. Yet, you often feel negatively about fear. You want to hide from it, escape it, and ultimately live a life free from fear.

So, is fear a friend or a foe? In this article, we’ll dive deeper into fear and how it impacts our health and daily lives. Then, we’ll review a few simple steps that help us live better with fear – and even learn from it, too!

What is Fear?

Fear is a universal emotion, which means that all humans, across all cultures and geographical locations feel fear. It is one of the most essential aspects of the human experience.

This emotion is deeply rooted in our psyche first and foremost as a survival mechanism. When you perceive a threat of harm or sense danger, your fear response is triggered. As a result, you are propelled into action to escape the threat and find safety.

When you feel fear (whether the threat real or imagined), your body responds and reacts. To give yourself the best chances of survival, you “turn off” certain functions that are not needed to find safety (such as digestion or cell repair) and “turn on” the functions that help you survive (such as increasing the heart rate, bringing blood flow to muscles, and focusing your eyesight).

Fear: Friend or Foe?

While you may feel that fear is a bad thing, fear is one of the most reliable tools you have for staying away from danger. The entire purpose of fear is to make you alert to potential danger and prevent harm. Fear challenges you to act in the moment and do heroic things that you never thought you could do.

But, while fear keeps you safe from danger, it can also freeze or trap you and prevent you from growing and moving forward in life. Fear without a true threat can often actually cause harm. Let’s explore how fear can be damaging to our minds and bodies, and what we can do to keep a healthy balance.

Chronic Fear and Mental Health

Regular, persistent fear is often categorized as anxiety. Those with anxiety feel fearful or worried, but they don’t always know why. Anxiety ranges from mild to debilitating, but it all cases it puts a strain on people’s daily lives, work, and even relationships.

Recurrent, displaced fear is also associated with PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Interestingly, during a fearful episode, our brains are intently focused and primed to remember the incident. While storing this memory is meant to help us avoid similar situations in the future, it can also cause mental and emotional distress. Those with PTSD end up reliving these fearful memories over and over. In this case, the fear response is no longer helpful, but extremely damaging.

In addition to anxiety and PTSD, ongoing fear can lead to other brain health issues such as depression, trouble focusing or taking action, mood swings, irritability, and memory loss.

Chronic Fear and Physical Health

Although fear is an emotion, its effects span far beyond our mental health. In fact, fear is associated with many physical health conditions due to its direct impact on hormone balance, neurotransmitters, and the body’s regulation systems. Here are just a few ways chronic fear impacts the body:

Reduced Immune Function

High levels of cortisol (a hormone released in response to stress and fear) greatly weaken the immune system’s ability to fight disease. With chronic fear, these levels are elevated constantly, making the body more susceptible to illness.

Poor Gut Health and GI Dysfunction

Because the gut and brain are closely related, fear has a clear impact on the health of the digestive system. Studies show that chronic fear and anxiety can damage the gut’s health microbiome and is closely tied to GI disorders like irritable bowel syndrome.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Fear, stress and anxiety increase your bodies demand for nutrients. First, the production of stress hormones and neurotransmitters associated with “fear” consumes many of the nutrient reserves. Then, because stress largely shuts down the digestive system, less nutrients get absorbed from the food you eat. Consequently, as your supply of fear combating nutrients is decreased, so does your tolerance to fear. Thus, eating a rich nutrient dense diet is important and supplementing may be necessary too.

Cardiovascular Disease

Chronic fear is inherently linked with the cardiovascular system. Studies show that this link between fear and heart health is so strong that those with chronic fear, anxiety, and depression are significantly more likely to experience cardiovascular health conditions during their lifetimes.

Diminished Overall Wellbeing

Chronic fear can cause a general sense of poor health by stealing our energy and our joy. Those with chronic fear or anxiety are often burdened with overwhelming fatigue, increased pain sensitivity, fertility challenges, and more.

Making Friends with Fear: Tips to Overcome Chronic Fear and Anxiety

Fear can help, and fear can hurt. Try as we might, we cannot hide from fear or eliminate it from our lives. We can, however, learn to overcome our fears and use our courage to our advantage.

There is no single path to overcoming your fears, and each person’s journey will look a little different. The following steps and tips can help you start on your own path to freedom from fear:

Step 1: Feel your fear.

The first step in overcoming fear? Feeling it. That’s right! We’re not trying to outrun or ignore our fear, we’re embracing it. When we push our emotions aside or try to cover them up, we never really deal with them enough to heal and grow. Instead, they linger inside and cause those very health issues we’re working so hard to avoid. To fully embrace your fears and learn from them, allow yourself the space and time to sit with fear.

Step 2: Learn and re-wire.

The next step in overcoming fear is to accept the valuable lessons this fear is offering you. Each challenge in our lives holds an opportunity for growth, even our fears.

Step 3: Heal and thrive.

To truly live a healthy life, we must embrace our fears and learn to move beyond them. Once you’ve identified and learned from your fears and thought patterns that hold you back, you can focus on healing the body and preparing for the future.

Healing the Body to Fight Fear

As we’ve seen, fear is as much a physical experience as it is a mental and emotional one. In addition to using these steps and tips to overcome fear productively, it’s also important to give your body the extra care it needs to fight fear.

This all starts with a healthy foundation of real food and clean water. Nourish you body so it can stand strong in the face of fear. Get outside and bask in the beauty of nature. Allow the sunshine, the feel of the earth beneath your feet, and fresh air on your face to remind you of all the amazing things about being alive.

Contact us to learn more about how functional medicine can help you take control of chronic fear and live free!

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