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  • Dr Frantz Pierre-Louis & Lloyd Pierre-Louis

Fear and Health

Coming out of a mother’s womb into this strange new environment we call world, screaming, crying is the first action performed by a (healthy) newborn baby. According to many, this is a cry of fear (of leaving the comfort of mother’s womb for this world), although many others explain it to be just a normal physiological (and healthy) reaction enabling the newborn's lungs to be filled with, and get going with this essential and permanent breathing process… Maybe both of these perspectives are not mutually exclusive, in which case an important question arises: is fear the very first emotion we feel entering into this world as a little baby? Let's skip to the other very end of life, and a similar and legitimate question undoubtedly arises: could fear be the last emotion most of us experience when death is imminent? No matter the answer to these respective interrogations, however, the most relevant question to start with in this context is the following: what exactly is fear?

As a tentative answer, It must first be noted that it is one of these topics that needs to be tackled upfront, both literally and figuratively. According to many abiding by a pragmatic and even philosophical point of view, FEAR is just a "False Event Appearing Real". It lives in the kingdom of mind, and is constantly fueled mostly by negative emotions, and it completely ignores the present apprehending the worst possible future that often never materializes, but persists the same way as the trivial fact of lightly blowing on the embers of fire re-ignites the flames and keep this fire alive… The fire of anxiety… The anxiety of diseases, of losing, of stress, of not being good enough, among others.

However, according to an undated article published by the University of Minnesota (1) :

‘’ Fear is a human emotion that is triggered by a perceived threat. It is a basic survival mechanism that signals our bodies to respond to danger with a fight or flight response. As such, it is an essential part of keeping us safe.’’

From this perspective, fear could be perceived as salutary since in a real fight or flight response, it helps us preserve what is even more important than health: life itself (at least at the immediate moment when life is seriously threatened).

From another perspective claiming the health benefits of fear, Gladeana McMahon, accredited counselor and co-founder of the Centre for Stress Management, even stated the following:

‘’ People like the buzz of getting a fright. It makes them feel alive, and the whole experience can induce a rush of energy followed by euphoria […] An important feature is that the fear is controlled and in a 'safe' environment […] The danger is simulated, and this means you can enjoy it as a sensation without fearing any consequences. '’

However, this point of view is more or less acceptable as long as the feeling of fear doesn’t get constant, intense over a long period, all the way to the point where it becomes chronic. Indeed, the health consequences of chronic fear (according to the previously cited article from the University of Minnesota) are devastating to anyone on mainly four levels: physical (cardiovascular damage, bowel syndrome, etc.), memory (long-term memory impairment), brain processing and reactivity (negativity in decision making and thinking, interruption of emotion-regulating processes, etc.), mental health (fatigue, clinical depression, etc.).

In conclusion, although it is easier said than done, no other advice is more relevant than the one prone by the wise: whatever the situation, just try over and over to take control of the situation, to be in the now, for the sake of your own health, because everything else is not real, it’s just fear… So don’t be scared !


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