Fear is an underlying factor in depression. People who go through mental health problems often harbor a tremendous amount of fear about the symptoms and the repercussions of the condition. Fear begins at an early age and gradually gets stronger through the stages of maturity until properly dealt with.
Fear is part of the shadow side of man, which encompasses loneliness, guilt, boredom and envy. All people of all cultures experience fear, and it is equally destructive in creating negative behaviour and equally helpful in inspiring positive action.
Like anger, fear is not necessarily something bad. The problem is when people develop irrational fears and these neurotic fears are allowed to build, often causing less and less legitimately fearful situations which can become overwhelming
Pathological fear leads to pathological conditions that greatly restrict the range of healthy emotions and enjoyment from life, such as anxiety disorder, PTSD (a form of trauma) and depression.
Fear also underpins addictions such as alcohol and gambling where the substance or activity may offer perceived temporary alleviation of a fearful mindset plaguing the person. The effect of alcohol or drugs is only temporary and the fear only gets worse as long as the addiction continues to be practised.
Severe fear can lead to paralysis, keeping people from social interactions and enjoying the world. Severe fear causes panic attacks, sometimes daily. People crawl into foetal position to recoil from the world and its pressures.
How Stuff Works on Fear also offers a succinct and excellent description of fear:
Fear is a chain reaction in the brain that starts with a stressful stimulus and ends with the release of chemicals that cause a racing heart, fast breathing and energized muscles, among other things, also known as the fight-or-flight response. The stimulus could be a spider, a knife at your throat, an auditorium full of people waiting for you to speak or the sudden thud of your front door against the door frame.*
Let’s look at what causes fear and go straight to the top: the fear of death.
Fear of death
All fears are a subset of the fear of death, where the ego resists impending annihilation. The ego’s attempts to fight against death can often go in two ways – the first is the expression of rage and anger against the world and others and trying to leave a mark on the earth through aggressive self-will and domination.
The second is to protect the fearful self from the world in passive ways such as avoidance, sinking into the imagination and avoiding and absconding responsibilities of daily living and maturity.
Both dispositions are equally damaging, although the aggressive type is more damaging to others. Even though the aggressive ones are just as fearful, they make a better effort at fulfilling obligations such as work and life’s duties than the passive fearful types. Being busy often prevents mental health from worsening.
The existential side of fear
While a fear of death is genuine, it doesn’t need to ruin lives. Death will always be present in the world. You have a choice: live in fear or take advantage of every breath you have.
The existential dread surrounding the meaning of life and life’s tangential course toward physical death takes up so much of human contemplation. One way to examine this fear in your life is to take an existential stance and ask what meaning and value to you have.
Fearful people need to ask “Is there any other way to derive value in my life? Is there a higher or greater purpose in my life I am yet to realise?” This existential wondering often leads people into a greater life of faith and spiritual importance. Cultivating the path of faith often takes away fear because the pressures of life to succeed becomes much less significant. Friendship, love, companionship, meaningful interactions with others and true beauty become apparent and noticeable.
Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared. Make it a habit to consciously be less fearful, every day, day by day, hour by hour. Disregard your life stage when it comes to existential enquiries, as these questions as just as valid for an eighty year old as they are for someone who is just entering their 20s, 30s or 40s. Unfortunately these types of questions are asked late in life, when people think it’s too late to teach themselves new ways of being and acting.
Psychology Today has an excellent article on fear which takes a reductionist approach and simplified basic fears into five categories, paraphrased here:
Extinction – The fear of ceasing to exist, which often gives rise to panic. People who suffer panic attacks will fear this greatly as they think they are having a heart attack which will lead to death.
Mutilation – Fear of losing parts of our body or our body being invaded. Fear of other animals like spiders and snakes is part of this fear.
Loss of Autonomy – fear of being immobilized, paralysed, restricted, enveloped, overwhelmed, entrapped, imprisoned, smothered, or controlled by circumstances. In a physical form, it’s sometimes known as claustrophobia, but it also extends to social interactions and relationships.
Separation – fear of abandonment, rejection, and loss of connectedness, of becoming a non-person – not wanted, respected, or valued by anyone else. The “silent treatment,” when imposed by a group, can have a devastating psychological effect on the targeted person.
Ego-death – fear of humiliation, shame, or any other mechanism of profound self-disapproval that threatens the loss of integrity of the self. Fear of the shattering or disintegration of one’s constructed sense of lovability, capability, and worthiness
More signs and repercussions of fear
Anxiety is mostly based on what could possibly happen in the future. Severe anxiety is crippling and produces panic attacks, impairing the ability to do daily activities.
One of the chief concerns of many people is how unemployment affects their lives and their ability to care and provide for the people they love. There is also much fear around potential and actual unemployment.
Fear of going crazy
Suffering a mental health condition is so hard that it often involves being afraid of going insane and being labelled mentally sick. The fear of losing control over one’s mind is indeed frightening. It is a common experience for people suffering conditions to be petrified of going out of their mind. They may fear being hospitalised or put into a mental facility.
A lot of fear comes from the unknown and low confidence and wondering how much longer the mental health problems will last.
Social scrutiny and social rejection
This fear is most common amongst the marginalised and lonely. Fearful people are generally sensitive people. Having to defend yourself against others puts people into a world where they can’t trust anyone. When you live in fear you become drawn into yourself and obsessed with what others may or may not be thinking about you. Ruminating on previous hurts of failures becomes so compelling it can be hard not to play the mental tapes over and over again.
Fear is very tiring. Fear often interrupts sleep which causes tiredness, reinforcing mental health conditions. Fear depletes energy reserves by the over activation of the parasympathetic nervous symptom. Long-term fear will cause lasting fatigue which often sinks into depression and exhaustion.