CW #21: FEAR



Fear is an emotion every single one of us experiences multiple times. You may even consider it to be a natural expression. Especially when going through hazardous life situations, feeling fear helps to create appropriate responses concerning survival and viability. Think of a negative life event, for instance the loss of a beloved companion, maybe the death of your wife, brother or mother. This is truly something, we fear and mostly we do not want to experience ever. Understandable. It is the fear of suddenly being alone, the fear of not knowing how to manage situations without close support and the fear of having to readjust to an unexpected condition. Maybe even feeling disable to believe in oneself. Who would like to go through these deep emotions of grief and sorrow if they did not had to? And yet, it happens and we find ways to get out of onerous life situations like these. How is this possible? Just imagine, there is a small part in our brain working for us just to sustain our existence. And all of this is connected to the state of feeling afraid. WELCOME TO CW #21: FEAR!


In the following I would like to present different ideas regarding the term “fear”. In science, fear has been discussed for ages. It is a state of mind with much complexity. For this reason I will not insist on one definition only. There are many approaches to understand fear, also changing with progress in scientific researches. Therefore, I would like to offer one possibility.

Fear appears as an emotion involving an unpleasant feeling due to anticipation or awareness of danger. Its linguistic background dates back to Old English fær and Middle English fere meaning “sudden danger” or “sudden attack”. Furthermore it referred to a state of being afraid. It is perceived as a risk to body and life. Eventually feeling fear caused by perceived danger or threat leads to a change in metabolic and organ functions. With that in mind, our system initiates an ultimate change in behavior, an adjustment in order to prepare for survivability. Our system has created a so-called “fear-response” in order to transform danger into defense and lastly protection. The particular response system arises from perception of danger and leads to its confrontation, the escape or even avoidance of threat. To some extremes, for instance hazardous life situations caused by horror or terror it can lead to a freeze response or paralysis.

Fear is a feeling. To be precise, it is one of six fundamental emotions. These include anger, disgust, surprise, happiness, sadness and fear. These basic emotions have existed ever since and developed throughout human evolution. They help us perform fast judgements and quickly guide appropriate behavior. A large part of these actions are determined by one of the oldest parts of our brain - the limbic system, including the amygdala the hypothalamus and the thalamus. Due to its evolutionarily determination, basic emotions are experienced and displayed in much the same way across cultures. This is the reason why people are quite accurate at judging facial expressions of others, even from foreign cultures.

Observing humans and animals both will demonstrate equal reactions. Fear is regulated by cognitive and learning processes. Hence, when talking about fear, in science two main conditions are being distinguished: “rational or appropriate” versus “irrational or inappropriate”. Phobia is one example of an irrational fear response. There are many different types of phobias, such as acrophobia or claustrophobia. Researches have shown that fear does not only depend on nature but also on mindsets shaped by social relations and culture. Thus society creates an understanding of when and how much fear to feel. This can be proven by rather modern types of phobias, for example social phobia or social anxiety. Social Phobia describes the fear of being judged negatively by other people leading to a feeling of inferiority, embarrassment or humiliation. What is more, its attention has increased since 1999, on the occasion of introducing the world wide web, the global connectivity and its impact on society, especially taking social media into account.

The most fundamental fear though is the fear of the unknown, also called FOTU, xenophobia or neophobia. Fearing the unknown is an irrational fear, mostly caused by negative thinking (worrying). This phenomenon mainly arises from anxiety walking along with a sense of apprehension. Anxiety relates to fear though it must be strictly distinguished since it occurs as a result of threats that seem to be uncontrolled or unavoidable. This type of irrational fear shares a common pathway with other fears. What is more, the nervous system activates bodily resources when facing danger or threat. Many people are afraid of the unknown. In particular, FOTU can be understood as a natural as well as a fear created and passed on by culture. Furthermore xenophobia relates to a lack of clarity in situations that tend to be uncertain or unpredictable. Besides it can cause anxiety in addition to other psychological and physical problems. Chronic irrational fears are harmful and lead to negative effects since the elicitor stimulus is absent or perceived from delusions. Being afraid may cause people to experience anticipatory fear of what may happen rather than planning and evaluating. In addition it can lead to habits such as laziness and procrastination. I would like to add an example for you to establish a better understanding on this phenomenon. Many parents do not allow their young children to speak to strangers. In this way children create a negative image towards foreign people. Implanting this type of mindset at a very young age will most likely lead to restraint when it comes to dealing with unknown situations. A more effective solution would be to explain possible dangers but encourage the act of dealing with unknown situations and foreign people. Therefore children are able to create an open mindset accompanied by their parents. When it comes to irrational fears what we have to focus on is strengthening its handling. It is often recommended to deal with all sorts of situations as an antidote to irrational fear. After all it is necessary to develop a sense of equanimity.

Equanimity is understood as a peaceful state of mind. Moreover it includes balance and calmness. Furthermore it is a state of physiological stability and composure, mostly undisturbed of experience or exposure to emotions, pain or other phenomena that may cause others to lose balance. Equanimity could be a basic human property. As a matter of fact, we are able to develop equanimity and learn to act and react equanimous in certain situations. You may look at equanimity as a virtue, a positive attitude that needs to be cultivated. Here is one suggestion.

one week practice

  • Make sure you want to work on the development of a virtue. It is impossible to focus on various virtues. That is why you should dedicate this following week to only one.

  • Make a clear and strict decisions. Be conscious about your choice. You may use the following motivations:

“Next week I want to cultivate equanimity.”

“I am excited to be more equanimous next week.”

  • Prepare yourself to perform at least one act representing equanimity per day. Each day focus on doing something you normally would not do expressing equanimous actions.

  • You may also use some more affirmations in the morning and during the day to support your mission. Here are some positive examples:

“I am equanimous.”

“I develop equanimity.”

“I become equanimous.”

  • Also try to find your personal answers to the following questions in order to support your transformation:

What should I do to develop equanimity?

How could I become equanimous?

If I wanted to be equanimous, how would I do that?

If I were equanimous, what would that feel like?

The practice of equanimity was an essential skill by a large number of ancient philosophers, for example the Ancient Greek philosopher Pyrrho who founded the school of skepticism in the 4th century BC. Pyrrho travelled to India with the army of Alexander the Great and studied with gymnosophists. Gymnosophists were ascetics who believed in the waiver of food and clothes because it was seen as detrimental to the purity of thoughts. In Pyrrhonism the term atarxia, Ancient Greek ἀταραξία, was used to express equanimity which refers to unperturbed. Atarxia literally means “unperturbedness”, its general translation relates to "imperturbability", "tranquillity", or "equanimity". Beyond that it was seen as the goal of Pyrrhonist practice. Apart from this its comprehension of equanimity was characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry - a pleasurable life. The term “pleasure” (Ancient Greek ηδονή) was highly discussed in Ancient Greek philosophy, especially in Epicurenism. Epicurus believed that pleasure was the greatest good, but also hard to attain. One must live modestly, gain knowledge regarding the world’s happenings and limit one’s desires - this would lead to atarxia.

I want you to understand that feeling fear is nothing exceptional. In fact it is something natural and can help initiate transformation - if you allow it! Let the fear go and welcome equanimity!