Imaginary Danger: An Inexhaustible Source of Fear

· May 8, 2018

The problem might not be in any real danger facing you. It might be that you are creating more fear than the situation itself calls for. Sometimes your mind is your worse enemy because it creates imaginary danger that seems very real. 

When fear floods your body, your body activates a protective circuit that prepares you for flight. For example, your heart starts to beat faster in case you have to run. You sweat more, your breathing accelerates, your digestive and immune system stop expending energy in case you need to fight or flee. Plus a large quantity of blood accumulates in your feet in case you need to run away.

All of these reactions happen because of our survival instinct. It’s a system ready to quickly react to danger. Thanks to this instinct, fear puts us on the alert and keeps us active. 

The problem with fear in modern society is that humans aren’t chased by lions anymore. Now, in contrast, many of the best-adapted responses are intellectual or otherwise don’t require any physical effort. Nevertheless, your body reacts the same way it has for centuries.

In that sense, there is one danger that you should not waste any energy on, and that is imaginary danger. What will happen if the plane crashes? Will I lose my job at the end of the year? Is someone following me on the street? Can my children get home alone? Is he/she going to break up with me?


These fears trigger the circuit we mentioned earlier and keeps your body alert. Your survival instinct causes blood pressure spikes that are completely useless since you aren’t going to have to run away.

survival instinct and imaginary danger.

Unnecessary fatigue from imaginary dangers

Scientist Robert Sapolsky explains that imaginary danger generates physiological and mental fatigue. The reason is the unconscious associations that you reinforce when they happen frequently. Interestingly, fear mechanisms in animals only activate when the danger is real.

Just as your imagination can activate these circuits, it can also stop them. If you can imagine all of the negative things that can happen to you, you can also do the opposite. You can use your will to calm your body by imagining all the positive things that could also happen.

By controlling your thoughts, you have the power to stop the your heart from racing. You can calm your tense muscles and sweaty palms. These expressions of fear are unpleasant and they don’t help when your problem is intellectual.

Fear can be a high bar

The sensation of fear protects you. But it also makes it hard to leave your comfort zoneSupported by your survival instinct, your brain activates the fear circuit every time it finds itself in a potentially dangerous situation. The purpose is to protect us from anticipated harm.

On the other hand, if you know and understand your fears, you will be aware of them. That way, you can make sure that they never control what you do. You have to listen and comprehend the emotion. Don’t just follow it blindly. Evaluate the risks of your new, unknown situation, as well as what you stand to gain. So often, the risk is completely worth it. 

You can’t just give in every time your fear circuit is activated. Find tools to manage scary situations. It will give you much better results.

Fear is an emotion you can’t completely remove from your life. Nor should you! But it is in your power to identify when a danger is real, or when it is just the product of your imagination. Fear sometimes protects you. On the other hand, ignoring it and taking a chance is what keeps us alive and ticking.