Fear versus anxiety

[24] 181. 95% of what we worry about [E]


Why do we worry (endlessly, most of us) about stuff that never happens?

Because fear and anxiety are different things.

They feel the same, but they’re not.

Fear’s a reaction to real danger.  Anxiety’s a reaction to danger we imagine.

Say you walk into a forest.  A bear rushes out from the trees and growls at you.

What you’re feeling is fear.

He’s a real bear, and he could take a real bite out of you.

Now say you walk into a forest, and you look at the trees and think, “Wow, there could be bears in there.”

There speaks anxiety.

It’s a voice that issues from your big, oversized brain.  The one that can’t stop remembering and anticipating and analyzing and scaring the shit out of you.

Such brains explain why we’re a race of endlessly, needlessly frightened creatures.

Good thing to remember.

Because there’s a big difference between fighting real bears and fighting those that lurk only in the forest of your mind.

* * *


“Background music: Control and anxiety”





7 responses to “Fear versus anxiety

  • LongingForStars

    Where would you put the feeling you have when you have been attacked by a bear in the past and you walk into the forest? There is no bear, but there may be a rustle in the leaves, or a shape that looks like bear in the distance. I am wondering because since there is no real bear that would mean that it is anxiety. But the way it grips you, the way you feel it in your body, is quite similar to the fear when there is a real bear. And it feels different from the anxiety of the monkey mind. Or maybe it is not…

    Having said that, I do think of it in terms of a signal, the way you talked about the pain that signals something is wrong

    • Steve Hauptman

      Yes, that’s anxiety, probably the severest kind. What you’re describing is a feature of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Formerly called combat fatigue, PTSD occurs not just among soldiers but all survivors of life-threatening experiences — fires, car accidents, muggings, rapes, and abuse of all sorts. In an attempt to defend itself against the same thing happening again, the body/mind holds on to every bit of the trauma and becomes hypersensitive to anything that reminds the survivor of that experience. Such reminders have the power to trigger a flood of anxious symptoms, mental, emotional and physical. It’s sort of like being trapped in a nightmare and unable to awake. A terrible thing, widely misunderstood. Anyone who suffers from this sort of anxiety should get professional help for it.

  • LongingForStars

    Thank you Steve! This is belated, but I went through a crisis in my therapy right around the time I posted this. A lot of good came out of it, but it was very hard to deal with (still is in many ways). I think that the question of bears (real versus those in the mind) is a big part of what happened. It is no coincidence that I was posting thougths about surrender and bears at that time. In my case, the scary rustle of the leaves has to do with relationships (that includes the relationship with the therapist). It becomes hard to distinguish between a real threat and a mind one. It really seems as if there is no tool available to distinguish between the two. I think that it is a sort of hypersensitivity too. And it does get out of control and overwhelming. It is quite powerful. And the whole thing is rather confusing (tiring too).

    Anyway, I did not want to leave your reply without acknowledgment. Once again, thank you.

  • LongingForStars

    Hmmm. I am trying to practice communicating more clearly and I realised after posting this, that without realising it, I might have done the opposite of that with this post. Crisis in my therapy means that I confused my therapist with a bear and came very close to losing her in the process. It was a very hard lesson and one that I am still learning because she still feels like a bear a good deal of the time.

    • Steve Hauptman

      Yes, I guessed that’s what you were talking about. It’s called transference — when one relationship feels like another. Happens all the time in therapy, where it’s common for clients to confuse the therapist with one of their parents. Can be pretty scary, depending on how bad that prior relationship was. But working it through — coming to be able to distinguish here/now from there/then — is really important, especially for someone who struggles with anxiety. So I congratulate you for hanging in there. And thanks for getting back to me. 🙂

  • LongingForStars

    Thank you Steve! I really value the encouragement. Take care 🙂

  • the1313

    Hiding and honesty. Two things I am working hard on no matter the consequence. My biggest fear is that my dh (darling husband) will run screaming from the real me. It is hard but little by little I’m finding myself and he has not run away yet. But then he is mucho co-dependent too. Humans are just intricate like this I guess.

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