What is Fear?
Wikipedia defines Fear as “an emotion induced by a perceived danger or threat, which causes physiological changes and ultimately behavioural changes, such as mounting an aggressive response or fleeing the threat. Fear in human beings may occur in response to a certain stimulus occurring in the present, or in anticipation or expectation of a future threat perceived as a risk to oneself. The fear response arises from the perception of danger leading to confrontation with or escape from/avoiding the threat (also known as the fight-or-flight response), which in extreme cases of fear (horror and terror) can be a freeze response or paralysis.”
Scientifically speaking, emotions such as fear, when stimulated, can result in an “abnormal excitation of the nervous network.” This causes biochemical alterations in the heart rate and neurosecretion. It can also interrupt the relationship between the peripheral nervous system and the brain. As is known, cerebral activity focuses on the source of the emotion. It can cause voluntary muscles to become paralyzed and sensory perceptions to be altered, sometimes causing us to feel physical pain. An ‘emotional state’ is generated when stimuli from emotions such as Fear activates the various parts of the brain (thalamus and cortex) that interact with the organs (viscera). If this exposure is chronic, the brain chemistry gets altered, and reaches a semi-permanent state of abnormality This causes depression and other phycological problems. As Fear is the most primary emotions in humans, it sustains far longer than any other emotion known to humans.
In simple English, Fear is one of the most powerful, natural and basic of human emotions. It triggers both an emotional and biological response. It alerts us to any danger, real or perceived, physical, physiological or emotional. Fear can also be caused by mental health issues.
The opposite of fear is courage. Bravery. To have fears is natural. To overcome one’s fears is to be brave. To be ‘Fearless’ is an unnatural state. That is why we have “Bravery’ awards and not ‘Fearless’ awards. Overcoming our fears leads to the path to success in any human endeavour.
The evolution of man and society could be said to be mainly triggered as a response to human fears.
The fear of the unknown – lighting, thunder, death, the dark, etc. – led man to evolve belief systems, in powers that could protect them. These ultimately became religions. Faith was and remains, for many, a bulwark against Fear.
The fear of the known – predators, both human and non-human, disease, earthquakes, volcanoes – led man to group together in tribes, as protection against these fears. These tribes became larger and evolved into societies, as communities were better equipped than individuals to fight common threats, and the fears that arose from the threats.
In times of major crisis – war, pandemics, etc. when sudden, untimely deaths occur more frequently than normal, families of those affected, suffer from fear induced psychosis, that leads to psychological problems as well as poor response to the same disease condition as they loved ones suffered from. This fear affects their recovery.
René Descartes, the French philosopher said, “Cogito, ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am.” For me, this statement is a validation of the ‘Power of the Mind’ to achieve any goal, including wellness.
The effect of Faith and Belief in recovery and ability of a person suffering from an ailment is well documented. Psychosomatic responses to disease conditions dictate the wellness of patients. Faith healers, defy science. Though most of them are unreliable, there have been irrefutable examples of people healing by believing in their ability to get well – against all odds. We call these miracles.
Our Faith or Belief could be in religion, in oneself or in the science and medical treatment that you receive. To believe that your medical condition can improve plays an important physical and physiological role in recovery.
It is said that Man is a social animal. His phycological strength is often derived from family, friends, and the community. In our current crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic, with ‘home isolation’ and ‘lockdown’ being the ‘go to’ disease control tool that Governments have used worldwide, they have eliminated one of the most powerful physiological support systems that any human has. While ill, there is no comfort as you are isolated. In death, you are denied the family and rituals that make death somewhat tolerable.
In our current crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic, since the 20th of March 2021, there has been 24 x 7 coverage in the media, especially the TV News channels, that has sensationalised human loss and human suffering with a frenetic, doomsday approach, only with an eye to grab TRP ratings, without any sense of social responsibility.
Nor have they taken a moment to examine the impact of their fear-mongering and relentless “Breaking News’ breathless, dramatic coverage on its viewers.
I have friends who have died from Covid-19. Young, healthy and who should never have died. When they fell ill, they were ‘quarantined’, with no human support to help them overcome the fear that had been instilled in them. They were fearful they would not recover and could not interact with those who could convince them otherwise. They were fearful that they would die and be cremated alone, and this fear became a self-fulfilling prophecy. They were so fearful that they did not recover. The fear led them to believe they had no hope of survival, and so they died. The medication did not help. Fear is contagious, and more people have caught it than the virus.
For this, I blame the media for their callous approach to COVID reporting. I blame the Government for not bringing them into control. For not stopping them from convincing their viewers that they have no chance of getting well, once they were ill.
Just some facts to give you some sense of perspective. Every day in India, approximately 27-30,000 people die, from various causes. This is even before we heard the word COVID-19 and Coronavirus. Of these, approximately 25,000 are cremated every day. During certain days in April/May 2021, the numbers rose from 25,000 to 27,000. As cremations take time, there were backlogs in some locations on some days. How did this human tragedy become a made for TV travesty? To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson of Fear and Loathing, “There are some things that you know in your heart that are truly ugly, and this is one of them.’
My advice to all. Believe you can defeat the disease. With the appropriate medication and your belief in your ability to recover, you will get well.
I would like to clarify that nothing that I write can take away from the immense, tragic human suffering caused by the current pandemic, and the grief of those who have lost their loved ones.
– Vasant Pandit