Fear and anxiety not the same thing.

By David Joel Miller.

Confusing fear and anxiety cause you emotional pain.

When is fear real?

Fear, Anxiety, and Worry.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

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 future. The majority of things that anxious people worry about are things that are unlikely to happen. Often anxiety is related to rumination.

The part 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.

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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Your thoughts making you anxious?

By David Joel Miller

9 ways to tell if your thoughts are causing your anxiety.

Anxiety and Fear

Anxiety and Fear
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Is anxiety a constant feature in your life? Anxiety has its place. It tells you if you are in a dangerous situation and keeps you alert. But if you are always in an anxious state you will wear yourself out and anxiety no longer becomes protective, it becomes your tormentor.

If you have a pattern of thinking anxious thoughts even when they are not necessary then you may be training your brain to maintain an anxious state at times you should be relaxed and calm.

How many of these over-anxious thoughts are you practicing?

1. Your negative thoughts have become a habit.

Is your default brain setting to look for the danger, for what could go wrong? Have you made looking for the negative a habit? Start looking for the good, the unexpected. Meditate on the positive things in your life and challenge yourself to stop ruminating on what could go wrong and begin looking for all the constructive things in your life.

Developing a list of things you are grateful for can increase the habit of seeing the good and reduce the tendency to look for the anxiety provoking cues in your environment.

2. A recurring thought interferes with your life.

Do you have a recurring fear that you are or will get sick? Do you worry about finances and think you will go broke? Do you practice the thoughts you will have when something bad might happen?

Look for the facts in these situations. See a doctor. Get your health checked out. Work on your finances. Look for ways to earn more, spend less and save some. Buy some insurance.

Stop practicing that fearful, anxious thought and begin to take action. Include in those actions learning to relax and to look for the positive. Give yourself credit for the things you have accomplished.

3. You worry about things that don’t really matter.

Do you worry that something will happen, somewhere, to someone, and you do not even know why? Do you worry that characters on shows will die or fictional couples will break up?

When you find yourself worrying, ask yourself, does this matter? Does it matter to you? Does it matter right now?

Do you worry about whether to buy one kind of vegetable or the other? Make a choice and the worry ends. For many of life’s choices, there is no correct answer. Pick the thing you want and move forward.

4. Your need for everything to be perfect makes you anxious.

You are a human, aren’t you? No human is perfect. We learn from our mistakes. Learn from your mistake and do better next time. Everything can never be perfect. Your perfect will not be someone else’s.

5. Your worry about things that are out of your control makes you anxious.

Some things are your job. Some things are not. Worrying about someone else’s job is unproductive. You may think about what would happen, you may even make contingency plans, but let others worry about their stuff.

Worrying about things over which you have no control does not protect you from danger. It diverts resources from doing the things you need to do into unproductive worrying.

6. You beat yourself up about things everyone does – normal behavior.

Accept your humanness, embrace it. Sometimes you will burp, sometimes you will pass gas, possible at the most embarrassing moment. All humans sometimes trip or fall.

We all make errors and do uncomfortable things. Try to minimize your number and the nature of your embarrassing moments but do not beat yourself up.

Hint here. Turn your cell phone off during church services and do not eat beans just before an important meeting. Do things proactively to reduce your embarrassing moments, but once they happen, accept that you to are blessed with those normal human moments.

7. Calling yourself names increases your anxieties.

Call a child stupid often enough and they believe you. Eventually, they will stop trying to learn. You can do the same thing to yourself. Calling yourself names is not helpful. It will result in anxiety over your self-worth. You are worthwhile simply because you are you.

8. Second guessing decisions will paralyze you with anxiety.

Once a decision is made move forward. There are times when situations change when you get new information, and you need to reevaluate. If you find yourself rethinking every decision realize that this is wasting time looking back over your shoulder at the past and you should be living in the present.

9. Telling yourself that good things will never happen for you feeds the anxiety.

What you tell yourself over and over your brain believes. If you say you can’t your brain will avoid trying. If you repeatedly tell yourself things will never get better, they won’t. This is a negative affirmation. Negative affirmations like positive ones work. Try telling yourself that you can do things and good things become possible.

Do you practice any of those 9 thinking patterns that cause anxiety? Would you be willing to part with some of your fearfulness? Try practicing more positive and more helpful ways of thinking. Practice helpful thoughts over and over and see if your anxieties don’t melt away.

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

Start today changing your thinking to reduce your anxiety.

Why worry may not be a bad thing.

By David Joel Miller.

Do you worry too much or too little?

Worried!

Worried! (Photo credit: photoloni)

Self-help books and common wisdom tend to equate worry and anxiety. It would appear that the two are not the same thing and that sometimes a little worry can be good for you.

We saw in previous posts that words, especially words about feelings, do not mean the same thing to everyone. One person’s worry may not be another’s in the same way that my purple may be your fuchsia. While dictionary definitions make the definitions of worry and anxiety much the same, researchers think they are quite different and that sometimes worrying can be good for you.

