Nerve | Eva Holland

Summary of: Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear
By: Eva Holland


In the book ‘Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear,’ author Eva Holland takes the reader on a captivating journey, exploring the nature of fear and its origins. Through the lens of her personal lived experiences, Holland pushes the boundaries of human understanding to explore the latest scientific, psychological, and historical theories on fear. The summary covers her quest to conquer her fears – from fear of heights to the terror of driving – and her willingness to act as a guinea pig on her own behalf and that of her readers. With well-researched insights and relatable personal experiences, this summary provides an eye-opening glimpse into the depths of fear and the strategies to overcome it.

Conquering Fear

Eva Holland shares her personal story of conquering fear and explores its nature, origins, and scientific theories in a captivating blend of memoir, history, and science. From a fear of heights to the traumatic fear of losing her mom, Holland’s search for answers offers hope for anyone looking to overcome their fears.

Facing Fear

Eva Holland’s traumatic experience of her mother’s demise triggered her to confront her long-held phobias. Holland, a keen writer, was determined to confront her fear of heights, which had held her back throughout her life. As a result, she went on an ice-climbing expedition, where she became so traumatized that she could not continue. Eva was determined to investigate how to defeat or push through her fear, leading her to come up with innovative ways to face her anxieties. Facing Fear is not only a story of Holland’s journey, but also a guide to anyone who wants to overcome their phobias.

Fear and its manifestation

Fear, inspired by external stimuli, is different from anxiety which emerges from within. Doctors have tried to relieve patients’ fears since 400 AD but for most of us, fear is a natural part of life. The Hmong culture in Southeast Asia epitomizes fear with the dab tsog, a nightmare demon responsible for unexplained nocturnal death syndrome (SUND). Many legends in different regions center on evil spirits responsible for nocturnal killings. Fear is a complex phenomenon that deserves attention and possible cures.

Feelings vs Emotions

Holland simplifies neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s explanation of the distinction between feelings and emotions. Feelings are the intangible expressions of the mind, while emotions are quantifiable bodily reactions. When something triggers a bodily response, experts believe fear emerges within moments. The auditory input goes from the ears to the cranial nerve, then to the amygdala and hypothalamus. Messages are then carried throughout the body, resulting in various physical changes and a sense of fear. PTSD is caused by a previous experience that the brain cannot differentiate between a risk and a safe situation, leading to inappropriate fear responses.

Overcoming Fear of Heights

After surviving a near-fatal ice-climbing expedition, Holland takes up exposure therapy to tackle her fear of heights. Exposure therapy involves encountering one’s fear until the fear subsides after realizing that surviving is possible. Holland forces herself to climb ever-higher at indoor rock climbing gyms to the point where she feels tightness in her chest and a pounding pulse. Psychiatrist Edna Foa explains that repeated exposure helps restructure the brain in response to a stimuli. To successfully overcome fear, one must experience the fear stimulus and remain calm. Holland’s ability to confront and overcome her fear of heights demonstrates how repeated exposure can lead to success.

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