For many people, fear is one of the unpleasant feelings. But like other emotions, fear has a purpose and helps us through life. The psychologist Professor Doctor Andreas Ströhle from the Berlin Charité revealed to us what positive effects fear can have for us.
Let’s not beat around the bush: fear is usually no fun. Like sadness, anger, and disgust, fear is one of the emotions we dislike and associate with unpleasant experiences. Nevertheless, like sadness, anger and disgust, fear has a right to exist in our range of emotions. Like our other emotions, our fear navigates us through life. Sometimes it helps us make decisions, sometimes it puts us in a state where we can best deal with certain situations. A life without fear might be fun – but probably not very successful or for long.
Against this background, it generally makes sense to know a little bit about our fear and to make friends with it. In any case, she will accompany us as long as we feel, and she almost certainly means no harm to us. Professor Doctor Andreas Ströhle, Senior Physician and Head of the Special Outpatient Clinic for Anxiety Disorders at the Charité Berlin, revealed to us what positive effects fear can bring us, provided it does not exceed a healthy level.
5 positive effects of fear that we forget far too often
Fear alerts us to threats and dangers
“Fear is basically a warning or an alarm reaction,” says Andreas Ströhle. The emotion serves to let us recognize risks and protect us from dangers.
For example in front of a fast car. Or from loneliness. Or before war.
Fear can express itself physically and, for example, stimulate our sweat production, accelerate our pulse, raise our blood pressure and thus promote blood circulation in our muscles. Or it makes itself felt in our thoughts, for example in the form of worries and brooding. Either way, when something scares us, it’s hard to ignore—and that’s exactly the point of these fear signals, because when something scares us, it’s usually important that we find a way to deal with it.
For example, look left and right before crossing a street. Or maintain our friendships and relationships. Or flee when attacked.
Fear helps us focus
“Ideally, a healthy fear reaction means that we have maximum resources available to successfully cope with the threatening, fear-inducing situation,” says the psychiatrist. Physical functions such as digestion and metabolism are usually slowed down when people are afraid, while blood flow to the muscles and certain areas of the brain is improved. Typically, when we are afraid, we can more easily focus on the one thing that scares us and block out other things. We focus and focus our energies on dealing with the threatening or anxiety-provoking issue.
Fear helps us motivate ourselves
Some fears can drive us and encourage us to take meaningful actions and behaviors. “Fear of exams and failure, for example, means that we prepare appropriately for an exam,” says Andreas Ströhle, “but of course only if they remain within a healthy framework.” The same applies to the fear of job loss or poverty, which ideally encourages us to do our work or to otherwise strive for a regular income. Total absence of fear in such areas would mean that we ultimately wouldn’t care about exams, losing a job or poverty, and with attitude we would probably have a harder time motivating ourselves to study, work or save money.
Fear lets us know what we want
Our healthy fears are usually related to aspects, things, people, or areas that mean something to us. For example, if we are afraid of losing someone, that indicates that this person is important to us. And that we want him in our lives. When we’re afraid of failing at something, proving ourselves in that matter seems important to our self-image or self-worth. Fear of the future shows us that we have a certain need for control, planning, structure and clarity – and want to shape our lives as proactively as possible.
Fear makes us realize what is essential to us
In situations of extreme anxiety, such as an accident or when a potentially dangerous and highly contagious virus is circulating, we typically see very clearly what is really important to us – whether it is staying alive or our loved ones. For example, many people feel the urge to speak to their loved ones again when their livelihood is seriously threatened. In turn, when we are confronted with a serious illness or the death of a loved one, it can cause us to change our lives and completely shift our priorities. It is not desirable to find ourselves in a situation where we are in fear of death, but in very fortunate circumstances the experience of that fear can subsequently enrich us.
Healthy versus pathological anxiety
When it comes to the points mentioned, we have always assumed a healthy fear – as a rule, we do not experience the supporting effect of the emotion if we are too little or too much afraid. “We can imagine our anxiety performance curve as an inverted U,” says Andreas Ströhle. “At an optimal level of anxiety, our ability to cope with the situation in question is at its peak, while too much or too little anxiety leads to a drop in performance.” Above all, too much fear is a problem in our society that affects many people. In the following article you will learn how to recognize that you are too anxious.
Prof. Dr. medical Andreas Ströhle is a specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy. He is senior consultant, head of the department for affective disorders and the working group and special outpatient clinic for anxiety disorders at the Charité Berlin. Together with his colleague PD Dr. Jens Plag, he published the book “Keine Panik vor der Angst” (Random House), which explains the background of panic and fear and shows strategies for coping. Together with his colleague, Prof. Ströhle developed the video course “Understanding and Overcoming Panic” for the doctist health platform. In six modules, you will learn everything you need to know about fear and panic attacks and receive helpful tips and strategies for your way back to a life free of fear.