Fear and Anxiety

I noted in my last post that fear and anxiety were not the same emotion.

Too often, people confuse the two emotions.  An example is the saying, “I’m afraid I might not do well on the exam next week.” Now, I am not saying we need to change the way we talk.  I am saying that if you want to learn to master your emotions, you would benefit from knowing the actual feeling you are experiencing and even using the right word to discuss it. This is so you can choose the most adaptive response to the situation you are facing and to which your feeling is alerting you.

Fear is a present “here and now” feeling.  It is the hair on the back of the neck feeling of dread you might experience if you are facing a robber who is pointing a gun at you or if you are alone in an abandoned garage and you hear footsteps, or, and this one is important, you are looking at someone who is standing in an elevator appearing to be just fine but who just doesn’t feel “right” to you.

The best advice is to always listen to your fear.  This does not mean that the guy in the elevator is a danger to you. For people who have developed a prejudice toward others, fear may come up and be totally inappropriate. All I am saying is that if you feel fear, act on the side of caution and take the next elevator.  Gavin de Becker’s book The Gift of Fear is an excellent source for information on this emotion.

Anxiety is a future based emotion the message of which is that there MAY be a threat and it MIGHT “kill” me.  Anxiety is the “butterflies” in your stomach, the sweaty palms, the nervousness, or the uneasy sense of impending doom you might experience if you have an interview coming up for a new job, you get pulled over by a policeman, you want to meet a new someone, and so forth.

There are two types of anxiety.  Eustress is the enabling form of anxiety in which you use the nervous energy of your emotion as motivation to study for the exam, prepare for the interview etc.

Distress is the disabling form of anxiety which stops you in your tracks, prevents you from taking action on your own behalf, leads you to make an excuse why you shouldn’t approach your new someone and so forth.

Mastering your anxiety involves assessing the nature of the possible threat. What would happen if the threat actually took place? Could you survive it? If you could survive it, you can move to eustress.

Another “trick” for mastering anxiety is to turn it into anticipation (or enthusiasm).  Anticipation is the flip side of anxiety.  The energy of both emotions is the same.  The message of anticipation is that if I handle this situation, good things could possible take place that I might really like.

Think about how you approach your anxiety.

If you have questions or comments, please leave a comment.

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