Five of the Most Common Fears and Their Characteristics

We're all afraid of something. However, some fears are more common than others. So, what do we fear the most and why?
Five of the Most Common Fears and Their Characteristics
Laura Ruiz Mitjana

Written and verified by the psychologist Laura Ruiz Mitjana.

Last update: 21 April, 2023

What are the most common fears of the human being? Fear is a feeling of anguish caused by the presence of a real or imagined danger. It’s a physiological and psychological reaction triggered by a threatening stimulus. However, we can also develop fears (or phobias) in the face of non-dangerous stimuli. As a matter of fact, there are more irrational fears than rational ones.

In reality, we’re genetically programmed to experience fear. Our DNA contains data that make us emit fear responses to potential predators and situations that can put our lives at risk.

In this article, we’re going to talk about psychological fears. These are fears related to pain, loneliness, and failure, among others. If you want to know what scares us the most and why, read on.

Most common fears

It’s clear that we’re all afraid of something. Some fears are more common than others. In fact, fears are part of being human. Indeed, although we all have a rational brain, irrationality is also present in our psyche, and fears are often fed from it.

But, what scares us? Are they universal fears? Why do they exist? We’re going to try and find out.

woman with apathy
Fear is a natural and normal response that alerts us to dangers that threaten our survival.

1. Fear of loneliness

The fear of loneliness is one of the most frequent. As social beings, we seek contact with people, company, and affection. However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t also like to be alone.

As a rule, most of us want to have people by our sides, even if not constantly. Therefore, one of the deepest fears of the human being is the fear of being alone.

Loneliness often scares us because we fear dialogue with ourselves. In effect, in some ways, we find it difficult to accept ourselves. And, when we’re alone, we have no choice but to face everything that we’re carrying inside ourselves. This is what scares us.

Curiously, there’s no more effective cure for a fear of loneliness than being alone, at least for a while. In fact, you can learn a great deal from your own loneliness.

“The worst loneliness is being with someone and yet feeling alone.”


How to face the fear of loneliness

One way of dealing with this fear is to reduce loneliness or the chances that it’ll occur. Next, we’ll give you four strategies to achieve it. They’re based on the results of a meta-analysis from the journal, Personality and Social Psychology Review. It was aimed at identifying the best interventions for reducing loneliness.

  1. Improve your social skills. These skills help you interact with others, communicate your desires and ideas, and resolve any interpersonal conflicts. In short, they allow you to effectively integrate into social life. To enhance them, we recommend being assertive and empathetic, practicing active listening, joining social groups, and improving your non-verbal language.
  2. Increase your social support. One way of reducing your fear of loneliness is to have a wide support network. In this context, social support is understood as the assistance, resources, and support, emotional or physical, that you receive from your main social networks. There are several things you can do to improve it, but the main one is to strengthen your family and social relationships (friends, colleagues, partner, etc).
  3. Increase your opportunities for social contact. Integrating into new social spaces where you have contact with other people is essential in facing a fear of loneliness. To do this, attend community groups that have common interests. For example, a reading group or a volunteer team. The idea is that you participate in activities that allow you greater social connection.
  4. Decrease maladaptive social cognitions. Social cognition is a set of mental processes that allow you, among other things, to perceive, interpret, and respond to other people’s behaviors. As a rule, they’re maladaptive when they generate distorted thoughts or beliefs about others and yourself. The best way to mitigate their impact is to reflect on the irrational ideas you have of others and replace them with those that are more consistent with reality.

In summary, the most effective way of reducing your fear of loneliness is to modify the irrational beliefs that you have about yourself and others (social cognition). That’s because they tend to worsen your fear. Moreover, you must make space for social integration to encourage your connection with other people.

2. Fear of death

Another of the most common fears is the fear of death. This is so because it’s something unknown to us. After all, nobody knows what happens after death. Furthermore, despite the existence of certain faiths, beliefs, and religions, death remains an unknown quantity.

What if there’s nothing? Nothingness, like death, also frightens us. In addition, sometimes, death brings suffering and pain (although not always), elements that we also fear (as you’ll see below).

Fear of death is natural yet we make it a taboo subject. But, we should talk about it because it’s part of life. Talking about it would help us understand it as simply one more stage, one without which there’d be no life.

This topic is also extremely important for children. That’s because they often grow up with a fear of death, derived from the attitudes and behaviors of the adults around them. Therefore, we need to normalize death.

How to face the fear of death

When the fear of death becomes irrational, living becomes unbearable. Indeed death lurks at all times, so a fear of dying prevents the full enjoyment of existence. Faced with this kind of way of life, what can be done? How can we reduce the fear of death? If you’re afraid of death, here are some strategies to deal with it, taken from scientific sources.

