I believe 3 is when they start the "irrational fear" age, so I think this is all totally normal. Aggravating, but totally normal. DS has recently decided he's afraid of bushy beards, after seeing a store employee with one. His dad has a goatee, so it's not facial hair per se, just long beards.
It's hard when it's an irrational fear to us, but to them it's really real. And the tantrums, well, they take on a new level of intensity at this age, huh? The hysterics I addressed on the "stop crying" thread at the top of the page here. We're not really having any violence issues accompanying it, but I would probably address them as I did when he went through his hitting phase, which is to just validate his emotion and state that while the emotion itself and expressing it is OK, I will not allow him to hurt me in the process. And remove myself from his swing range.
I forgot myself yesterday and started to get into a tantrum/power struggle with DS about some yogurt and a nice shirt he had on that I didn't want to get messy and wanted him to take off while he ate it, but he was seemingly terrified of being shirtless (which he has done countless tiems before with no issue whatsoever), and he absolutely melted down - and I was not helping because I was totally focused on the shirt staying clean (I know, I know - it's just a shirt - in my weak defense, we're traveling and I only ahve a few shirts for him packed - I know, totally weak.). But thankfuly I snapped out of it after a couple minutes and we worked out a solution (a towel tied around his neck like a bib), so the tears stopped and I got a grip.
Three is more challenging in many ways than 2 was. However, 2-1/2 to 3 years old has been my LEAST favorite stage thus far. Thankfully we're past that now....at least, for now. Until the next least favorite stage.