getting started

Written By: DiveThru Team

Reviewed By: Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW


Feeling Fearful: A Guide to Your Emotions

PUBLISHED Dec 23rd, 2020 & UPDATED ON Feb 6th, 2023

Sometimes when we think of the word ‘fear’ and what it means to be feeling fearful, the classic horror movie tropes come to mind. Like when the main character is walking down the basement stairs in pitch darkness, the music gets super intense, and the whole time you’re yelling at the TV: “NOOO! DON’T GO DOWN THERE!!” Or maybe when you think of fear, you think of your biggest phobias like nasty spiders or falling from tall heights. Maybe the thought of visiting the dentist makes you totally freak out. For you, fear could even be thanks to something totally random, like those creepy clowns… *shudders*

The truth is, there’s a lot more than clowns to be scared of in our daily lives (but we totes don’t blame you for jumping out of your skin whenever you see one IRL). There are times when we can be fearful of an upcoming event, especially if you might have to speak in public or perform in front of a huge crowd of people. Some people might feel fear before going out on a first date. Fear can also show up when you’re driving and all of a sudden, you’re caught in a nasty snowstorm and can’t see the road in front of you. All of a sudden, you feel a sense of dread, panic, and not know how to deal with this feeling.

We gotchu. Life can be scary, and fear can feel hard to overcome when you’re in the moment. But it’s gonna be okay, we promise. Let’s look at what it means to be fearful and how we can overcome this super spooky, super scary feeling!

A Deeper Look at Feeling Fearful

Here’s the super technical, deeper meaning of fear according to APA Dictionary: “fear (n.): a basic, intense emotion aroused by the detection of imminent threat, involving an immediate alarm reaction that mobilizes the organism by triggering a set of physiological changes.” Ok, there were a lot of big words being used just now. Let’s break it down.

Basically, when we sense a threat to our security or start to feel unsafe, our ‘spidey senses’ start tingling. This is actually the biochemical reaction to fear, AKA the “fight or flight” that you’ve definitely heard of before. It signals our body to protect itself from any potential danger, like something hiding behind your shower curtain (buuut this is another horror movie trope so chances are, you could just be paranoid). The “fight” response is exactly how it sounds: you fight off the danger that is coming your way. And “flight” (also pretty obvious) means you’re gonna escape danger by running away from it in order to protect yourself.

How Feeling Fearful Shows Up Mentally

Some people really enjoy the rush of adrenaline that skydiving, roller coasters, and haunted houses might stir up. Maybe they find watching those scary movies a blast, even those terrifying pop-ups that make you feel like your heart just stopped beating! But even though some people who enjoy feeling fear in certain situations will see it as something fun or exciting, others perceive fear as something negative. It totally depends on the person, because we’re all different!

Feeling fear is a totally normal, human response. And it’s important to note that fear and phobias are actually not the same thing! If you had a bad experience with getting lost in the dark one time as a kid, it’s completely normal to still be afraid of the dark and sleep with a nightlight as an adult. Or maybe a parent always freaked out whenever they saw a spider, and so you were raised to believe they’re something to fear!

So when does a fear become a phobia? If you have a fear of flying on an airplane, you’ll probably feel signs of fear like an upset stomach or nervous sweating. But you find ways to manage the feeling, like bringing a comforting blanket or listening to music to help calm yourself down. If it’s a phobia, the feeling won’t be so easy to manage. You’ll have stronger physical responses and feel terrible the entire flight, possibly dealing with panic attacks. You might not even board the plane at all, and avoid taking trips because of this phobia.

On top of phobias, there are other mental health conditions including social anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that are linked to major feelings of fear. When your fear becomes unmanageable and starts to affect your life negatively, it’s defs time to seek professional help!

How Feeling Fearful Shows Up Physically

On top of the fight or flight reaction you have when you’re fearful, sometimes your body can react to fear in different ways. These depend on the person and the situation, but here are a few physical symptoms that you might experience:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Upset stomach
  • Dry mouth

These physical signs can maybe cause you to feel embarrassed or ashamed, especially if you worry that others will think your fears are ridiculous. But don’t put yourself down! Everyone has fears, and you CAN get over feeling fearful. It might take time, but it’s totally possible. And we’re here to help!

5 Ways to Cope with Feeling Fearful

Sooo, what are some ways you can cope with feeling fearful? Well, have no fear (lol sorry) ‘cause we have some tips for you to work through this feeling. 

*Venturing down a creepy, dark basement not required.

1. Reach out to a support person 

Your loved ones are there for a reason! When you need to talk through how you’re feeling, lean on the people you trust. Sometimes just having someone to listen to us and validate how we’re feeling makes all the difference.

2. Comfort yourself 

Do it as you would expect a parent or friend to do. If you don’t have someone around who can be there for you right now, be there for yourself as best as you can. Remind yourself that everything will be okay, and that this feeling is temporary.

3. Practice deep breathing

Breathe innn… and breathe outtt. Taking a moment to focus on your breathing has actually been proven to lower anxiety and reduce stress. Plus, deep breathing slows your heart rate and provides your brain with enough oxygen to chill out a bit. 10/10 recommend for de-escalating your fear.

4. Journal 

Navigating our fears can be tricky. Try writing out exactly how you’re feeling and what made you feel this way. Taking the time to journal our thoughts can give us the clarity we need to move forward!

5. Engage in something soothing and comforting 

Spend time with your pet by cuddling them or taking them on a walk. Touch something comforting like your fave cozy blanket. Brew some tea or your drink of choice. Do whatever makes you feel calm and safe!

We all experience fear every now and then. It’s a totally common feeling, even though we might find different things scarier than others. So make sure to try out these tips the next time you’re feeling fearful! We know you can overcome your fears, ‘cause you’re strong like that.

Read More: Online Therapy 101, How to Get the Most Value From Your Therapy Appointments,