  1. Practice mindfulness. According to a 2019 study published in Religions, mindfulness will help you develop unconditional acceptance of life’s inevitable contingencies, such as death. In addition, in this same investigation, it was found that practicing mindfulness favors the appearance of prosocial attitudes and increases our focus on the intrinsic value of life.
  2. Strengthen your interpersonal relationships. Connecting with other people attenuates this fear, as it provides a sense of closeness and belonging. As such, death becomes less terrifying when you have the support or company of someone else. In 2022, research published in Innovation in Aging claimed that social support reduces the fear of dying and spiritually focused coping is associated with less death avoidance.
  3. Live a life with meaning. Having a meaningful life or living it with meaning and purpose causes the fear of death to reduce significantly. In fact, in a population of older adults, it was observed that there was a negative correlation between the meaning of life and the fear of death. This means that the higher the meaning of life, the lower the fear of dying.
  4. Talk about your fear. The best way of overcoming a fear is to face it. In the case of death, you just have to talk about it with your friends, family, or therapist. Expressing what you feel before your inexorable end will allow you to reduce your levels of fear. In further research from the Innovation in Aging, experts claimed that talking about death alleviates the fear of it.

Death is inescapable, but the fear of it is avoidable. Sometimes you simply need to find meaning in life or feel that you’ve had an authentic existence. After all, there’s no greater regret in the face of death than discovering that time has run out and we haven’t really lived.

“To die is poignantly bitter, but the idea of having to die without having lived is unbearable.”

-Erich Fromm-

3. Fear of pain and suffering

Suffering is another element that we fear intensely. As a matter of fact, this deep fear forms the base of certain psychological disorders.

For example, in avoidant personality disorder or experiential avoidant disorder, the individual fears, among other things, being exposed to pain and suffering. This causes them to exhibit avoidance behaviors. These prevent them from connecting with their suffering or experiencing it. However, no one is exempt from pain, since it’s part of life.

Furthermore, through pain, we obtain terrific life lessons. But, is pain the same as suffering? Actually, there are small nuances that differentiate them. One of them is that pain is something natural. It’s a human reaction to an unpleasant or traumatic situation. On the other hand, suffering is a state that we ‘create’ by resisting pain.

How to face the fear of pain and suffering

When trying to overcome this fear, the aim isn’t to eliminate the pain of human life but to establish a healthier relationship with it. It means managing the affliction in another way, leaving aside the irrational fear and opening up to the possibility of accepting what’s happening. If you’re afraid of suffering, here are some keys to reducing this fear, according to scientific evidence:

  1. Educate yourself about pain. Knowing what pain is, what it’s for, and what it means makes it easier for you to reduce it. Becoming familiar with your fears eliminates uncertainty, which is what generates fear. In fact, as humans, we’re programmed to fear the unknown. So, learning about pain will help a great deal. It’ll change your beliefs which means you can modify your emotions. In a study published in The Clinical Journal of Pain, it was found that when patients with chronic pain received education about pain, their beliefs and attitudes changed. Their catastrophic thoughts were reduced, and their physical performance improved.
  2. Perform relaxation exercises. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, guided imagery, and muscle relaxation are helpful in reducing tension, stress, anxiety, and fears. So, if you want to lessen your fear of pain, take time to relax a bit in your daily life.
  3. Change your thoughts about pain. The beliefs you have about pain will cause your fear to increase or decrease. For example, if you think “I’ll never be able to bear so much pain”, your fear will increase because you perceive that you don’t have the resources to face it. Therefore, you need to change your way of thinking. This advice is based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). In this regard, an article published in Current Pain and Headache Reports argues that CBT decreases fear avoidance beliefs.
  4. Expose yourself gradually and moderately to pain. As we mentioned earlier, one of the main interventions for overcoming fears is to expose yourself to them. A randomized controlled trial in the journal, Pain, notes that interoceptive exposure therapy reduces fear of pain. Consequently, if you want to overcome your fear, approach the pain progressively so that it doesn’t affect your health.

For some people, this type of fear can be paralyzing. It can even make them resort to extreme measures to avoid feeling pain. Working on it allows them to recover the joy of living without fear of suffering and to get involved once more in their daily activities.

4. Fear of failure

The fear of failure is another of the most common fears. It can be completely paralyzing when facing challenges and vital projects. Although many of us are optimistic, others may feel an inherent fear of failure, derived from their dreams and aspirations.

In reality, we’re almost never 100 percent prepared for everything, but that shouldn’t hold us back, since we can try not to be afraid of failure. But, our minds are programmed to fear dangers and threats. This is an evolutionary process. It makes us prepare for the event of failure.

