A little bit of fear is always a good thing. Fear gets us up and moving every morning, especially if we do not want to end up jobless and eking out a living foraging for scraps on the street. Fear is also the motivator that helps us ace that exam in order to avoid repeating a subject under the worst professor in the entire university. A healthy dose of fear, in short, can help us perform better at school or at work. However, too much fear can be unhealthy. For others, it can even be deadly!
How Fear Can Affect Your Mind
Fear is an important component of the brain’s mechanism for detecting and avoiding danger. Decades of study have revealed that a healthy amount of fear could help a person escape danger, even in moments when the danger is not yet apparent. However, too much fear, especially long-term, irrational fear can have potentially disastrous consequences on your mental health.
Fear affects concentration and how you process information. People who worry too much about things that have not yet happened often complain of having poor concentration, a reduced capacity for memory, and even physical symptoms such as headaches and migraines. In fact, studies have shown that cortisol, a hormone produced in times of extreme stress, destroys the cells of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that handles episodic memory. Fear can also predispose a person to panic attacks, phobias, and paranoia that can damage the body’s cognitive functions and can have a profound negative effect on social and emotional relationships.
How Fear Can Affect Your Body
The body’s first and natural reaction to feelings of fear is the fight or flight response, and this is often characterized by certain changes in the muscles and hormones that prepares the body either to face the source of fear or to make a hasty escape. The body is designed to exhibit the fight or flight response only when legitimate sources of fear are present, whether it’s a robber in a dark alleyway waving a knife in your face or a monster truck barreling down on you as you cross the street.
There are physical changes that happen the moment a source of fear appears. The lungs expand so more oxygen is made available to the bloodstream, the pupils dilate so that you can see more, and circulation to the other systems of the body are temporarily shunted so the majority of the blood flow is directed to the brain. Your blood pressure also rises and the liver starts releasing more sugar in order to prepare the body for action. The body also produces cortisol, the hormone that is released in response to stress and plays a role in the production of blood sugar. However, our bodies are not designed to stay in this constant state of fear for weeks and years. If it stays on edge for days on end, the body can and will eventually shut down. This is because increased blood pressure, rapid heart rates, and high levels of cortisol can destroy the organs when they persist for long periods.
Effects of a Constant State of Fear
Being in a constant state of fear is like having your fight or flight response stuck at ON at all times. This means that cortisol and blood pressure levels are always high, your sense of awareness is high, and you are on edge, always on the lookout for the danger that may never come. High blood pressure can predispose you to heart problems and places a heavy load on your cardiovascular system. This can become lethal in people who already suffer from congenital heart disease, since the smallest burden on their hearts can literally kill them. High cortisol levels can also lower the immune system, making the body more vulnerable to infections and diseases. If you already have a compromised immune system to begin with, the slightest cold can lead to a more serious infection that can eventually kill you.
Can Fear Kill Me?
Yes, it can! Putting your body in a constant state of agitation and stress can wear down your heart, kill the cells in your brain, and predispose you to various kinds of diseases. Prolonged worry and stress can place a burden on the heart since it is required to pump faster for longer periods of time. This will result to an enlargement of the heart muscles that has been linked to certain types of arrhythmias or irregularities in heartbeat. These are long-term effects of fear, but stories of people falling dead after fright attacks are not that uncommon either. Death by fear may sound impossible, but it has happened, especially to people who were already suffering from heart diseases. People who are walking around with congenital heart diseases can literally fall dead after getting a good scare if their hearts cannot withstand the excitement.
People who want to live longer can take steps to remove the habit of constant worrying and fearfulness in their lives. Irrational fears are unhealthy because they prevent you from pursuing your goals and enjoying life. What’s worse, they also eat away at your health, shorten your lifespan and make you vulnerable to diseases. People who have irrational fears or those who simply cannot stop being fearful about the future can solve this problem by seeking therapy so that they can change the way they view the world. Stress-reduction techniques can also help people lessen the amount of fear that they allow themselves to feel.