Friday, December 4, 2009

Fear and Anxiety

“Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.”

We live in very troubled times - needless to say.
War, climate change, pollution, famine, disease and economical crisis are the main course of our daily news feast.
Fear and anxiety are not any more an exception but rather the norm by what we live.
But what exactly is fear and anxiety?
And most important: How do we deal with them?

“Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat.
It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger.”

Let’s say that you find yourself facing a mean threatening dog.
You can do two things:
You can defend yourself using your body, a rock, a stick or you can run to avoid the attack.
In other words you fight or run – That is the natural response we have to threats.

Getting scared is not a lack of courage, it is a survival skill.
We have to learn how to avoid dangers and fear as well as pain not being our enemy but rather the first line of defense.
Fear and pain are the sentinels that tell us when we are in trouble and peril.

“The key to change... is to let go of fear.”

Although the preferred way to deal with our problems is avoidance, postponing a problem doesn’t solve it in most cases.
In most cases avoiding facing our fears makes our problem even bigger.

I had this dear friend that had a problem paying her bills in time.
Every month it was the same drama taking place.
Bills over due, late fees and penalties, overdraft accounts, pain and misery.
I tried to help her by creating a payment schedule but she never followed.

I couldn’t understand her behavior.
According to my understanding of human behavior, our action are designed to maximize pleasure and to avoid pain, but what she was doing – seemed to me – was to create a lot of unnecessary pain and trouble.
Then I got a revelation.

Imagine yourself not as one person but as two people living in the same body: You and your subconscious mind.
You say to yourself:
-Let’s pay the bills!
- That sound’s like a lot of work – your subconscious replies – Is there anything else we can do?
- I could postpone it – you say to yourself.
- That sounds like a great idea. I prefer the pleasure of doing nothing than the pain of paying the bills.
So you do exactly what you are supposed to do – you avoid the pain – you do not pay the bills :(

“Every time we choose safety, we reinforce fear.”

So the way we fixed that is by changing the task presentation.
Instead of asking – Do you want to pay your bills?
The correct question is – Do you want the excruciating pain of late bills?
The answer of course will be different this time :)

Action is the only cure for fear.

(to be continued...)


Ted Bagley said...

I can't wait to read what anxiety is about!

Buddha of Hollywood said...

@ Ted - He, he, he... you so funny you make me laugh long time :)

Mariana Soffer said...

Interesting post regarding one of the biggest plague of our times, here is a more scientifiscist look at the same issue, although I pretty much like the budhist one I do not think we need to discard this one.
An emotion is a complex reaction from a person to a perception. This reaction induces him or her to assume a body response, a facial expression, a gesture or select a specific behavior. An emotion takes place between a perception and a subsequent reaction.

Fear: originated in the basic evolutionary instinct for survival in perceiving and avoiding life-threatening dangers. Thus fear warns us of dangers and moves us to take adaptive action. Fear can be used to manipulate motivations in order to control people's behavior. Fear of punishment is the main weapon of social control by threatening either to do something negative or remove something positive.

Anxiety tends to arise from fearful imagery. Mental images have an instantaneous power to evoke emotional reaction, and this can lead to less logical, less effective responses to threatening information.

"Anxiety is driven by imagery, and that imagery leads to pure, raw emotion - often fear,". "Engaging in worry allows people to translate those images into words, and that process of translation can circumvent the efferent command center in the brain and reduce the raw, negative emotion associated with the imagery in the first place."

Ted Bagley said...

I’m no scientist so I’d have to say, from a plumber’s perspective, that anxiety is the only affect that is not deceptive as it’s object can not be symbolized the way all other objects are and is the lack of being at the connection of the three orders of the Imaginary, Symbolic and Real signaling the object cause of desire. As opposed to fear whose object can always be said and is the ego’s way of filling the lacking signals left by anxiety making fear not only biological but linguistic as well pointing to the uncanny of anxiety. The three "passion" come from here.

Grampa Ken at Social Fix said...

There are so many kinds of fear, fear of failing, heights, closed spaces, mice, strangers, public speaking, all unpleasant or worse.

On fearing about something that might or will occur a suggestion often offered is that it is not the event that causes our fear, but it is the fear of that event. If it is in our thoughts then it is something that we can control by altering our ideas, attitudes, or actions (creating a payment schedule).

"For it is not death or hardship that is a fearful thing, but the fear of death or hardship." - Epictetus (55-135)

Ettore Grillo said...

I have been suffering of anxiety for almost all my life. Then I succeded in getting rid of both anxiety and panick attacks.
I think whoever wants to deepen the topic about the anxiety, have to read my book. The title is "Travels of the mind"and it is available at
If you have any question I am most willing to discuss about this topic.
Ettore Grillo

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