10 Surprising Ways Fear Affects Your Body

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Fear and anxiety are close friends, and according to Mental Health UK, anxiety is actually a type of fear. While you might be familiar with some of the more common symptoms of fear, like rapid heartbeat, there are also some surprising physical symptoms of fear you may be less familiar with. And, being able identify when you're afraid is a big step toward overcoming your fears. Although fear can be debilitating, is also serves a pretty important purpose. "Psychologists point out that fear isn't entirely negative. It can be part of the fight-or-flight mechanism embedded in the lower brain, a response inherited from our remote ancestors to defend themselves from danger," Dr. Deepak Chopra wrote for SFGate.

However, when fear lingers after the threat is over, it can trigger stress responses in the brain when you're reminded of something that brings up the emotions of a previous situation where you felt fearful. When this happens you might experience gastrointestinal distress, sweating, dizziness, dry mouth, rapid breathing, and other physical and emotional symptoms, Mental UK explained on its website. "These things occur because your body, sensing fear, is preparing you for an emergency, so it makes your blood flow to the muscles, increases blood sugar, and gives you the mental ability to focus on the thing that your body perceives as a threat." However, there some other surprising symptoms of fear, and understanding what they are can help you learn to manage your fears in a healthy and productive way.


Fear Can Cause Heartburn

When you're afraid, stressed, or anxious, your body can produce excess stomach acid, which can lead to heartburn and acid reflux, according to the Calm Clinic. If this happens to you on the regular, the only way to get rid of the heartburn once and for all is to address your underlying fears.


Fear Can Rob You Of Your Sense Of Humor

It can be hard to find anything fun, or funny, when you're overcome with feelings of fear, your heart is racing, and your palms are sweating. Interestingly enough, humor is also one of the best ways to ease your fears, according to Stanford University. "If you are able to teach people to be more playful, to look at the absurdities of life as humorous, you see some increase in wellbeing," postdoctoral student Andrea Samson explained on the Stanford news site.


Fear Can Cause Skin Rashes

Remember that episode of Sex and the City where Carrie doesn't want to admit to herself that she's afraid to marry Aidan? When she tries on the wedding dress she gets hot, short of breath, and demands Miranda rip it off ASAP. Once the dress is off, Carrie is covered in angry red hives. This is actually a symptom of fear. According to the website, prolonged stress and anxiety can weaken your immune system and cause your body to break out in hives or rashes. And, these kind of hives can't be cured with medication. They'll only subside once the underlying fear or stressor is addressed.


Fear Can Prompt Busyness & Physical Exhaustion

If you have to fill every single waking moment with some kind of activity, this can actually be a symptom that you're subconsciously afraid of something and you're doing everything possible to avoid it by physically exhausting yourself. If you're not sure whether your jam-packed schedule is fear based, Psych Central noted: "Clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior, Ph.D, suggested exploring these questions: Does your busyness feel like you’re running away from something (versus running toward it)? Do you feel anxious or uncomfortable when there isn’t a task immediately in front of you? When you end up unexpectedly having a few unstructured hours or alone time, do you automatically try to fill it with distractions (such as social media)?" If the answer is yes, it might be time to stand still and identify what you don't want to face.


Fear Can Cause Cold Hands & Feet

You might be familiar with your hands sweating when you're feeling scared, but you might not know that fear and anxiety can also cause your hands and feet to feel cold. "While the fight or flight response changes are active, they can cause a wide range of sensations and symptoms, including having cold hands and feet (or just cold hands, or just cold feet)," the Anxiety Centre explained on its website. "As long as the fight or flight response is active, your cold hands and feet can persist. This is why when people are nervous, they can have cold hands and feet."


Fear Can Make Your Arms & Legs Tingle

This symptom can be tricky because experiencing tingling sensations in your extremities can also be a symptom of a lot of other conditions. However, if you are unable to identify any medical cause for tingling in your arms and legs, it might be time to examine whether or not these sensations are caused by fear. "A part of the stress response changes include shunting blood away from parts of the body less vital to survival and to parts more vital to survival," the Anxiety Centre noted. "This shunting action can cause a tingling, tingly, pins and needles feeling in various parts of the body when a stress response has been activated."


Fear Can Cloud Your Ability To Think Clearly

Feeling fearful or anxious can cause you to become overwhelmed, which can cloud your ability to think clearly, remember things, and make decisions. In short, fear gives you brain fog. According the UW Medicine blog Right As Rain, fear basically scrambles your brain. Your body puts all of it's energy into preparing for fight or flight, and whatever you're afraid of is the only thing your body and brain are able to focus on. "All of the things that we think of as longer-term interests get diverted to the immediate interest: fight or flight," Daniel Evans, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, told UW Medicine.


Fear-Based Illnesses Can Affect Your Job Performance

When your body and brain is in fight or flight mode, its ability to focus on anything other than keeping you safe is compromised. This means you might start slipping at work because you're not focusing on your job. If your work is suffering, and you start to forget meetings, deadlines, or you have a hard time getting to work at all because of fear-induced physical illnesses, it's time to take a look at what's holding you back. This could mean reaching out to to a therapist for help because sometimes we all have a hard time understanding why we feel a certain way, and a therapist can help you identify and work through your fear and anxiety.


Fear Can Disrupt Your Sleep

Trying to fall asleep when you're anxious or afraid is almost impossible, and this is one of the reasons why it's hard to sleep after watching a scary movie. This also goes back to your body's fight or flight response. As long as your body is releasing stress hormones because it perceives a threat, it will be difficult for your body and brain to clam down enough to get any quality sack time.


Fear Might Cause You To Self Medicate

A lot of symptoms of fear, like staying busy, are about avoiding addressing what's making you feel afraid. This is why many people abuse drugs and alcohol; because they're trying to avoid dealing with an underlying condition, according to Foundations Recovery Network's Dual Diagnosis program. "They might be dealing with very real dysfunction and pain, and they might be desperate to get some relief. They might feel that drugs just help them to get through the day, and while they might not have a sophisticated understanding of why they need help, they might feel as though they’re being proactive about their dysfunction when they take drugs."

Unfortunately, self medicating can lead to addiction, and when someone who self medicates seeks help they are often given a dual diagnosis and are treated for both addiction and the underlying condition that caused them to self medicate in the first place.


When To Seek Help For Your Fear

Other physical symptoms of fear include chronic pain, severe allergies, chronic colds and sinus infections, tense muscles, and other unexplained physical symptoms. If you're experiencing myriad symptoms of fear on the regular, Good Therapy explained on its website how working with a therapist can help you reclaim your life. "Therapy can help people manage fear by helping them to understand reasons for the fear, put the fear into perspective, and set realistic expectations for the future," God Therapy noted.

"Therapeutic strategies, such as exposure therapy, can often lead to a reduction in fear and may also often have the effect of empowering the person in treatment. Those who often feel fearful may find that therapy can help them transform any maladaptive behaviors into positive thoughts and actions. Additionally, a therapist may also be able to teach those affected by fear how to recognize triggers for fear as well as the skills needed for effective fear management." While fear can be debilitating to live with, you can overcome it with help and support. Remember, you're not alone. Everyone is afraid at one time or another, and there is no shame in asking for help.