Anxiety is about heightened awareness or hyper-vigilance. An anxious person is hypersensitive about things and may over react to things that have little or no real danger. In that sense anxiety is related to fear. Anxiety’s role is to keep us on the lookout and avoid things that might be dangerous.

Worry has the connotation of constant thinking about something. Researchers think anxiety and fear are more visual or emotional reactions while worry is a mental and verbal rumination.

Worrying about things can keep them on your mind and this can result in perpetuating fear and anxiety. But there can be good results from worry in addition to the bad ones if worry is not accompanied by excess anxiety or fear.

Think of worry as being like my very old computer. Sometimes my computer slows down because an operation takes a lot of CPU memory. I get those little warning messages in the corner of my screen saying high CPU usage by and it names a program that is using all that memory.

Worry does the same thing to my mind. It uses up a lot of memory capacity, thinking about the thing that is worrying me. The result is that I slow down on what I am doing and devote more of my thinking ability to the task of worrying.  At this point worrying is impairing my mental efficiency.

As my mind slows down and devotes more resources to the task that worries me, there is increased attention to that one thing and all other mental tasks are neglected. The result is that as a byproduct to worrying I may do fewer things but I am likely to devote more attention to the one thing I am worrying about. Worriers make fewer errors on the task they worry about as a result of that increased attention. So worrying can be useful in reducing error rates by having a task fully occupy your mind.

Worrying results in a trade-off between the time needed to do the routine tasks I need to do and an increased accuracy as I try to avoid making any errors. If accuracy is imperative worrying makes sense.

Worry is not solely about the task or challenge I am facing, it is also about making plans, contingency plans for what I will do if – and here I may worry about both high probability occurrences as well as low probability ones.

As a result of all this worrying and contingent planning I may react to situations faster than someone who has not thought about this possibility at all. So if you might be faced with a sudden unexpected need to do something and the risk of making an error would be catastrophic, worrying may be just the ticket to allow you to make an instant lifesaving decision.

Worrying can be seen as a symptom of some mental illnesses. It is especially viewed as a process that maintains Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in the same way that nightmares maintain Posttraumatic Stress Disorder PTSD.)

If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, then worrying is probably going to do you more harm than good. But if you are a relatively normal person and are faced with some really important life changing decisions then some worry, thinking through all the possibilities and what could go wrong, may be just what you need.

If your worry has gotten out of hand, if you worry needlessly about small things and things that are very unlikely to happen, then improving your worry ability is not for you. If excessive worry has interfered with your job or fun activities it is a problem. If your friends and family avoid you or are concerned about all the worrying you do, then you may need help sorting out what is important and what is just an unproductive loop of constant worry.

If you have a major life change coming then do a little worry and planning about what might happen and what you will need to do.

But if worry has gotten excessive and is making your life unhappy and out of control, consider getting some professional help for that out of control worry monster that has taken over your life.

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

3 ways to Cut Down on Stress

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress.

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By David Joel Miller.

Trim away the worries and live a healthier life.

Want a reduced stress diet? Try trimming out some of the stress. Just as weight loss programs tell you to trim the fat out of your diet there are three ways to trim excess stress out of your life.

1. Cut off the future

Learn to be mindful and stay in the present. Yes, of course, you should make plans for the future and take the steps needed to get there, but stressing over things that may or may not happen adds a lot of stress to your diet for events you haven’t even tasted yet.

Worrying that you may not get what you want can add a lot of stress to your life today when what you should really be doing is the required work to get where you are going. Stressing over the uncertainty of the future can keep you from enjoying the taste of the present.

2. Cut down on the past

A steady diet of regrets and recriminations about the past can keep you stressed out and unable to live in the present.

The work of grieving over losses and letting go of guilt and shame may require seeing a therapist or counselor. Make the effort to process those old hurts and let them go.

Many of us have resentments towards people who have harmed or wronged us in the past. Holding onto those old wounds keeps us living in the stress of events that have long since ended.

Let the past live in the past and spend your time having the best possible present to enjoy your low-stress diet.

3. Stop trying to eat other people’s dinner – worrying about problems others need to solve

That you care about others is wonderful, but if you are finding your life overrun by stressors then you need to send some of them back where they came from.

You can’t solve problems for others and the more you stress yourself out over their issues the fewer resources you have for your life in the here and now.

If you chose to worry and stress there will always be negative news from around the globe twenty-four-seven. Some people believe that worrying and stressing over what might happen somehow keeps the safe from an unwanted future. It doesn’t work that way.

Prepare for the worst but live in the now. Limit your worrying to the things that you really may be able to influence and practice your acceptance for those things that are out of your control.

Is a reduced stress diet for you?

Try one for a while and see if you are not healthier and happier. If reduced stress does not work for you then you can always go back to worrying about the problems that are out of your control.

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books