How to face the fear of failure

The fear of failure is related to various emotional, social, and cultural factors. For instance, self-esteem, perfectionism, social or family pressures, ideals of success, past failures, etc. If you’re afraid of failure, your intervention should focus on the root of the problem. Here are some general recommendations from the Harvard Business Review on how to overcome a fear of failure:

  1. Reinterpret Failure. Your fear stems from your irrational beliefs about failure. Changing the way you perceive, understand, and evaluate your failures will help you overcome your emotional reactions. For example, if you no longer believe that failure will be the end of your career or life, it’s unlikely that you’ll be terrified of it.
  2. Formulate approach goals. There are two ways to set objectives. Firstly, you focus on the achievement of a goal. Secondly, you avoid unfavorable results. One example of an approach goal is when you say “I want to answer all the questions on the test correctly.” On the other hand, an avoidance goal would be “I’m going to skip the exam”. Focusing on what you want to achieve and not on what you want to avoid causes your fear levels to drop. Thinking about unwanted results can stress and frighten anyone. Therefore, it’s not recommended to formulate avoidance goals, since they make you focus on the negative.
  3. Make a fear list. Making a list will allow you to get a closer look at the origin of your fears. Thus, you can propose effective solutions for them. According to a 2018 article published in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, writing has a positive impact on emotional health
  4. Focus on your learning. Knowing that you possess a wealth of knowledge that can assist you will help reduce your fear of failure. Sometimes, your fears emerge because you don’t perceive yourself as capable of facing adversity or threats. Therefore, discovering that you have the tools to overcome them makes it easier for you to take on life’s challenges, even though there’s a possibility you might fail in the attempt.

Your fear of failure increases through memories of the past. It’s like a snowball rolling down a slope, getting bigger as it descends. Adding up and remembering the failures of yesterday enlarges and strengthens the intensity of your fear in the present. Faced with this situation, living in the here and now is the best solution. Let go of the past, let go of the future, and live in the moment. That’s the key.

5. Fear of loss

The loss of significant people (due to breakups, deaths, arguments, etc), as well as the loss of valuable objects or situations, can generate fear.

Indeed, in reality, one of the things that scares us the most in life is losing. This derives from the mistake of believing that things belong to us.

Can people be owned by others? Do things really belong to us? It’s worth thinking about.

We’re not educated to lose or to manage our losses. However, we should be. Indeed, schools should promote adaptive coping strategies for these vital situations that we’ll all experience in our lives.

If you’re trying to process a loss, you must begin the grieving process. This is linked to the fear of pain and suffering.

How to face the fear of loss

There are several ways of overcoming the fear of loss. Here are four of them for you to practice in your daily life:

  1. Accept the loss. The first thing you should do is become aware that losses are inherent in life. We all lose at some time or another, whether it be an insignificant object or an important person. For this reason, it’s important that you understand that losing is part of human development. Once you accept this fact, you’ll see how your fear loses momentum. If you have negative emotions or thoughts about loss, accept them too. Doing so will benefit your mental health.
  2. Live in the present. As a rule, this type of fear anticipates loss. If this is your case, turning off the autopilot of your behaviors and living in the present will help you a great deal. To do this, suspend your judgments and immediately direct your attention to the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that you’re experiencing. With the help of this mindfulness technique, you’ll be able to live in the present and let go of the fear of losing what you have.
  3. Learn to be grateful. Parallel to the previous strategy, we recommend that you promote gratitude in your daily life. This will allow you to reduce your fears by increasing your positive emotions and feelings of happiness.
  4. Strengthen your resilience. Learning to be resilient will help you be stronger and to rise in the face of adversity. When you know you can get over a loss, fear and its influence become smaller. Therefore, resilience helps you overcome your fears because it allows you to recover from any loss you might suffer.
Man looking at the sea
Being grateful for what we have and holding on to resilience allows us to move forward and leave behind the fear of losing.

Why are we so afraid?

As you’ve seen, some of the most common fears are those linked to pain, loss, and suffering. In reality, we’re afraid of the unknown and these elements carry a large dose of uncertainty.

Furthermore, often, what scares us is not being able to face these situations. Unconsciously, we feel that we don’t possess the resources required to deal with them.

Many times, our fear is bigger than what we’re afraid of.

Interestingly, the human mind is extremely powerful and stronger than you might think. We must trust our minds, promote emotional education from childhood, and rationalize our fears as much as we can. These are small strategies but they’ll help us combat them. In fact, it’s not so much about eliminating our fears, but about accepting them, facing them, and, ultimately making them go away.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.