Fear and anxiety.
You’ve heard these words, and you most likely have experienced one or the other—or both.
These are not interchangeable words. You may have experienced fear and anxiety together, but they are not one in the same.
Let’s look at their definitions. Fear relates to a known or understood threat. Anxiety is what follows an unknown, expected, or poorly defined threat. Another way of looking at the difference is to think of fear as an emotional response to a real or perceived imminent threat and anxiety as the anticipation of a future threat, whether it’s real or not.
For example, you’re on an airplane, flying across the country. It’s a smooth flight, but you can’t stop dreading that the plane is going to crash. Your mind has convinced you that it’s possible you could be in imminent danger. You begin to sweat, your heart rate skyrockets, you feel as if you can’t draw in air, and you’re sure you’re going to pass out any minute. Your symptoms exacerbate because you’ve still got a lot of flight time ahead of you. Anxiety has set in because of your perceived danger and the feeling of being trapped.
Now you’re on an airplane, flying across the country, and the plane hits turbulence. It’s bad, and carry-on bags are tossed around, as are food trays and other objects. You spot the flight attendant and she looks panicked. Fear kicks in because you believe the plane will crash and your death is imminent. There is a clear and present danger.
These are the differences between the two; however, fear can cause anxiety just as anxiety can cause fear.
Almost everyone experiences fear and anxiety together at some point in their lives, be it something minor or something far-fetched. Such as doing a speech in front of the entire school. This is minor anxiety and fear that doesn’t last.
Conversely, many of us have been in fearful situations, such as severe weather, a car accident, an animal attack, or any number of legitimately threatening situations that set our fears in motion.
But when fears and anxieties are amplified to debilitating levels, it’s important to get to the root of the cause. For some people, professional therapy is the answer. For others, it’s about learning how to take control.
The Linguistics of Fear and Anxiety
The emotional vocabulary we use to describe our fears and anxieties are usually code words to describe our true feelings. For example, you’re anxious about your upcoming wedding and you’re displaying symptoms of anxiety. When asked about your visible signs, you respond, “I’m stressed, that’s all.”
As well, you might admit to suffering from “extreme terror” when you see a bee, even if you aren’t allergic to them. You’re definitely terrified of bees, but your emotional response is exaggerated.
How you describe fear and anxiety is not as important as long as you aren’t using other terms as a means of denial. What is important is how you cope with your feelings.
The Fear Circuit
It’s helpful to cope with fear and anxiety when we understand it’s not all in our heads. We aren’t going crazy, and we aren’t going to die. There are logical, biological reasons for our thought patterns.
Researchers have concluded that there are specific neural circuits hardwired in our brains that control fear recognition and the renewal of fear even when the fear no longer exists.
So, what does that mean?
Research has shown there are two areas of the brain for processing fear. Known as “fear circuits,” they split the responsibility when dealing with threats, depending on the type of threat.
Distant threats, such as the above-mentioned scenarios, allow more time for thinking and strategic behavior. These threats are the responsibility of the cognitive-fear circuit. Without getting too scientific, the cognitive-fear circuit has connections closer to the front of our brains.
The reactive-fear circuit is located near the center of the brain and it handles threats that require a quick-thinking response, known as fight, flight or freeze.
Recognizing this will lead to more research into how better to control our fears and anxieties. Until then, there are steps we can take to overcome these emotions.
Overcoming Fear and Anxiety
We live stressful lives. We rush here and there, we measure our success by the success of others because social media has placed a figurative and literal filter over how we perceive their lives. We see so many people with “perfect” spouses, “perfect” children, expensive vehicles, new homes, only the best of everything. We begin to question ourselves and doubt our own happiness.
We dwell on our problems, which no one else seems to have, and don’t take the time to appreciate what we have. We compare ourselves to Jane and her super kids under the age of 12 who have accomplished everything but scale Mount Everest. We compare ourselves with John, who’s living the single-stud life, going to the gym every day in his Ferrari as he flaunts his physique.
Allowing this to get out of control is what leads to social anxiety, fear of failure or embarrassment, and panic attacks. This may seem more self-driven than brain-driven, but it is certainly a brain-driven response.
When fear and/or anxiety consumes us, we need to seek professional help before it exacerbates and turns into depression or other mental illnesses.
But when it’s not an everyday occurrence, and you recognize it for what it is instead of suppressing or downplaying it with insincere linguistics, you can control these feelings.
As children, you may have feared the boogeyman or the monster under the bed. These are fears we outgrow. Sometimes as adults we can “outgrow” the causes of our childhood fears, while at other times, it might take more work than simply growing up.
Here are some ways to start working on managing your fear and anxieties:
1. Start Exercising
We don’t need to elaborate on this, as we all know by now (or should know) that exercise is good for us both physically and mentally (or emotionally, in this case).
2. Take up Hobbies
Doing something you enjoy can really take your mind off your anxieties. When you immerse yourself in a craft or project, you can free your mind. It’s very therapeutic.
3. Create Lists
This may sound like the same old advice, but it really does work. Make a list of all the things you appreciate in life. You’ll be surprised at how much better it can make you feel.
4. Get Outside
Take a walk in your neighborhood or find somewhere you can hike. Not only will it have a calming effect, but it will allow you to breathe deeply and relax. You’ll become more aware of your surroundings and develop a greater appreciation for them (and you can add them to your list).
5. Face Your Fear
This might not be as easy as it sounds, but if you can identify your fear and it’s feasible, you can face it. For example, if you have a fear of flying that keeps you from traveling, take it one step at a time. Start by getting onto a plane that isn’t going anywhere. You can check for flight schools or clubs, and there are classes you can take to overcome the fear of flying. Once you’ve accomplished that, the next step is to take a short trip or a simulated flight. Ease into conquering your fear. That’s how you beat it.
6. Be Positive
Negativity breeds all sorts of emotions, but so does positivity, with far better results. Shed your negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. Positivity gives us a broader view of our surroundings and our situations.
If your fear and anxiety is caused by severe trauma, then it’s best to work with a therapist. Be sure to make an appointment before it turns into something more severe. It’s already been mentioned, and it’s worth mentioning again. Sometimes, situations necessitate professional intervention.
Fear and anxiety are like the cognitive and reactive fear circuits. They each take responsibility for our emotions and our reactions to those emotions.
Emotions can often offset one another. For instance, love, anger and fear are all emotions of jealousy. When someone we love pays more attention to someone else, we not only become angry, we develop a fear of losing them.
This is an exaggerated response, of course, and this fear can also result in anxiety. It also demonstrates insecurity and a lack of self-confidence, both triggers of fear and anxiety.
Before we can begin to self-healing, we need to appreciate who we are and recognize our worth. We all have flaws. No one is perfect, nor can we expect to be. But we can start to focus on everything that’s good and accept the flaws we cannot change.
We need to stop paying attention to what everyone else is doing, and direct that attention to ourselves. Misdirected attention can lead to low self-esteem and social anxiety.
Take a deep breath and look in the mirror. See yourself for who you are. Appreciate your inner beauty and everything that you are on the outside. Learn to love yourself and be comfortable with who you are.
Take social media with a grain of salt and remember that you are the salt of the earth. You can and will overcome your fears and your anxieties. The first thing you need to do is recognize them, and then you need to recognize yourself.
You can live a happy and satisfying life if you face your fear and anxiety, and if you can’t cure it, learn to manage it.