Describe it: Fear / Panic


Fear: be afraid of (someone or something) which is perceived as being dangerous, painful, or threatening.
Panic: sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing unthinking behavior.

Synonym Strength


These are just some of the words that can be used to describe fear or panic. For more, go to the page for Fear / Panic.


PANIC DISORDER: Panic disorders or panic attacks are differentiated from an anxiety disorder or attack as they consist of sudden periods of intense fear that typically have physical symptoms such as sweating, shaking, hyperventilation (which can lead to tingling and numbness in the extremities), a rapid heart beat and/or chest pain. Panic disorders involve repeated, typically unexpected occurrences of these symptoms. Learn more about fear and panic disorders from the Canadian Mental Health Association here:

PHOBIAS: Many people will say they have a phobia without understanding the true scope of what a phobia is. A phobia causes a person to suffer from intense, overwhelming fear of an object or a situation which can interfere with their ability to carry out normal functions if the person if confronted by this object/situation. People suffering from phobias will go to great lengths to avoid being confronted by it, something which can hamper their ability to lead normal lives if the object/situation is common. A phobia can develop to any object or situation. has compiled a list of the top 100 phobias.

FIGHT OR FLIGHT: This is a common misnomer about our reactions to fear. It is actually a Fight, Flight, or Freeze response. It is far more likely that someone will freeze in a situation where they are at threat. There is a great book about violence and our reactions to it and the fear it inspires called VIOLENCE: A WRITER’S GUIDE, by Rory Miller that I bought from Amazon. If you’re writing a book where fear is a heavy element, I suggest giving it a read.



Related looks: stare, gawk, case, flash, glance, study, fix, blink, peer, gape

Crazed look Eyes bulging from their sockets Peered about wild-eyed
Eyes take on a hunted look Eyes in wide circles Glancing around, not focusing on anything
Eyes darted around maniacally, looking for escape  Eyes widened in alarm  Watched with numbed horror
Eyes transfixed with horror, unable to look away no matter how much they wished to Stared in fascinated horror In a catatonic stupor
Muscles around the eyes began to twitch  Eyes pressed shut  Eyes pleading


Nervously, they moistened their dry lips Lips twitched Pressed their lips together, making them all but disappear
Mouth opened in a silent scream Gaped, uncertain whether to breath or scream  Mouth contorted into a grotesque scream
 Lips became slack as their terror grew Licks dry lips  Lips formed into a mute O
Lips grew thin and firm  Mouth opened and closed without making a sound

Jaw / Neck

 Jaw grows slack as though awaiting a scream  Jaw trembled in fear, making it hard to speak  Throat raw from screaming, they barely made a noise


Mouth was clamped and eyes fixed  Face grows ashen Face pales / turns grey
 Blood drains from their skin  Face stricken  Their flesh lost all colour, becoming chalk-white
 Expression stretched into a mask of terror Desperation etched its way into every crease  Nostrils flared and breathing became laboured


 Hands twitched spastically Ran their fingers through their hair with shaking hands Fingers seeking out anything they could hold onto
Wringing hands Hands grabbed onto the arm of the chair Grabbed onto the nearest person and held on with desperation
Hands slapped over their mouth to suppress their terror Hiding their face behind their hands as though it were all a bad dream and would disappear Scratched at the wall until their nails tore and fingers bled
 Jolted their outstretched hands back, not letting it touch them Startled, their hands flailed in the air before grabbing the person beside them

Body Language / Behaviour

Swallows dryly, unable to wet their parched throat gestures were frenzied and awkward Muscles stiffened, ready to run
Body grew tense to the point of shaking  Stand rigid with terror, too overwhelmed to move They grew unnaturally still
Hid around the door frame, peaking out only long enough to see what was happening Sweat poured from their forehead / moistened their hands Sweat trickling from forehead or armpits

Internal Reactions

 Feeling trapped  Sudden stab of terror in the gut Heart stumbling over its own rhythm
 Stomach contracts into tight ball  Stomach knots / clenches / shrivels / flutters /aches  Wave of acid wells up from their belly
Heart racing or aching Chest growing so tight it becomes hard to breathe  A hard, quick pulse in their throat
 A chill froze them to their spot  A prickling sensation shot up their spine   Hard knot constricted their throat, making it hard to breathe
 The small hairs across their body stood on end  Knees trembled and quaked, threatening to give out  Breath becomes deeper and more rapid
 Throat closed, cutting off air Sensation of a spider crawling up their back Breath growing thin and ragged
 Struggle to control quavering Heart palpitations Pulse roars in their throat
heart hammers/pounds/beats/flips Sensation of a trapdoor opening in their belly Sickening wave of terror welling up from their belly
Skin grows clammy Stammering heart making the sudden nausea worse Hands become icy
 Breath becomes ragged in their throat Adrenaline burst their their veins to protect them Could no longer see anything but the threat
 Stand rigid with terror  An oddly primitive warning sounded in the back of their mind  The ache in the bottom of their gut telling them that something wasn’t right

Impact On Mind

Unable to think clearly or focus  Cannot relax  Paranoia
 Needing to find a place to hide  Sleeplessness / Needs to sleep with the light on Troubled by nightmares
Having troubles making decisions, as though distracted Stifling their fear with the help of a cigarette / alcohol / drugs Suddenly, they were unwilling to do something they’d always enjoyed before
 Time slows as the gravity of the situation weighs it down  Feeling disembodied / Feeling dream-like from the shock Developing tunnel-vision
Not even feeling like they are there Needing to be near other people all the time to feel protected  Singing or making noise to fill the ominous silence


Relevant forms of walking: Slink, pace, skulk, cower, run, race, dart, dash, flight, scamper, scuttle, sprint

Pacing the hall / room  They paced the room waiting for the first chance to escape Wandering restlessly around the room
 Began to back away slowly, one hand coming up to protect them  Burst into a frenzied run  Jumped  up and ran to turn the lights on
Hard to move with their muscles still frozen with shock Body didn’t want to listen to their command to run Ran, but their legs seemed foreign and unwilling to work properly
A chill of fear causing them to begin walking more quickly Impending danger quickened their pace


Relevant ways of speaking: stutter, stammer, quaver, restricted, wooden, frightened, shriek, reel, gasp, whisper, stammered, breathed, prayed, whimpered

Voice cracking and tight Spoke too quickly to be understood Grows shrill
They blurted out Spoke in a suffocated whisper  Rising an octave
 Voice trembling  Couldn’t stop stuttering despite their usual pride  Voice broke
 Guttural scream erupted from their throat  Cry out in a voice raw with terror  grows maniacal
 Whimpering hysterical notes in their voice  Voice became strained  Voice became frenzied
 Becomes high and hysterical Let out a strangled cry  Voice explodes out of them
 voice shrill with horror  Degenerated into a childish whimper  Wild note of hysteria

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