Fear and anxiety are not the same thing.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.


Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Confusing fear and anxiety cause you emotional pain.

Many people are high in anxiety. They report that they are afraid of a great many things. To conquer anxiety, you need to learn the difference between the things you are afraid of, the ones you really should be afraid of, and the things that make you anxious for very personal reasons.

Recent research suggests that we may have been getting two different things confused.  While fear and anxiety may look a lot alike, the kind of behavior we do to defend ourselves, the circuits in the brain for these two things are quite different.

Fear is about an immediate danger.

Defensive behaviors are controlled in the human brain stem. The brainstem controls automatic reactions to things. It’s the part of the brain that keeps your heart beating when you fall asleep. Many fears are hardwired into the brainstem and function to protect humans from harm.

If you are too close to the edge of a cliff, and about to fall off, fear kicks in and tells you to step back. For most people avoiding falling off a cliff or from another high place keeps them from getting injured or even killed.

If you’re out in the wilderness, it is a good thing to be afraid of bears and lions, tigers, and other wild animals. Most primates are instinctively afraid of snakes. Some steaks are poisonous and can kill you. Having an automatic fear eliminates the need to study the snake in front of you to determine if it’s poisonous. Experts, those who work with snakes on a regular basis, learn the difference between poisonous and non-poisonous snakes. Avoiding snakes, especially the poisonous ones, can save your life.

Anxiety is about distant possible dangers.

While fear is about a current immediate danger, anxiety is about the future. The majority of things that anxious people worry about are things that are unlikely to happen. Often anxiety is related to rumination.

The parts of the brain that appears to be involved in anxiety are the structures that should be used for thinking and planning as well as memory. People who are high in anxiety will attempt to improve results and keep themselves safe by trying to imagine all the things that could possibly go wrong.

The more you sit and try to think of things that might go wrong in the future, the more things you’ll find to be anxious about. It turns out that most of the things that we worry about will never happen. Anxiety is about trying to predict low probability events.

Planning for the future and for contingencies is a good thing. But if you find that you are spending a large amount of time trying to foresee everything that could possibly go wrong, you have moved from planning to trying to be a fortune-teller.

The more you try to be perfect and never make a mistake, to create a life in which nothing can ever possibly go wrong, the more you will worry. Unfortunately, the belief that you can somehow protect yourself from every possible catastrophe turns out not to be true.

Whenever you find that you’re worrying about something and it’s making you anxious, the first question to ask yourself is how close am I to this potential danger? Is this something that could happen in the next minute? The second question you should be asking yourself is how likely is this bad outcome to be.

Ask yourself do you want to give up 99% of your life to avoid the things that have a 1% chance of happening. Living, and having good things happen in your life, requires doing lots of things. Unless you really love your anxiety, consider adding more spontaneous, exciting things to your life. Try more things and pay special attention to the things that go well not the few things that don’t turn out the way you want them to occur.

Learning the difference between realistic fears and the high anxiety that worrying brings can result in a much happier life.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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