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The Three Types of Fears

Natasha Josefowitz

By Natasha Josefowitz, Ph.D.

LA JOLLA , California –The newspapers are full of traumatic events—from wars to fires to floods to earthquakes, civil unrest seems to be everywhere, all contribute to understandable paranoia. I started thinking about the kinds of fears we all experience and have categorized them under three different types.

First, there is what I call the personal fears: the everyday kind of anxieties that many of us experience, usually as a foreboding that does not pan out. For instance, every time my husband was late coming home, I immediately visualized him in a car crash or having a heart attack, usually alone on a deserted road. Or if he was at a meeting in a hotel or an office building, I visualized him lying ill on a lobby floor. When I know that my children are flying, then there is the plane crash anxiety. Now that all of our grandsons are old enough to drive, I worry about their driving with friends (I read that the more kids there are in a car, the more likely an accident will occur). The personal fears can also be mild anxieties about a talk to be given at a conference or concern about the forthcoming dinner party where the mix of guests won’t work and the food won’t be good and the weather won’t cooperate.

Obviously being anxious about events that probably won’t happen is unpleasant and bad for our immune systems; feelings of anxiety impact our health. So instead of planning for a worst-case scenario, we should try to let go of the negative thoughts and think only about positive outcomes. If this is difficult, occupy your mind with tasks that need concentration. Being physically active also helps.

Then there are the universal fearsthe kinds we’re all afraid of: getting sick, dying in pain, having Alzheimer’s (every time I misplace something I think, “This is it, dementia has set in!”), having a spouse die or dying before a spouse and leaving him or her bereft, or burying a child. Universal fears are shared by most people and are part and parcel of being human. In some parts of the world, fear of hunger is predominant, in others it may be fear of droughts or floods or of locusts, fear of war or civil unrest. In other words, there are realistic fears which may come to pass and about which we have little control except to prepare for disaster whenever possible. I go to the doctor for checkups and have a bag of emergency supplies in case of an earthquake.

The third type are the global fears:. These are fears of  buildings bombed, water reservoirs being poisoned, houses of worship being burned, germ warfare, economic collapse, war, and now even fear of pirates. Fear of the dizzying challenges we face as a species in the next few generations.

I worry about our grandchildren’s children—with coastal flooding seemingly inevitable due to global warming, by mid-century, where will those millions of newly homeless go but more inland—inland into already overcrowded places where they will not be welcomed—will there be strife or will there be a solution before it actually happens? What about our coming water shortages? What will happen if the aquifers are eventually drained? Here in San Diego, we are planning for desalination plants—a good thing!

These are the global fears, those that threaten our planet and about which we can prepare with wind farms, solar panels, artificial lawns, alternative fuels, new vaccines, recycling, going green, and generally making our voices heard for better planning for the inevitable problems that may occur not in our lifetime, but in the lifetimes of our descendents: leaving a legacy of a viable earth.

And so whether our fears are personal: just some of us—universal: that’s most of us—or global: that should be all of us, we need to acknowledge the reality of those fears and deal with them by being there for each other and there for all of us—all of us inhabitants of the same home.


Josefowitz is an author and freelance writer based in La Jolla, California.  This article appeared previously in La Jolla Village Voice.


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