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What are you, some sort of chicken?

Psychologists say that when we’re in a state of fear, we compromise our ability to process thoughts and events rationally, because our brain tries to send us away from the pain point. 44’s Bec Kilcullen takes a look at the scarily fascinating psychology of fear, both inside and outside the workplace…

There’s nothing to fear, but fear itself. Whoever said that has clearly never fought the urge to cry like a baby simply because the plane they’re on is about to take off. Or actually shaken with terror when faced with popping a not-very-big-at-all blister on their foot (sorry, TMI). Or even dropped the baby car seat they’re holding (containing their own precious offspring) just because a teeny wasp landed on their hand.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit to being quite such a cowardy custard (yep, those were all me: the baby seat incident was not my proudest parenting moment), but the psychology of fear is scarily fascinating.

It’s well known that we’re born with just two innate fears – falling and loud noises – stemming from our caveman ancestors and designed to keep us alive. If you fell, you could be hurt and unable to hunt or escape from predators, resulting in likely death, and anything loud was probably going to eat you (there’s that death outcome again).

Anything else that makes you break out in a cold sweat has been learned somewhere along the way, and some are understandable. It’s not hard to grasp why your heart races when faced with presenting to a roomful of strangers, or why a looming, immovable deadline can make you want to flee from your office and never look back. But no one is born frightened of frogs, velvet or clowns*.

The not-scary-but-mildly-depressing news is that once terror’s got a grip of you, it’s not easy to overcome. Experts recommend gradually and repeatedly facing your fear but if, like me, it’s painful (facing up to wasps = being stung) or impractical (frequent air travel = not great for the bank balance or the planet), your options are limited. Live with it? Avoid the thing that scares you? Or simply face your fears head on.

Feel the fear and do it anyway? Hmm, maybe another day…

*All real phobias held by someone in team 44. But can you guess who’s scared of what?


(Answers: frogs = Gemma Houltby, velvet = Jonny Hooke and clowns = Sarah Woods).

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